Hiking…

Daily Prompt Switcheroo If you could switch blogs with any blogger for a week, with whom would you switch and why?

It’s not because of anything other than I love to hike and I can’t. I can walk two miles or so on predictable ground (Yay for what I can do), but I can’t hike and I can’t run up and down hills. I’d switch blogs with Scuffed Boots or Pursuit of Life or Trail to Peak. Why? Because I want to go hiking. I don’t want to trade with them. I don’t want them NOT to be able to do what they love so much, so maybe I could just give them a day off? To write their blogs, I’d have to be able to really hike and godnose there are a lot of beautiful things to see here in the San Luis Valley.

***

I guess I could write about a hike in the past, but they all have melded into one lifetime hike of immensity and joy, but one or two stand out, not because of the landscape, but because of my companion. Usually, like 90% of the time, I hiked alone with my dogs.

Love is a conundrum.

It was 1994. I was teaching international students. A guy showed up in my class, Francesco, an Italian guy in his 30s, a little older than the usual student. I was exactly ten years older than he, and I had just extricated myself from an objectively (call the cops) terrible relationship. After class one day he asked me about hiking in San Diego. Hiking was one of the two things I could be counted on to do (the other was teaching). It was my passion, solace, inspiration, joy, companion. I could certainly speak on it. I felt strange, though. How did he know?

As the semester progressed, we got to be friends and one December afternoon, sunny and spectacularly clear, we went to Mission Trails where I hiked the same trails day after day never seeing the same thing twice. I knew the landscape better than I know the lines on the palm of my hand.

Back then hardly anyone went to Mission Trails. It had not yet achieved any great fame and was not yet a “destination”. The visitor’s center was being built. Hiking and mountain biking had not yet become fashionable. Most days I hiked in complete solitude. Mission Trails is predominantly a coastal sage and chaparral ecosystem which means that to the uninitiated eye there is nothing there. To my eyes, everything was there.

Francesco and I arrived just as the afternoon sun was approaching that oblique winter angle that tinges everything gold. We walked across a field and above us hovered a black shouldered kite, a bird that, when it hovers, looks like an angel in a Renaissance painting, back-lit and holy. “Spiritu sanctu,” said Francesco. And so it was. We watched her long enough to see her dive, miss and speed off in frustration and perplexity.

My dog Molly was with us because I never went anywhere without Molly if I could help it. She was an Australian shepherd/Malamute mix and, as some said, “More than a dog.”

Molly

Molly

We went through a canyon that in spring could rush with water under a canopy of California lilac which is not lilac at all, but a species of ceanothus. The immense sycamore trees — burned 9 years later in the Cedar Fire — were golden-leaved sentinels. From the end of the canyon we turned uphill and ran together up a steep fire road that leads to North Fortuna Mountain. We spent some time on the top and it was dark when headed down. The moon rose fuzzy on the damp horizon, but bright enough to light our way. Molly took off with coyotes, scaring me, but she came back and I’m sure she would have had stories for me had I be able to understand.

For me at the time, it was a pretty average hike. What made it NOT average was Francesco. Francesco is a mountaineer who grew up in the Dolomites. He was as at home on foot as I was. For the first time hiking with another person I felt completely comfortable. No one said, “This is steep” or “How far is it?” or “What’s there to see from the top?” “It’s getting dark. Why did we start so late?” Nothing like that. Motion was a reward of its own for me and it was for him, too. We were both happy.

We shared more hikes and they were always the same in this way, an almost wordless sharing of experience with complete understanding and fearlessness.

As I said, love is a conundrum. At least we understood hiking.

“By that time I didn’t want to say to myself the truth; but now, after all these years I can speak frankly: doing the same things, seeing the same Nature, fearing (sic) the same emotions, matching our bodies with the landscape in the same way……you know how this is called? I call it love.”

P.S. in the picture above, taken at Zion in 1994, we are the two unequivocally and obviously happy people.

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18 thoughts on “Hiking…

  1. I can understand your love of hiking completely, although unfortunately I too are now at the stage where it is more a great walk than an actual hike. We spent many holidays in the Bernese Overland with the kids walking/hiking daily with the boots and the rucksack etc. etc. The Dolomites must be wonderful. A friend’s mother is from the area originally. I can feel the beauty of those Mission trails just by reading your words.

    • Mission Trails is like a plain looking but intelligent and funny guy that you have to get to know to see his beauty, but once you do, you will love him with all your soul. It’s that kind of thing. It doesn’t knock you over like the Berner Oberland (or the Rocky Mountains). It invites you in. One year I hiked every single day on one trail. That was the best “school” I attended as far as learning to see was concerned. The landscape is a miniature mountain range. If you change your perspective you can see it. It was amazing and I’m grateful.

  2. This post is one that I really enjoyed. The love of nature is evident in just about every word. In my mind, I could see how the landscape looked. Your description is excellent.

    • I saw deer many times at Mission Trails. Once I let my dog (wolf/husky) lead me and she took me to a thicket where I found myself about 18 inches away from the face of a doe. That was amazing. They seemed to like to hang out at the pond (Shepherd’s Pond?) at the north end just below the 52 on the Suycott Wash side. I’ve “talked” to coyotes and seen mountain lion tracks, but I didn’t get to see a mountain lion (though I always tried) until August 4, 2004 in the Laguna Mountains. I was on the board of directors for the MTRP foundation for several years in the beginning — a good experience and I’m glad I had that opportunity and that people had the vision to protect those acres from the development that was being planned for them. But yeah, by 2003, when I moved to Descanso, the park was already getting over used. It’s a fragile landscape.

      • It’s certainly possible that we’ve crossed each others trails over the years. One of the best hikes was I think the eastern side of Santa Ysabel where we saw two coyotes! Saw fresh mountain lion tracks in the snow a couple years ago on Vulcan-that was amazing, and in Ramona, I saw the back of a mountain lion in the tall brush as he walked away. I couldn’t get my camera on fast enough, tho. (I had a wolf/akita/malamute named Beowulf, I still miss him!) Thank you for being part of saving the land!

      • My most proud accomplishment in my life is that I conceived the idea for and wrote two successful funding proposals for the self-guided walkway from the parking lot to the dam at Mission Trails. It is in memory of my dad who had MS and in memory of the aunt who raised raised Randy Hawley, the first MTRP ranger. She also had MS. Randy and I got the idea back in 1989 the first time we met and did a short hike along the river to get to know each other. We wanted to make it so people with physical disabilities could take their kids to the dam. My dad’s playground as a kid was Yellowstone and when he took us to see it in the early 60s there were no accommodations for disabled people. It was hard for him to show us this place that meant so much to him. I felt after the walkway was built I’d done my good deed by life. 🙂 It is also designed to protect the landscape in that heavily used area.

  3. I would love to see any of those areas. But there no suggestion here that we get to swap places, only blogs. Your blog moves to my computer and vice versa. Now, if you are going to move ME that would be cool because I’ve been awaiting the perfection of the transporter for a long time, but then you would be here, so while I could enjoy the beautiful place where you live, I wouldn’t get to enjoy the beautifulness of you, which takes a lot of the joy out of the experience.

    I think I’m not up for switching. A nice visit would be very good.

      • But looks like you did get it together…There are more ways to communicate than sex and looks to me you had a wonderful communication in other ways.

      • You can get an idea of how well we worked it out here: https://marthakennedy.wordpress.com/2014/10/16/night-out-in-milan/ In 2000, he begged me to come to Italy and then did not spend even 15 minutes with me. His parents said, “That’s how he’s always been with girls.” But now he thinks he missed out on the great love of his life, me. It’s OK with me if he thinks that and it’s equally OK with me if he doesn’t think that but says it. Like me, he is probably more in love with the idea of love than the reality. I think what we did share could probably not have been shared by either of us with any other person, so I agree with you.

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