Tuesday, June 21, 2011

First day of summer

School ended on the 9th of June, and last week was my first official week of summer vacation. While friends began to post on Facebook about taking their kids or grandkids to Disneyland or about having fun on shopping excursions, I looked forward to taking long walks in the woods. Here are a few highlights from last week:

Hike #1
On my first day of break, I indulged in a third cup of Irish Breakfast tea, spent some time attending to my email inbox, then headed down to the village to drop off trash, recycling and mail. Afterward, I headed up Glendora Ridge Road, rolling along slowly in the truck, looking for water bottles cast off in the recent Tour of California bike race (not because I’m a groupie, but to make sure they made it into the recycle bin). I saw a fire road tucked way back in the hills, so I parked the truck and started walking. The path was lined with patches of lupine and other flowers, so as I walked, I breathed in the wild scent and listened to chickadees, tanagers, jays, wrens and nuthatches. On the way back, I heard a commotion in the foliage next to the road, so I stopped and waited. A young buck emerged and seemed surprised to see me. When I said hello, he trotted down the trail in front of me, eventually going over the side and down into the canyon below. Driving back, I swerved to avoid a rock in the middle of the road that looked just like a bird. In my rearview mirror, I saw it move. I stopped, leaving the truck in the middle of the road with the emergency flashers on, and walked back. A baby bluebird was standing on the asphalt, looking very confused. When I put my hands down to him, he stepped onto my finger. Slowly and carefully, I walked to the side of the highway, found a shady place in the chaparral, and set him down. Moments later as I got back in the truck, a sports car came flying up the road from the opposite direction. The tiny bird would certainly have been killed if it had remained where it was. This was another magical opportunity for me, one I do not take lightly (thank you, Universe), and one that is afforded by having the time to move slowly and quietly.

Hike #2
The next day I invited my buddy Doug to join me on an evening hike to Sunset Peak. I knew the moon would be rising about sunset and that it would be nearly full. We met at the trailhead at 5:00p.m. and began a leisurely walk up the trail. “Maybe we’ll see a deer,” I told him. Two miles later we did. A doe stood on the path about fifty yards ahead of us. We watched her for a moment, then she dropped over the side into the canyon. Cool. A mile further on, we stopped to watch a family of mountain quail. After two hours, we reached the summit. From the top, we could see fifty miles to the south. To the west we could see the rest of the San Gabriels stretching toward L.A., with the day’s misty marine layer settled in between the purple peaks. As the sun dropped below the ridges in a gorgeous display of orange and red, the moon rose to the east, so we could watch one show for awhile, then simply turn 180 degrees and watch the other. When the light was nearly faded, we began our walk down. By the time we reached the highway, we no longer needed our headlamps; the moonlight was bright enough to light the way. I enjoyed the deepest of sleeps that night.

Hike #3
My cabin sits a hundred or so feet back from the edge of a canyon. At the apex of that canyon is a steep waterfall. One of my favorite hikes involves climbing down into the canyon and following the stream up to the falls. On Thursday, I did just that, for the first time since last fall. In December we had five days of continuous rainfall which gorged the streams and, in the case of our canyon, actually changed the course of the water’s flow since so much debris tumbled down so quickly. The rushing water also gouged out deeper pools along the streambed, so walking up meant either finding ways to climb around them or simply wading through them. The water percolates from melting ice and snow inside the mountain, so it’s pretty cold, but on a hot spring day, it’s delicious when a hand or foot or leg goes into the water. At one point, a rock dislodged as I stepped down on it, and I tumbled into one of the deeper pools, getting wet all the way up to my pockets. I wasn’t hurt, other than a bruise on my hip, and later my Facebook status read: “I don’t mind falling. It’s landing that tends to erase the thrill of the event.” Still, it was a great hike, and I did it again yesterday, this time managing to negotiate the stream all the way to the falls without once falling. Of course, once I reach the waterfall, I like to take off my cap, hold it under the falling water until it’s soaked, then put it back on.

In two days, I’ll be heading to Missouri to visit much-missed friends, meet new cousins, and speak at the library in Union about my great-grandmother (who is infamous in the area, thus affording me mini-rock star status while I’m there). My walks while there will consist of heading up the hill from the hotel to the graveyards beyond. But I’ll be looking forward to many more trail adventures when I return. In the meantime, I fall asleep now at dusk listening to western tanagers singing high overhead in the treetops, awake to the same music every morning.

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