Today, Rebecca and I were to spend the early hours huffing and puffing up Mt. Lukens, a local peak known for it's ass-busting training qualities.
Not so, said the Station Fire.
Instead, we spent our second day in the greater Malibu area (the previous day having been spent in a swimming hole deep in Solstice Canyon), trucking straight up the Chumash Trail for 1,000 feet, the ocean at our backs, Mugu Peak beckoning in the sky. It was a great ass-busting substitute, as far as ass-busting substitutes go, with crashing waves as our soundtrack and the grassy La Jolla valley spread open wide to welcome us at the top.
After barreling back down, we grabbed breakfast, joined MaryEllen on the beach, and then on our way back East, quietly ruminated on the giant thunderdome A-bomb fire cloud filling the sky above the Angeles National Forest, shooting up higher than Whitney, just shy of Denali.
I've lived through three Southern California fire seasons, each one expected, yet awful in its inevitable destruction. I remember watching a large swath of Griffith Park burn in 2007, and walking up to Los Feliz Blvd. from my apartment to take photos, only to choke on large snowflake-sized ash. The sky glowed an eerie red, the air reeked, my throat burned.
I also remember when Solstice Canyon burned, taking away my favorite hiking spot - in fact, my first-ever California hiking spot - in an instant. When it reopened what felt like almost a year later, it was still Solstice, but it had been stripped of not only several research buildings, but also it's very essence; what once was lush was now a barren lump of scrappy chaparral and blackened sticks jutting out at eerie angles. I still go there, just like I returned to Griffith Park's denuded trails, but it chips away at my gut a little each time.
Looking towards that ominous cloud is more than a gut-chipping; it's a punch in the stomach. It's the realization that during the past three years, and especially over the past six months, those very mountains have become one of my absolute greatest joys, hosting moments of spiritual revelations, friendship strengthening, and limit-testing. To watch them burn - and especially to learn that two firefighters died today while trying to control the fire - brought tears this evening.
Whether this was arson or accidental, nature will always take her course, because she's the one with the most authority; she'll strip and birth as she sees fit. There will be other trails to walk, other mountains to climb, other peaks to bag, other treks to make, of course.
Just give me some time to mourn the ones we're losing.