Saturday, September 26, 2009

Bear as token

For several weeks now, trails on the mountain have been closed by the Forest Service as fires continue to burn in Riverside, San Bernardino and Los Angeles Counties—most notably, the Station fire, which is now the largest fire to ever sweep through the mountains above L.A. The folks who ‘manage’ the forest worry that if a fire breaks out here, resources will already be critically depleted, so the trails are closed in order to reduce the odds of yet another fire being started up here.

No one is allowed on the trails, and big signs have been erected at the trailheads, in pull-outs up and down the mountain: STOP. NO ENTRY. EXTREME FIRE DANGER. This results in a quietness and serenity on the mountain that is indescribable. For a time, I will hear no loud hikers at 5:00a.m. passing by on the road to the falls above my cabin, stopping to pitch rocks over the side into what they think is a deep canyon, talking loudly of all manner of things, from hating their bosses to their sexual exploits—all of which is heard by myself and whatever neighbors are up at that hour.

With the peace and quiet, the animals come out in record numbers, as do the mountain residents. We sneak onto the trails when we know the rangers won’t catch us. We see bighorn sheep nearly ever day who use the nearly abandoned trails themselves. Turning a corner in the trail, we’re no longer surprised when we see a few ewes, sometimes with a baby or two.

Last Sunday, I heard a commotion outside at 5:30a.m. shortly after I’d gone out to refill a water dish I leave out for birds, squirrels and raccoons. I approached the French doors leading to my deck to try to peer out into the darkness to see what was up—and realized by the sheer bulk of the shadow on the opposite side of the doors that I was staring at the form of a bear. When I switched on the outside light, I saw a beautiful, cinnamon-colored bear strolling around on the deck, sniffing the air around the doorframes. It’s hard to appreciate the size of a bear’s paw and claws until you see him standing on your back porch. Without shouting, I asked him to leave, and he did so.

I celebrated the bear’s visit by walking up to the Sierra Club ski hut later that morning, a journey that takes me a bit over two hours, walking slowly up a gain of 2,000 feet in elevation along a single track trail at the edge of the canyon that feeds the waterfall. I didn’t pass a single soul that day. I sat for a half hour at the hut, eating some hummus and flatbread, tossing tiny crumbs to the jays, breathing in the silence and the scent of sun-warmed pine. Clouds danced overhead.

I walked early this morning, before dawn, so I could stand up near the falls and watch the sky turn pink behind the eastern ridge.

I am grateful that my cabin hasn’t sold, that I am here on the mountain during this time of grieving. I will think of these things today at my brother’s memorial service. The silence of the canyon will come back to me in the midst of my sadness, the soft brush of the mountain breeze against my skin.

1 comment:

  1. Clearly, you are where you should be at this time in your life, and, clearly, you have the sense and sensitivity to recognize and accept that. Too often too many of us miss that point entirely.