Sunday, April 29, 2012

What the Amgen has to do with my pizza

Yesterday, to celebrate getting down to… a certain weight… I stopped on the way back up the mountain from my writers group meeting to order a pizza at Giuseppe’s. Giuseppe's is at the top of Euclid, just north of the Y split on the west side of the street. The restaurant serves Mediterranean and Italian food, so you can order a killer veggie kabob or a humus plate or lasagna or Persian ice cream, all of it scrumptious. You can also get pizza to go, so I thought I was being smart by calling ahead and ordering a pizza for pick up. My plan was to get up the mountain as fast as possible, then hang out on the back deck eating pizza and basking in the sunshine.

But yesterday the Amgen Tour of California (ToC) amateur stage was held in Mt. Baldy. It has a fancy name—L’Etape du California—whatever. Locals just call it the “Amateur Amgen.” For a substantial fee (some of which goes to cancer research), bike riders can attempt the route that the pros will ride in this year’s 7th stage of the ToC. Starting in Ontario, the route winds slowly up through the foothills, then partway up the mountain, then heads west for a good long time along the scenic but challenging Glendora Ridge Road, then comes back to Baldy Road and takes a vicious turn north, heading up the grueling switchbacks to finish at around 6500ft. elevation in the ski lift parking lot. Who’d wanna ride that? Crazy people, I’m tellin’ ya.

So I get my pizza and I start driving and my first thought is, “Oh my Buddha, that smells heavenly,” and I’m really, really hungry so I open the box at the last stop sign at Shinn Rd., thinking I might snag a piece to eat while I drive. But it’s too hot and too drippy, what with all that great sauce and melted cheese, so I close the box and think, “I’ll just hurry on home—I’m 20 minutes away!” What a goofhead….

Because there are all these cyclists on the road going up the mountain. And being a cyclist myself, I know what it’s like to try to ride on a narrow road with little or no room to move over when cars come roaring indignantly up from behind. So I put on my emergency flashers to warn the cars behind me and those that threaten to hit me head on, and I start passing small groups of cyclists huffing and puffing their way up the mountain. When I say “passing,” I mean pulling over into the southbound lane to give the riders a wide enough berth so they’re not having to think, “Is that truck going to plow into me?” while they’re nearly totally oxygen deprived.

So instead of 20 minutes, it takes me 40 to get home. And by then my pizza with the bubbly cheese and golden crispy crust is nearly cold. But I happen to have an oven…. So while I’m re-heating my amazing lunch/dinner, I get my backyard chair ready, my iced tea on the table, and I contemplate how exciting it’s going to be when my heroes get here on May 19th to ride our version of the Alpe d’Huez right here in Mt. Baldy. I. Can’t. Wait.

Sunday, April 22, 2012

Sun and Snow

A week ago we had a snowstorm that left behind nearly a foot of soft powder. I spent the first day of the storm in front of a warm fire, reading and writing and watching the cats play. The next morning I walked the loop under lingering clouds, coming down from the falls to see only one other set of prints in the soft snow—those of T.J., the big red dog who is my neighbor. By the time I reached the cabin, it had begun to snow again, small flakes drifting down outside the window as I brewed a cup of tea. But by then I had used up the last of my firewood, so while the day was cold (30 degrees), and the snow continued, we had only the wall furnace to keep us warm. The cats and I huddled near it, happy for an abundance of spare blankets. I checked the weather report and reassured them: “Don’t worry, ladies. We’ll be warm by Wednesday.” Sure enough, the sun came out on Sunday, then gradually, with each passing day, the temperatures warmed.
Now it is Sunday again. Yesterday, wearing a short sleeved t-shirt and flip-flops, I cleaned up the detritus left behind by the storm. Afterward, I sat on the back deck reading a book, little Sugar Plum nearby basking in a warm sun spot. Today I opened half of the many windows in the cabin, knocked down cobwebs and turned on the ceiling fan to air out the dust. Now the cabin smells like the mountain, that fresh mix of pine and oak and spring wildflowers. With the windows open, I can hear the stream gushing along in the canyon just below us. Again this afternoon I sat outside and indulged in the luxury of reading for pleasure, the melody of a grosbeak’s mating song echoing from the canyon walls, Sugie wandering about the deck sniffing everything she hadn’t smelled since October. We are heady with the joy of it.

Oh, I know that our cold days are not yet behind us. Rain is predicted for Wednesday night and Thursday. But just this brief respite from the cold days, a hint and promise of the long delicious days of summer on the mountain, is enough to remind me of how quickly the circumstances of life can turn around.

Saturday, April 14, 2012

An invitation....

Ellie Mae Murphy, smiling

On Monday, if I am brave, I will click the button that sends my manuscript, The Dogs Who Saved Me, off to the publisher. In July, if all goes well, I will hold the printed book in my hands.

Recent days have been filled with searching, searching, searching for typos; listening carefully to suggestions by my first readers; trying to find words to frame the perfect dedication (impossible)… and crying.

I think you’ll understand all the tears with this book once you read it. It’s amazing how we can be dropped to our knees by heartache but somehow, later, find the courage to get up and continue our trudge forward on the journey, telling ourselves we’re “over it”—until something happens to make us remember. In writing this book, I have had to recall some difficult times in my life. But I’ve also spent time remembering the dogs who saved me, and they’ve been on my mind a lot lately.

I remember Ruf, whose favorite toy was always a rock he’d find and bring to me to throw for him. I once threw a rock into a pond that was three feet deep just to see what he’d do. Yeah, he dove down to the bottom and retrieved it.

Ellie became my dog after my brother moved to Seattle and couldn’t take her with him. Two years later, he came down for a visit, and she had what can only be described as a transcendent ecstatic experience when she was reunited with him.

Alex Haley was the Rottweiler/Chow mix who was terrified of loud noises. (A car backfiring would send him diving into the closet, trembling in fear for half an hour.) And he was the dog who sat beside me—rock steady—while a drug-crazed man pounded on the doors and windows of my house, trying to break in.

These dogs are gone now… but not my memories of them.

I am saving a page in the front of my dog book to honor some of the dogs I know—and don’t know—who live on in the hearts of their human companions. If you’ve had a good dog (or two… or six), or you know of one, and you would like that dog to be remembered on that page, please leave the dog’s name in the comment section here. Or better yet, head over to the Facebook page for The Dogs Who Saved Me (<--just click on that blue writing) and leave a comment to my post. I’m gathering the names today (April 14, 2012) and tomorrow; they will be the last bits I add before clicking that ominous but important button on Monday morning.

Foreground: Nikita Fedrovna Baryshnikov Zhivago ("Niki")  Background:  Alex Haley

Sunday, April 8, 2012

Time for a change

Ten years ago, just before I left for a writers conference in Big Bear, I stopped by the post office and picked up a package I’d been anxiously awaiting from Lands End. I opened the box to find a pair of brown leather hiking boots. Know how some women get excited over a new pair of stylish heels? Yeah, that’s me with hiking boots. I put them on and wore them for the duration of the weekend, taking several long walks while at the conference. They fit perfectly. I loved them. They became my new best friends.

I wore them hiking in Azusa Canyon, climbing up the steep rock face to sit by my favorite secret waterfall.

I wore them hiking in Santa Anita Canyon, down the single track trail that leads along the stream to Hermit Falls, and I had them on that fateful Fourth of July when the ranger came by to say the gate at the bottom of the road would be closing early that night. I hurried down to find I’d been locked in… but I was rescued by a handsome stranger….

I wore them hiking in the red rock country of Sedona, Arizona, while on a visit to writer Willma Gore. I came back from that amble with red dust all over those boots… and I brought some home to Cali with me.

Of course, I wore them to hike in Mt. Baldy—up to Sunset Peak, up the trail to the Sierra Club hut, up to Bear Flats on the Bear Canyon trail, and of course, countless times on the Ice House Canyon Trail to Cedar Glen or the saddle. I had them on the day Patty Walker and I took a walk up that trail to Kelly’s Camp. We started—lazily—at 9:00a.m. on a weekday in late summer. When we arrived at the saddle, she asked me if I’d brought food.

“Of course,” I said, as I began pulling granola bars and grapes from my pack. She smirked and told me to put my food away, she’d brought enough for both of us. And then she began unpacking a feast—fresh mozzarella cheese floating in olive oil and bruschetta to slap it on, along with thick tomato slices. While I marveled at the miracle of the food reviving me, she fired up her camp stove and brewed some tea. When she pulled out the apricot tart, I asked her if I’d died on the trail and had arrived in heaven. We hiked on to Kelly’s Camp that day to lie in the meadow in the afternoon sun and listen to the sound of water trickling from the mountain. On the way back down, as evening came on, we watched a doe and her fawn grazing on a far slope. We were gone ten hours that day. It is a piece of my life I hope I never forget.

Those plain brown hiking boots shared a lot of memories with me. And I wore them out, wore down the soles to the nubs and kept wearing them until the lacing unraveled.

Last week on Spring Break, I bought a new pair of hiking boots. It took some serious inner dialogue, but I finally had the courage to toss the old worn out boots in the trash.

Spring is all about renewal and rebirth. Can’t wait to see what adventures these new boots take me on.