Sunday, January 13, 2013

In The Canyon

A friend emailed last week to ask if I wanted to join her on a lengthy hike in Topanga State Park, and it was a no brainer—I hadn’t seen her in eons, I hadn’t been to Topanga SP in eons, and I still hadn’t visited her new home in the canyon. 

The house was beautiful, a woodsy retreat tucked into a hillside, with heaps of charm to spare. I detoured into daydreams about writing in their small guesthouse, sipping coffee on the porch, listening to birdcall and rustling leaves. The writer’s life, a rustic wistfulness.

But I’ll get there, I will.

I was in a great mood as we started on the trail. My lungs and legs immediately ached, a sign that I’m still on my path to recovery from a year of relative sloth when it comes to hiking. It was a bluebird day; the skies wiped clean from rain and high winds, sunshine flooding the horizon—Catalina, the San Gabriels, and even a snow-capped Mt. San Jacinto in the distance. As much as I enjoy hiking on any day, I especially enjoy those days when the views lodge your breath in your throat and remind you of how infinitesimal you are in the grand scheme.

Conversation flowed as easily as it can in between huffs and puffs. Work, mutual friends, recreational pastimes, fitness, beauty, and then—depth. We acknowledged it when our conversation rounded that corner—and it always does on hikes like this, where the miles take you hours into the wilderness, and the conversation shifts from water cooler to something more meaningful. There’s something about the air, the vistas, the sunshine—the act of hiking as a journey, rather than a means to an end—that encourages this kind of talking on these kinds of days.

We talked about dreams and hopes. My friend talked about her immediate work goals, but also divulged her long-term plan: work hard, sock away a bunch of dough, invest in canyon property, and create a true Topanga rental retreat—something that speaks to the (yes, sort of hippie) magic of this ethereal slice of the Santa Monicas that is more about nature and harmony than about luxury and romance.

I daydreamed again about living in the canyon, about writing more, about loving life even more. I told her that I, too, had a long-range plan (that’s actually shorter-range than I let on sometimes): I want to write again—for more than myself—and find a new rhythm in life. Maybe move to the canyon, or somewhere similar. I want a backyard, a garden, trees, greenery, sun, and fresh air. I want the smell of a wood fire to no longer be relegated to camping trips. I want to change my perspective.

Sometimes hiking is about perspiration, and sometimes it’s about inspiration.

On this particular sunny, cool January morning, it was both.

Monday, January 7, 2013

I'm A Tree People

After a late night of delicious wine, tasty Thai, and scrumptious list-making, my friend Brooke and I made a groggy drive up the coast for a morning mission: join TreePeople at the mouth of Topanga Canyon to do some restoration work. I wasn’t sure what to expect, but when we pulled up there were shovels, buckets, work gloves, and seedlings – all doled out by a man I was all but certain was Kolby Kirk, circa 2033.

Future Kolby gave us a rundown on what we were doing – this part of Topanga Canyon was actually part of the State Park, but had long been neglected, allowing an encampment of squatters to build a veritable homestead in the area. They dammed up the creek, effectively stranding the steelhead trout who used to do this whole salmon-spawning shebang up from the ocean every year. They also tracked in invasive species, killing off the native shrubs and trees, leaving a whole lot of adorable forest creatures homeless.

It was interesting being the volunteer and not the supervisor, as I have been with past TreePeople endeavors (San Gabriel & San Bernadino Mountains, post-Station Fire). It was hard work – sweaty and dirty – but it felt good to strike the seemingly hundred-pound dig bar into the ground, push the shovel down into the rocky soil, and excavate any number of man-made junks from the dirt, making way for a tiny little leafy life to take root. Each planting felt like a little miracle; I’ve spent hours (well, days...weeks...when you add up all the hours) tromping these canyons and hillsides. I try to be a conscientious hiker, but to do something so pointedly give-backy felt really, really good.

At the end of the session, I felt tired, sweaty, warm, dirty, and achy. But I also felt a lot like the adorable kiddo next to us who commented: "We're doing a favor for the Earth!” (Cue the “awwwwws!”).  

We drove up the canyon a bit and had lunch at Abuelita’s, both of us exhausted but quietly proud of the work we’d done that morning. “I want to do that again,” Brooke said, after we’d spent a length of time staring out the window into the leafy beyond.

“Me, too.”

And I will.
And she will.
And so will many, many other people.

For all of the graffiti that bums me out on the way to work, the marked-up concrete gray expanse of our metropolitan bowl: because I know that people are willing to do this kind of work, to get their hands and knees and elbows and ears dirty, I know that all is not lost.

Wednesday, January 2, 2013

The Cadman Spur

Today I took the path less traveled…which also happened to be the path of more resistance (but the good kind).

Since I was working from home this morning, I made plans (with myself) to sneak in a good Griffith Park hike this morning. My alarm sounded at 6:15am, and after a cursory (read: psychologically dependent) check of my various internet presences, I snuck in a quick ab workout, then left for one of my favorite morning jaunts via the unnamed trail that starts at Cadman Drive in Los Feliz.

Flush with that new year’s feeling of adventure and discovery, I hitched a left at a fork in the path – a fork I ignore every single time I hike this trail, despite its grassy green insistence that I give it a go. I wandered this chlorophyllic path until my stroll became a forty-five-degree angle of squelchy mud and sweat. I pressed on, happy for the workout and curious about what lay ahead. During one of my frequent wheezy rest stops I turned around and took in a view I’ve never quite seen before – not from this angle, at least.  The trail sloped down through the greenery out of sight, and the San Gabriels rose on the horizon, silhouetted in the morning haze. I could see my originally intended path weave along the hillside below, now looking pretty boring next to my spectacular muddy green perch.

Not too shabby, Griffith Park. Not too shabby.

I kept going, figuring this trail (which I have now dubbed “The Cadman Spur”) rejoined that original path (Coolidge Trail), but instead it continued to climb past fancy houses and up a grassy plain, eventually depositing me in a thicket of conifers.

Yes, there are pine trees in Los Angeles, if you just look hard enough.

I smiled a big, sweaty smile, and found myself on a familiar fire road, Vista Del Valle Drive (though not the one I thought I’d land on), and wound around some water tanks to a hairpin curve in the road. To avoid heading back down the slippery hillside, I was hoping I could link back up with the Coolidge Trail and glide down the dusty fire road back to my car.

And I did.

Adventure and intuition paid off, and I emerged back on Cadman Drive a happier, sweatier person than I was an hour prior. I took the path less traveled and discovered an even better way to start the morning, with misty vistas and surprise pine trees, not five minutes from home.

Sometimes it pays to go left instead of straight ahead.