Yesterday Bear and I went out to the Refuge. As I headed to the spot where we usually park (a small pull out) I noticed a large bird perched on one of the lonely trees. “Red Tailed Hawk,” I murmured to Bear who couldn’t care less and she’s right. Labels? I noticed a car parked at the pull out just before ours and, thinking the person might be enjoying the bird, I drove very slowly and very quietly past the bird who didn’t ruffle a feather. I parked. Opened my door quietly and took this:
I let Bear out the side door, quietly, and we began our ramble. She trolled the edges of the road for smells. I just looked at everything, the ever changing light and scenery of this Valley I love so much. Snow fell over the two mountain ranges but none in the valley. It’s been a strange little bit of time, these past couple of years, and the refuge has been my refuge as well as a refuge for the animals. Sometimes I’ve gone out there just in time to see a huge ascension of Sandhill cranes or a herd of Mule deer staring at me through the falling snow. I’ve watched all kinds of raptors hunt, swooping and diving. All of it. I love it. One thing I know about it is that when I go, I will see something. A rainbow in the Virga. Tracks of deer families in the snow, an elk running in the distance, coyotes yipping at sunset, a great horned owl family in a huge old cottonwood. But one thing I NEVER expected to see at the Monte Vista National Wildlife Refuge on a chilly November afternoon was a couple from Beijing.
Their car approached us on the road as we were on our return ramble. It pulled to one side to let us pass. When a car approaches, Bear and I always go to one side, too, so there was a little of a stalemate. I looked at the license plate. It was a vanity plate from an east coast state, an Anglicized version of a common cat name in Chinese. Hmmmm…..
We continued to wait and finally, they drove by and the driver — woman — waved and then bowed her head to me in a completely Chinese way.
“Oh my god, Bear! Who would have thought?” I was stunned. I had a lot of things on my mind, one the reading from my China book at the museum in two weeks. Somehow, seeing the Chinese woman was an affirmation, anyway, it was pretty remarkable. We got in the car and headed out. The red tailed hawk was flying low over a pond looking at the edges for something to eat. Just a couple weeks ago we saw a tiger salamander. I thought, “I hope you’re hiding, little guy.” I don’t take sides out there (kill or be killed) but I don’t want my “personal” salamanders being dinner for my “personal” red-tail hawks, not when I’m watching, anyway. I drove very, very slowly so I could watch the hawk without disturbing him.
Finally, at the far end of the loop, by the ponds and the way out, I saw the Chinese people’s car parked where they could watch the birds. I stopped and put my window down. The woman walked up to my car.
“Are you from China?” I asked.
She looked surprised. “Oh, some 30 years ago.”
“I was living there 30 years ago — no, wait — 40 years now.”
I answered in Chinese, “Zai Guangzhou.”
“Ah Guangzhou,” she said. “We are from Beijing.”
“I visited Beijing.” She was looking at me clearly wondering why I was living in China 40 years ago. “I was teaching at — wait, maybe I can do this. Hua Nan Shi Fan Da Xue.” I’d pronounced it right, but I knew the tones were wrong. The most difficult thing about speaking Chinese is getting the tones right. You can say very strange things to people by getting the tones wrong. “How are you?” can become “You good horse.”
She looked perplexed for a moment then, “Ah ah,” she repeated it pronouncing it right.
“South China Teachers University.’
“You remember how to speak Chinese.”
“A little,” I said. “I haven’t had a lot of chances to speak Chinese in the past 40 years.”
Her husband came closer and bowed toward me a polite gesture from another place, another time.
“When I saw your license plate, I knew you must be from China.” I smiled.
“It is our cat’s name.”
She laughed. “We’re on a trip!” she said. She explained they were from the east coast and were driving all the way to California then back by a different route. “It’s so good to be traveling again.”
“I haven’t been out of the valley in a long time,” I said. I don’t know why I WOULD leave, but…
“It’s very beautiful here. Are you a long timer?”
“No, not really, seven years. It’s a small world.”
“It’s amazing we meet here,” she said. It was absolutely amazing. There was not another person anywhere around and that’s how it usually is, particularly this time of year. I imagined they had hoped to see cranes, but the cranes left a week or so ago. She asked about my dog, so I introduced her to Bear. We said a few more things. Then, I said, “Zai jian, zia jian.” Good bye. “Have a safe and beautiful trip.”
“Xie xie,” she said. Thank you.
“Bu ke xie,” I answered. No thanks needed.
“Oh!” she said, putting her hands together, “You remember!”
Oh yes, I definitely remember. ❤️
Bear and I got home and I did the things I needed to do around the house. Since 1988, hiking with a dog has been my Thanksgiving tradition and expression of gratitude, but I’m not sure I can have a better Thanksgiving walk than I had yesterday.
I didn’t even have a dog until 1988 when I got Truffleupagus (Truffle) from my neighbor’s front yard. She was a five-month year old lab/springer mix, and I didn’t know anything about raising a puppy. I’d wanted a dog ALL MY LIFE and, at 36, I finally had a dog of my own. I raised that dog in ways I would never raise a dog today, but live and learn is the rule of human life.
That November the Good X read in the paper that there was fall color in San Diego. We both missed seasons (we’d only lived in San Diego 4 years) so we took the advice of the newspaper, and, on Thanksgiving day, 1988, I made my first trip out to Mission Trails Regional Park, though it wasn’t a park yet. There was the historic dam built by Father Junipero Serra, a parking lot, a bridge over the river and then you were on your own.
We parked at the lot by Old Mission Dam and walked the trail described in the newspaper. It runs along the pond/lake made by the dam then crosses a bridge. Beyond that bridge is a whole world of indigenous San Diego County, but we didn’t go far or look around much. We just found a place to perch beside the trickle that was the San Diego River. Truffle was a still just a pup, but she seemed to like all the smells and, a springer/lab mix, she loved the water. Twelve years later, in the last hour of her life, I took her there to smell and walk as far as she could before we made the sad trip to the vet.
The river was lined with golden cottonwood and willows. Some of the leaves, fallen and bruised, sent forth an aroma I had known all my life, giving me an instant sense of “home.”
I returned the next day with Truffle. On this visit, we crossed the road from the parking lot and tried an uphill hike. I was not in good shape, and the landscape and plant life were unfamiliar. I learned how much LONGER a hike seems when the features of the environment are completely new.
Truffle and I went back every day the weather allowed, which, in Southern California, was most days. I had not yet learned the joy of hiking in “inclement” weather, or what the chaparral offered the hiker willing to climb a hill in the rain.
Each day my dog and I went a little higher up the trail. In time six dogs and I would all go together for hours rambling the winding trails of Southern California’s wild landscape. I learned the four seasons of the chaparral, but even more about myself. The biggest thing I learned about nature (life?) is that no trail is the same trail twice, even if it’s a flat dirt road on an ancient lake bed. The important thing is to go. Otherwise there is no chance at all to see.
Happy Thanksgiving to all of you who celebrate it. I’m very thankful for this community. It’s a wonderful thing, far more so than I imagined when I started eight years ago. ❤️
P.S. There’s no prompt word in this post. I’m sorry. But the occasion for arms akimbo just didn’t happen in any of these events.