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.”
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.