Night Hike

I used to hike at night in the winter in California. Not (normally) LATE at night but after dark. It was a wondrous world of sounds and the smell of black sage in the Southern California Chaparral. Most of those hikes were with my wolf-dog, Ariel, and with Molly or Lupo. Molly, Lupo and Ariel were pretty large dogs, so I had companionship, a warning system and protection.

The night sky above a big city does not reveal a lot of stars, but there I could see stars unless there was heavy ocean fog. The river valley that made the canyon went straight to the Pacific, so little cat feet of fog often made their way up the valley.

Many animals are more active at night, including mountain lions. It strikes me odd today that I never thought of that when I was wandering up a finger canyon with my dogs. I relied on my dogs a lot on those hikes, their noses, their senses, their instincts.

One of the sweetest of the shadowy experiences was toward the end of a canyon beside some oak trees (coastal live oak) where a pair of Western Screech Owls would often just make a racket. I thought they might have been talking to each other. Whatever they were doing, that was THEIR tree. One night, they were completely silent. I sensed they were there, that their silence was strategic, and that there was a predator near. I was a little bewildered because my dogs didn’t react at all, so if there WAS a predator, it wasn’t upsetting Molly and Ariel.

Hmmm.

I developed a theory. My dogs had been around coyotes so much by that point that I think, on some level, they just regarded them as “the dogs we meet up with when we go for a hike with Martha.” I thought there might have been a coyote under that tree. To test my theory, I yipped.

He answered. We chatted. Molly and Ariel lay down, and waited patiently as we conducted our conversation, but after a while they got restless. They were hungry, and it was dinner time. I said my good-byes to the coyote, admonishing him to leave the owls alone and headed home.

https://ragtagcommunity.wordpress.com/2020/08/20/ragtag-daily-prompt-thursday-shadowy-explorations/

Ice Cream Freezer

For months and months and months after he’d seen the old ice-cream freezer in my house, Mikey wanted to make ice cream. I always put him off because I didn’t really KNOW how to make ice cream. Finally I read a recipe in the cook book my Aunt Martha had given me so I knew. It was just — as I always believed — frozen milk with other stuff added in. Then came a day, one of the best days of my life and maybe one of the best days of the boys’ lives. On the way home from the BMX jumps, we stopped by the store where I bought salt and everything we needed to grill burgers and roast marshmallows — and make ice-cream. Mikey was over the moon, plus I was letting him sit in the middle front seat of the Ford Ranger so he could shift. Really, when is life better than THAT???

I know not every late-30s/early-40’s woman hangs out with a half a dozen kids, but we were friends.

Mikey and his brother lived about a block from me, up the alley. Their friends from school hung around on weekends. I had a truck. The BMX jumps were at the urban wilderness park where I hiked. The rest is history.

We got home from our hot afternoon — August 15, 1992 — and I set Mikey up with the ice cream freezer. I gave Jason a can of WD40 so he could see what was up with the old Ford in the back of my back yard. Jimmy disappeared and I found him in my room writing a story on my Macintosh (old school, black and white screen, etc.). Mike Smith — the tragedy of the long story that was our lives — was still around and he just helped out generally. Mike Smith was a natural athlete and a charismatic character with a prescient home tattoo of flames on his ankle.

I was still making the video of the boys at the jumps, so I hauled out the camera and video taped that late afternoon as part of the film we were making. It’s all on videotape in my “studio” play room, whatever. I also took still pictures that evening and I”m happy I did. It turned out to be a very important day for everyone in that yard.

And the ice cream was good. We put strawberries on top and Mikey didn’t even mind being pretty much the only guy turning the crank.

https://ragtagcommunity.wordpress.com/2020/07/12/rdp-sunday-ice-cream/

“Place of Grace”

Prize to anyone who can find the San Luis Valley on this photo.

Most of Colorado is wilderness and I don’t have access to it because 1) much is inaccessible and 2) I have mobility problems, but it’s OK. Where once I thought “I have to see it” now I think, “I have to leave it alone.” I’m happy walking in semi-remote, semi-wilderness areas. I’m happy skiing on a golf course. I don’t think this is all the result of arthritis. A lot of it has to do with working for more than a decade in an urban wilderness park.

In 1988? 87? I first visited Mission Trails Regional Park it wasn’t a park. It was just 5000 acres of emptiness left over from WW II. The main feature was Old Mission Dam which had been built back in the day by the Kumeyaay Indians to supply water to the Mission Basilica San Diego de Alcala. I didn’t venture in very far — just enough to see the November version of the San Diego River (“You call that a river?” said a Swiss student of the trickle that is the river most of the year)

Old Mission Dam


I started hiking there every day. No one was there. There were some trails but not many. It was just a lump of wilderness surrounded by San Diego and suburbs. It was a landscape I didn’t know and I began learning it, but the first thing I learned was that we never know even the most familiar landscape. I hiked there nearly every day for more than 20 years, in all weather, all seasons, all times of day.

In the early nineties, we started seeing road-graders at work and sticks marking some major construction project. Ultimately we learned that HWY 52 was going to cross the northern boundary of the wilderness because, by god people have to go shopping and go to work.

For a while we made a quest out of pulling out sticks and mildly “monkey-wrenching.” Then, construction stopped for a short time when they found the bones of prehistoric horses. Of course that wasn’t enough to stop progress, so once enough bones has been excavated that they could be studied, it all began again. My wilderness was being cut in two and the former silence was filled with graders and trucks going backwards and forward. Still, once the road bed was graded it was a while before they began real construction. There was a lull in “progress.”

Circumstances led me to the top of South Fortuna in the wee hours of a December morning. That dark night Molly and I danced down a hill, enjoying silence and stars (not easy to see in San Diego). The NEXT day they finally began real construction on the road. After that it would carry cars.

Molly and I were there for the last silent night.

Part of the road deal included “mitigation” — acres given by the city to what would become the largest urban wilderness park in the United States. One Sunday afternoon, pure coincidence, I happened to see a few people wandering aimlessly around a small mesa near the intersection of Mission Gorge Road and Father Serra Trail. I went over to talk to them and that led to me being a member of the board of directors of the Citizens Advisory Council that would build the park. They needed someone who actually KNEW the landscape. I was to be the liaison between the board and the rangers, the board, the rangers and a volunteer organization that I would organize. The visitor’s center I “helped” build became a model for visitor’s centers all over the country. I would have a voice in the educational programs presented in the Visitor’s Center. I would organize volunteer tour leaders who would teach people how to care for that fragile landscape and teach children how to “see” it. To people who don’t know it, the coastal sage chaparral really looks like NOTHING.

“My” park was the first of its kind in this country. When the Garden of the Gods in Colorado wanted to build a real visitor’s center, they looked to ours. When I see signage on trails in my valley, I’m seeing echoes of “my” park. Parks like Mission Trails educate people to love and care for the wilderness. I’m proud to have been a part in establishing it and protecting it. Godnose those acres gave me so much. That they are not now a mall, freeway and water park is partly due to me. That’s the thing in my life I’m most proud of. I helped preserve 6000 acres of “wilderness.”

And it preserved my soul.


Now I live in a truly wild place. I sometimes think of it as my reward for the good things I did during my purgatory years in San Diego. Every time I go anywhere — Penitente Canyon, up one of the Frisco Creek trails, the Big Empty, anywhere — I see what I am able to see because of my apprenticeship at Mission Trails Regional Park. The whole time I was there I thought I was missing Colorado. The reality is that “my” chaparral was teaching me how to see and where to look so I could come back.

“This lovely being, which is alive to its last recesses and understands every feeling, soothed me, it cured me of my pains, and finally, when I had fully understood my love for it, it taught me freedom.” Carlos Castaneda, Tales of Power

The title of this blog came from Beth who left the words on a comment on one of my blog posts.

https://ragtagcommunity.wordpress.com/2020/06/13/rdp-saturday-wilderness/

“I hope all your students are deep and funny.”

If you’re read my blog for a while you know there are twenty-something large books in my “studio” — journal/scrapbook things that I don’t want to keep but can’t throw out. They take up a LOT of space, and I don’t “use” them at all. (How would anyone “use” them?) A few of them are spread out on my work table now. If you open one and start reading, well, for the most part, they’re just awful.

I went at 1988-89 (Volume I of that year, seriously) yesterday with scissors and an x-acto knife. I cut out sheafs of pages, laughing, thinking that even if I don’t do anything more with it, and never manage to throw the books out, at least I’ll leave behind the “expurgated” version of “The Examined Life.”

For many years I wrote my personal thoughts and struggles in these books. I suppose it’s a pretty common human thingamajig to struggle over and over with the same aspects of personality or the walls that spring up in life, the stuff you can’t get over, around or through. For me, apparently, it was “luv’,” specifically a marriage that wasn’t working and my desire to have a romantic companion. I don’t know why that didn’t seem to me at the time a good reason to sit down and talk with my ex about our “non” relationship. Maybe I did and it just didn’t make it into “The Examined Life.”

There are greeting cards, photographs, funny things students said (like the title of this post) circular meditations on the meaning of life (didn’t find the answer, so circular). On the other hand, some of it is accurately self-revelatory. I did not purge the book of those bits of elaborate cursive.

Those are not trivial problems but, good god, are they boring to read about.

Mixed in with all that verbiage (rhymes with “garbage”) are some good insights, descriptions of moments which I could not have known at the time were major life moments, like seeing my first rattlesnake, watching the swirling gyre of seagulls rising from the ocean, being looked in the eye by a red tail hawk, the beginning of my hiking life in the chaparral, the beginning of my life with dogs and my first dog, Truffle who was then a puppy, getting my second dog, Molly. I could not know in the midst of 1988-89 how important these things were and how unimportant the other stuff was.

I think, though, this whole thing could be compiled into ONE that I really CAN use, another volume called, “How it All Turned Out here in Heaven” or something. Maybe just denouement. “Getting found almost always means being lost for a while.” Annie Lamont

But it struck me this morning how weird it all is. Here we are, more-or-less consigned to our domiciles, as if this were a second winter without the glorious compensation of snow, relegated to tasks our usual “busyness” would have made it easy for us to avoid.

~~~

In other news: if your blender breaks and you want a smoothie, the best tool? The lowly dinner fork.


https://ragtagcommunity.wordpress.com/2020/05/11/rdp-monday-thingamajig/

Trail Fail… Responding to Wild Sensibility’s Challenge…

If you spend time in the outdoors, eventually something will go wrong. It’s a law of nature. But if you survive, those epic failures become the best stories! We’ve all read about amazing accomplishments in the wild, but now it’s time to tell us about the not-so-great times and what you learned from them. Share your best #EpicTrailFail stories on your own page, include this paragraph as a header, and then provide a link in the comments here or here. We’ll curate and circulate the best stories in future posts. We can’t wait to read about what you’ve survived!
Arionis of Just A Small Cog and Rebecca of Wild Sensibility.

~~~

Back in my thirties, forties, and into my fifties, when my right hip went south (without me) I ran miles and miles and miles and miles and miles and miles on narrow rocky trails in the California chaparral and in the mountains east of San Diego. I ran up and down hills like a bitch. Everyone said, “You should be careful! You’re going to hurt yourself!” but I never did. Never. Not once.

Ha.

The trail and I were as one. I felt those trails beneath my feet with the same knowledge with which we know the lines on our own hands. No one could keep up with me let alone catch me.

I bet you can’t even SEE the trail…

Why once — when I hit the trails to run off a disappointment — I ran up the steepest ‘face’ of one of the ‘mountains’, down the other side and up the next mountain. I didn’t know there was a guy running behind me, trying to catch up. When I finally stopped, and the guy caught up, he said, “Damn, woman, you’re fast. I’m fast, but I couldn’t catch up. Do you do this all the time?”

I gave the guy a hard look and thought, “That’s one fit dude,” and answered, “Pretty much every day.”

But pride goeth or love hurts or something and I fell in love. No, not with the guy who chased me. The guy’s name was Mike, and he was (IMO) beautiful and very smart. It turned out to be a pretty good short-term relationship, too, and it ended in friendship that was even nicer than the relationship. But this was the beginning when people are incoherent, babbling fountains of unasked questions, reading each other’s faces and looks and gestures. He was also 15 years younger, and that was one reason for all the incoherent babbling and face reading. It was a little scary. We hung out a lot as friends and had a blast. But as happens, the friendship grew and hit the infamous When Harry Met Sally moment. Neither of us was sure about it. Meanwhile, we kept hanging out, eating dinner, going to movies, talking, hiking, and riding mountain bikes and stuff.

Then, one quiet Sunday afternoon we went to Balboa Park. Balboa Park is near the top of any San Diego sightseer’s list. It is the location of the San Diego Zoo and the San Diego Museum of Art. Many of its beautiful buildings were built for the American Exposition of 1915. It sits at the top of a mesa not far from the harbor and downtown. It is completely and totally flat. As flat as the valley in which I live now.

Mike and I wandered around, talking and (gasp) holding hands. As we talked I realized this was that miraculous, rare thing called “requited love.” Inside I felt like a million Lawrence Welk bubbles were dancing in my heart. I was so happy that I turned to physical anarchy to release my emotions. There was a small square of grass, small wooden stakes pounded into the earth on each corner, encircled by a flimsy white string about 18 inches above the ground. I did a perfect scissors jump over it and then another over the other side. And then I screamed like all the tortures of hell had suddenly found my left knee to be inexorably damned. I’d landed with my knee hyper-extended not knowing, when I jumped, how much lower the ground was on THIS side of the string than the the side I’d jumped from.

Star marks the spot

Mike helped me up, got me to my Ford Ranger and I drove home. “Walk it off, Kennedy,” echoing in my mind, but when I stepped out of my truck, I collapsed. My knee wasn’t going to hold me. I managed to stand up and limp to my house, let myself in and get past the dogs to the phone.

“Mike, I need to go to the ER.”

Sometime later — a year or so — Mike and I were no longer an “item.” He was in college taking a keyboarding class. One day, in the mail, I got his homework…

Fun with Fissures

California has naked geology in many places, fissures where the earth has broken apart. In these spots, Earth’s oldest rock is brought to the surface by seismic activity. Sometimes these fissures opened up a fresh-water spring.

It was fun hiking between the two highest “mountain ranges” in San Diego County. The ranges themselves had resulted from a combination of pulling and folding — like laundry? In between were fissure/valleys, often with small streams and springs.

Satellite view of where the Cuyamaca Mountains and Laguna Mountains pulled apart.

You can kind of see what I mean on the map — the area is actually pretty small — maybe only 16 square miles. It is exactly between the two ranges and near the spot where they split (to the north). There are two creeks (Indian Creek and Lucas Creek) and at the lowest part of these valleys is a small pool.

I had several hikes that took me to that pool — it’s important when you hike with a hairy dog that they have chances to cool down. One of my hikes took me to the mountain top from which I could see both ranges. The trail is on this map but hard to see. That mountain is in the lower left hand corner facing, pretty much just opposite the direction arrow.

There are a few ways to reach the fissure — one is going down the Noble Canyon Trail which is a mountain biker’s paradise so not the most fun hike, BUT once off the mountain bike trail, within earshot of the stream, there were (before the Cedar Fire) some very ancient manzanita.

Molly and me and the Grandfather Manzanita near Indian Creek, 2000? 2001?

One afternoon, hiking with Ariel, my white husky/low-content wolf, as I sat eating my picnic lunch against a hillside and Ariel swam, a mountain biker came thundering down the slope. He couldn’t see me, but he saw Ariel and crashed his bike. He came tumbling down the hill. Ariel just stood in the water looking at him. I got up and said, “Are you OK?”

“Is that a wolf?”

“No. Siberian husky.” I wasn’t given to advertising Ariel’s genetics. Ariel got out of the water, shook and walked over to say hi to the guy.

Ariel

Another splendid fissure was in Mission Trails Regional Park, a spot now called “Oak Canyon.” In my mind’s eye, the Kumeyyay, while they were under the dominating thumb of Father Junipero Serra and building his damned dam on the San Diego River, retired to that canyon every evening for their dinner of wild bunny and acorns. Morteros and small cisterns litter the Precambrian Gneiss revealed in some seismic moment eons ago. It’s one of the only spots in that summer-sere place that is cool in the afternoons because of the deep shade of the canyon walls. The Indians had blocked the flow of water from the seasonal stream that runs through it with ONE round boulder, a dam that held water for their use 12 months a year in elegant simplicity.

The featured photo is my dog, Truffle, swimming at the place I named Indian Kitchen, Oak Canyon, Mission Trails Regional Park.

My dogs loved it.

Oh yeah, me too.

https://ragtagcommunity.wordpress.com/2019/09/19/rdp-thursday-fissure/

Manzanita and Rocks

The manzanita in this photo was a destination for Molly and me — a minor destination. The kind where you stop, look in awe at a hundreds of year old immense beautiful plant, sit down, give your dog some water, get up and keep going to a real destination. In this case, our destination was a small spring fed pool in a narrow fissure between some of the earth’s oldest rocks up in the Laguna Mountains.

I’ve known some rocks that are more than 1000 million years old — very common rocks, the bedrock of the Earth, pre-cambrian gneiss. They offered a lot of good lessons in patience through change.

Truffle Swimming

Truffle “fishing” in a seasonal pool in the “Indian kitchen”

These particular rocks had been used by Indian tribes for hundreds (thousands?) of years for all the things Indians can use rocks for — weapons, tools, cisterns, grinding holes, laundry. A person who was paying attention could imagine a small band of Indians doing their chores with the help of those ancient rocks, grinding acorns or maybe releasing the fibers of yucca to make sandals and ropes.

In October 2003 an immense fire — 273,246 acres — swept through parts of Southern California — both of these places, in fact. The ancient manzanita was burned to the ground. The oak trees north of this seasonal pond where my dog is swimming were burned to the ground, too. But the rocks — except for some staining from orange fire retardant — were still there, still the same. And the manzanita? The roots hold a manzanita’s life. By spring, shoots of the future had already emerged. I wonder what she looks like now, 15 years later.

https://ragtagcommunity.wordpress.com/2018/06/17/antediluvian/

Flawed

Yesterday, not long after my blog post went up, I got a text from one of my neighbors who’s currently a “snow bird.” “I want to read your hiking book.” She’s originally from San Diego and her grandson lives within sight of the main locale of the stories.

I texted her back, “It’s not happening,” with a little explanation, then I went about my morning. In the back of my mind was the book, of course.

The book is flawed. I don’t think there’s anything I can do about that. Its flaws are, in their way, reflections of MY flaws. I fixed the two new typos I’d found and closed the file.

Then I did my chores, thinking the book was a done deal, a closed subject.

I looked at Bear’s blue eyes, which are very beautiful but they are also, probably, the reason I have her.

“Whoa,” I thought. “Whoever bred Bear thought they were a flaw. Thought they indicated deafness or blindness or?” Then I thought of Dusty T. Dog. He was so flawed the shelter didn’t think he was adoptable. He’s STILL flawed, but WOW. For nearly 12 years he’s been my loyal, loving companion no matter WHAT.

Then I thought of Mission Trails Regional Park itself — the location of most of the stories in my book. It’s not perfect. It was never where I WANTED to be. It was simply what I had, the only place I could hike with my dogs during a long and VERY flawed time in my life. And it ITSELF was barely snatched from development and freeways — by whom? A group of San Diego citizens INCLUDING me! I, with all my flaws, was one small agent in the protection of 5800 acres of chaparral for future generations to see, know, enjoy.

BEYOND that, the place itself has seen a lot of life (and destruction) before it became a park — dirt bikes, ATVS, and people four-wheeling up the steep slopes. Stolen cars dumped in the stream and over the embankments. When I first started hiking there, a Ford pickup from the 40s rusted away in the stream leading to Oak Canyon. During WW II it was a military training base, including exploding shells (some unexploded shells have been found in recent years). There had been developer dreams of cutting across the hillside with a four lane freeway on the bed of a road that had been used by the water department. Neither it nor I are a pristine perfect flawless wilderness. I began to wonder if maybe it was a BETTER book because it’s not perfect.

And more… My father’s flaws, his MS, inspired me to propose, design, and raise the money for the building of a wheelchair accessible guided walkway to one of the most interesting historical features in California, Old Mission Dam.

204220

Walkway to Old Mission Dam, Mission Trails Regional Park, San Diego

Late yesterday, I decided to write a note for the readers of my book explaining its flaws, that Createspace COULDN’T print the cover right no matter what and directing readers to the website where they could see the actual photo (including the featured image for this blog), apologizing for my weak proofreading skills and the relentless and (to me) invisible typos (just now found another one 😦 ) and explaining that it all reflects my flaws and the flaws of the world as it is.

“Give the world the best you have and it may never be enough. Give your best anyway. For you see, in the end, it is between you and God. It was never between you and them anyway.” M. Teresa

https://dailypost.wordpress.com/prompts/jolly/

As for “jolly” the word of the day, it’s one of those Christmas words. I never use it. Sorry WP.

Silent Night

On the high fire roads there were wooden stakes with pink, plastic strings functioning as flags. I pulled them up whenever I saw one and tossed it into the bushes. “They’re going to put a freeway through my park!” was my one thought. “I’m not going to make that easy for them.”

Then I learned it was an extension to a freeway I used sometimes to go to a canyon where I sometimes walked the dogs. The 52. I felt betrayed. I didn’t know this had been in the works for years before I even know of the park or, maybe, even moved to California. I kept pulling up stakes, but it didn’t matter because they’d started grading the road bed.

Then, they found little horses, remains of little horses, where they had planned to put a bridge. “This’ll stop them, I thought. No bridge for this highly important paleontological sight.” But no. They just dug up some horses to study, left the rest of them there, and built a bridge.

Then it was built, but it didn’t open, and it didn’t open, and it didn’t open. “What’s going on?” I wondered.

Events conspired to bring me to the park one December night. As I was heading down the hill with my dog, Molly, I was struck by the silence of the chaparral. It wasn’t a very pretty night; lots of ocean mist, no visible stars, just a night, but so very, very quiet. Molly and I slowed down to enjoy it.

The next day the road opened. I will always think that my being there on the last silent night was a specially conferred blessing.

 

 

https://dailypost.wordpress.com/prompts/heard/