Sunday, December 7, 2014

choosing a trail

Within a few minutes’ drive of my house there’s a woods I like to go to, with a trail that runs above a stream that follows the bottom of a valley.  The valley may not be deep, but it’s verdant and the air there tastes like it came from the Jurassic.  A little further up the road is another park with a wide serpentine trail that winds along the ridge of the Oakland hills.  Recently I spent a good part of the afternoon trailblazing there with my dog, following an almost-trail until it became impassable, then backtracking, then backtracking again in order to find the sunglasses that had slipped unnoticed from my front pocket.

I’ve gone on one of these hikes more or less every weekend for the last few months, although usually with less backtracking. Each of the five or six regional parks I have the good fortune to be in proximity to has a unique topography and atmosphere.  Sometimes the trails lead through lush forest; sometimes golden California grasses; sometimes through a narrow band of trees and water that cuts through city neighborhoods; and more often then not, through a combination of all three. The only real denominator is an inevitable change in elevation.  Since my dog has backup batteries for his backup batteries, the draining of which is prerequisite to any degree of personal relaxation, changes in elevation (especially upward changes) are welcomed.

I've loved going on day hikes since I was a child, so it sort of makes sense that I’d end up settling in a place with so many options for traipsing through the woods.  Growing up, I would pile into my Mom's seven passenger van with the others kids in her care, and head to an idyllic park notable for an ancient creek that cut through it.  An afternoon foraging along the creek bed collecting long dead fossils and very alive salamanders drained my batteries as surely as my contemporary hikes drain those of my dog's.  In hindsight I’m rather certain my mom’s motivations were similar.

Soon after my dog was old enough for off-leash trails, I realized I had been surrounded by trails for the last two-odd years without realizing it. This is true of much in life. Once a catalyst for a particular pursuit kicks in, you become aware of how much opportunity was around you the whole time. Of course, for sheer volume and variety of activities - especially the outdoor kind - California is king. No wonder this area is such a mecca for those who relish in self-discovery...

In my case, the wanderlust (and probably the writing) are surely outward manifestations of a spirit that wants to experience as much of this life as possible while it has the opportunity. That being said, I'm not sure if I'll be able to remain in California forever. Even with its incredible diversity and an almost surreal abundance of places, people and pursuits here, part of me doesn't want to leave this world without living for a time surrounded by the deciduous rain-forests of the Pacific Northwest, where the sky, the trees and the water can be drunk drunk drunk like an addict sips whiskey or fine champaign.

For now, I look forward to the weekend, when I get to set aside three or four hours, cajole the dog into the car, and take off with a small backpack and a couple of bottles of water (one for the humans and one for the hound). Sometimes I pull out of my driveway, turn left, and then pause for a moment or two at the stop-sign, deciding in that brief second which hike I will go on that day. How fortunate I am to have choices. How fortunate I am to be where I am right now.

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