I never know when I’m going to end up here.
I may get in my car thinking I’m going to pick up a few things at the store, or that I’m going to the post office. Today I laced up my shoes thinking I would go take a sedate little walk around the Great Wall of Los Angeles mural, but no. The mountains. Only the mountains would do.
When I first got my car, affectionately named Ed, I took him part way up there to give him a feel for what he would be in store for as my vehicle. That was the evening he told me his name and also informed me he wasn’t fond of how fast I liked to drive. This trip was my first time taking Ed all the way in to the area of the mountains I call my Living Room.
The mountains said, “Welcome home.”
I was nervous going all the way in. Nervous because I’d never taken Ed on that rutted dirt road before. Ed, who is a distinguished silver gentleman. I don’t think Ed has ever been taken mudwhomping before. Fortunately for him, and sadly for me, there was no water or mud to whomp in. The two places on the paved part of the road where the creek crosses were completely dry. No satisfying “SPLOOSH!” of the river as I drove over the road.
It was weird to be nervous there. Those mountains are usually the place I feel the most calm and the most myself. I parked Ed just outside of the “DO NOT TRESPASS” gate. The place I’d parked my second Honda so many times before. The first Honda I didn’t have to park there because when I had that first Honda there weren’t any barriers on the property. You could drive all the way in as far as you liked back then, but today I parked outside of the gate, and I was nervous.
The mountains said, “Welcome home.”
I ducked between the bars of the gate and started walking. It was quiet there, as always, but the sound of my own walking seemed to drown out everything else. My gosh I’m noisy when I walk. My pants, which were too long and are of that odd windbreaker type fabric, made noise as my thighs rubbed together and each time my foot hit the ground I could hear the hems drag. My shoes made the predictable “crunch, crunch” on the grainy dirt road, but I also noticed for the first time that my running shoes squeak. So as I walked along, this one small person in this great big place, I felt as stealth as a traveling circus calliope going at full steam announcing the “Ringling Brothers, Barnum & Bailey Circus of One” on the way down the trail.
“HEY! QUIET WILDERNESS! I’M HERE!”
The mountains quietly said, “Welcome home.”
The longer I walked, the more I felt embarrassed at how noisy I was. I kept stopping because I thought I heard something else, but… no, it was always just me.
I was also walking with this sense of urgency because I ended up getting there after 4pm and although it had been sunny and kinda hot in the Valley all day, by the time I made it up there it was getting overcast and already starting to get dark.
I went up there without an agenda, I thought, but as I parked my car before the gate barricade I realized, “I’ve got to go to where I left mom’s ashes.” I didn’t want to go, necessarily, but that was where I was going. That was what this trip was about.
Walking loud, walking nervous, I kept thinking about how I was now in the ecotone, that place on the edge between civilization and wilderness. I thought about that episode of “Six Feet Under” where the dude who dies in that episode is jogging in the hills and he gets attacked by a cougar. I nervously looked around for random cougars or coyotes that might pop out of the bushes without warning.
I thought about Joe Perry of Aerosmith’s autobiography, which I had just finished reading, and how he mentioned he loved the woods because there was the possibility of danger around every corner, and how he welcomed the excitement of that. Of course he always went into the woods with a dog and a gun. I had neither. I realized, in my spontaneity, I had neglected to bring a jacket, so it was just me, my noisy-ass pants, shoes, a thin t-shirt and my hair in a ponytail stuffed under a baseball hat.
“Grrrr! I am mountain woman! Fear me imagined predators of the wilderness!”
The last time I was up here I brought my mom’s ashes with me. I still have a video of scattering her ashes in the creek on my Blackberry. I forgot I’d taken it, but I was dinking around with my Blackberry one day and there it was. I never posted it anywhere and I still haven’t watched it all the way through, but… it’s there.
I walked the wide pathway until it narrowed and offered me the familiar high road / low road choice. I usually take the low road because it’s closer to the creek and this time I wanted to see if there was any water in the creek back there. I had a moment where I got excited, “I hear water!” I stopped. But no… “whoosh, whoosh, whoosh, whoosh…” pause …it’s the pants.
The last time I was there I brought mom’s ashes. When was that? Blackberry says… oh, of course! June 11, 2011. Her birthday. So it’s been three years and almost seven months since I was last in the mountains? Christ! How is that possible?
The place had changed. In June the creek was flowing and things were green. In June!
Walking the low road I was surprised to see a huge tree had fallen since the last time I was there. In fact, I think I shot a quick video of this tree the last time I was here. Yes, here it is.
The tree, as it stood then, is the biggest one on the left. It split right in half, as you can see here.
The tree fell directly on the road, so there won’t be any cars taking the low road for awhile. I wonder when it fell? And I wonder if the people who own the property have any intention of clearing it?
I walked under and through the fallen tree to get to the place where the creek runs. The creek bed was eroded with just a slimy little trickle moving through. Change, change, change. I want to say it’s sad, but it’s not sad, it just is. We’re in a drought. Trees fall, creeks dry up. Change happens.
Once I got past the creek the urgency was upon me like an angry little monkey biting me in the scalp. “Starting to get dark. Must get to the place where I left her ashes.”
It was beautifully silent, but I couldn’t hear the quiet. All I could hear were my noisy pants, my loud feet and my squeaky sneaks. The hike is uphill all the way at this point. Not an incredibly steep hill, but an incline all the same. I moved faster trying to beat the setting sun. In addition to my noisy pants, my loud feet and my squeaky sneaks, now I was starting to huff and puff. “Wow, I’m really out of shape,” I think, but I pushed on.
My eyes were mainly on the rutted dirt road, but they still darted around looking for snakes. or coyotes, or cougars, or maybe Sasquatch! There were animal poops on the road that looked a little familiar. Was it possum poop? Possums don’t want to be hassled and neither did I. I could handle a peace loving possum should I see one.
Almost there, just around this bend…
I don’t know what I expected to see, after all, it’s been over three years, but I still looked around hoping to see the rocks I piled up and maybe the necklace I’d left.
I wondered if someone had taken the necklace. I wondered if there’s someone walking around wearing it now. But there was nothing. Rocks, yes, and the usual brush, but no trace of her left.
“Well,” I thought, “there it is then. She’s gone.”
I hadn’t realized how afraid I’d been to come back to this place until I was there. I know she’s gone, I knew she was gone, but coming back confirmed it. Change. Change to this holy place. Changes within me.
Maybe now I can reclaim the place for myself. I brought my mother up here because she wanted to be here and now she’s everywhere and nowhere. Once I brought her up here I didn’t want to come back. I didn’t want to come back in a month and find the stones toppled over and the necklace in the dirt. Better to wait years and know the mountain had taken care of her for me.
I took a few more photos while standing there. I think I captured the Face of God ridge in the far distance in this shot, but I’m not positive. I think so though.
Standing there I noticed the trail going down into the valley is back. The last time I was there it was completely overgrown. As usual I didn’t see a single person while I was there, but I saw plenty of shoe tracks. People hike that narrow little trail. The first glimmer of enthusiasm for hiking there again came to me looking at that trail. But not now, not today.
It was getting dark. Time to go.
Heading back the same way I came was an easy downhill trot. No more huffing and puffing of the wheezy calliope. Because of the fallen tree, I had to take the high road back. They paved it with fresh asphalt! Who paves the road and yet doesn’t cut up the fallen tree? Who maintains this property? I’ve never seen anyone here, so I’m still not sure whose land I’ve been trespassing on for the past 38 years.
While walking on the high road I saw a trail I’d never seen before. Weirdly someone put up a couple of posts there like, “Hey! Look! A trail!” I was intrigued. I wanted to come back and find out where the trail goes. I felt like I was discovering something new about an old lover looking at the trail. She’s been holding back on me! How did I not know this trail was there? I must know her secrets!
I was still nervous on the walk out. I had no idea how much light I had left. By the time the “whoosh, whoosh!” of my pants had taken me almost to my car I heard a rattling sound that freaked me out. Not like a rattlesnake rattling, I never would have heard that over my noisy pants anyway, this was like someone shaking a bunch of coins in a tin can in a bush near me. I have NO IDEA what it was and I didn’t stick around to find out.
There was a panicky moment when I approached the gate and I couldn’t see Ed. His silver body blended in with the silvery sage he was parked near. I thought about what I would do if my car got towed. Fortunately, I saw him then and pushed that thought out of my mind.
Once behind the wheel of Ed, safely hugged by the interior, memories hung heavy from my previous visits. The rattlesnake I came on in the middle of the path when I was with D. that time, the time after that when I went hiking in my boots and the soles came off during the walk and then the last time, taking mom’s ashes up there.
I hadn’t realized I was hiking into the mountains to face my fears, but that’s what ended up happening. Once I was out I didn’t have the completely exhausted, blissed out feeling I usually get, but I was deeply relaxed and energized.
Nature heals. I’d forgotten.
On the way home I decided to swing by mom’s old house because I wanted to see how the buttermilk was holding up in the fridge. I’m planning to bake a vegetable pie and I needed to see if it had gone over to the dark side. Being at the house felt good, I noticed. It felt different. Lighter. Less sad. I dumped the buttermilk, put away the dishes that had been sitting in the drainer and decided to drag all the boxes of junk that had been sitting around in the living room back into mom’s bedroom.
The last time I was there I made the bed in my old room and spread a quilt on mom’s bed. So I went into both rooms and turned on the lights to survey my work. As I dragged boxes into mom’s bedroom the light went out. I said, “Mom, I need the light. I’m bringing boxes in here.” The light went back on and then, as I was standing there, it went back off and on again very quickly. It was like the light was being cute and teasing me. Mom.
When I left the place where I left her ashes I had said goodbye to her. This playing with the lights in her bedroom was like her saying hello to me. Not goodbye. Hello. A playful, happy, clear, “Hello!”
We made an agreement long before she got sick that if she could figure out how to communicate with me from the other side, she would do so. My caveat was, “But you can’t come back and scare me.” This didn’t scare me. It was funny. “Hello!” Mom learns how to play with electricity and says hello.
Sometimes you don’t notice thresholds you’ve crossed over until after you’ve gone through them. I think this threshold was something that was long overdue, but couldn’t be rushed.
But the mountains said, “Welcome home.”
And my mom said, “Hello!”