I meet a lot of people who’s worst nightmare is being stuck deep in the woods alone at night. I slept better than I have in weeks.
Once upon a time I got out more often for overnights than most people I knew. Morning birdsong and coffee in the rain tell me that it’s high time to get back to work. My thesis nearly done and behind me, there now lies more important business to attend to- canyons and streams to be inventoried, desert washes requiring contemplation.
I was going to pack a journal. And my flute. Or a book. And possibly implements for tea.
I left it all at home.
My better mind reminded me of the importance of making space for nothing. Allowing time to let thoughts rise and fall, unclinging and unhindered. Not doing.
I have to confess that the world at large is moving far too fast for me, completely at odds with the stillness that I crave. I’m increasingly feeling like a stranger in a strange land.
Seeing an owl in flight brought me home. An hour of streamside sitting and the illusory city-self begins to slough off like an old skin. Pink sunlight on the peaks above and a cold wind snaking through the canyon brought me home.
Grasp the feeling. Protect it. Nurse it as if it were a tiny ember. Carry it in cupped hands through the coming days of traffic and crowds and noise until it can be brought back to life somewhere quiet and wild.
Hiking canyons, scouting deer country, filling in some blanks on the Angeles High Country map with Adan. ~7000 feet at the end of December and nothing but warm sun, clear skies, and a dry wind. It’s hard to complain. On the other hand, I can’t help but feel like things are really changing here; summers longer, winters later. Last year’s rainfall seems quite the anomaly contrasted with this year’s Christmas wildfires.
But it’s good country any way I look at it. And it’s my backyard. There was still a ton of deer sign, one sighting, and lots of beds, rubs, and browsing areas. Big cat shit, bear shit, coyote shit…wild shit. There has been a lot moving through these canyons.
Including ancient people.
Emerging from cool shade into a sun-warmed clearing, we both immediately commented that this would be a perfect place for a camp. Within moments of uttering this statement, I found one of the most perfect bedrock mortars I’ve seen to-date.
Carved into a boulder nestled beside an oak, I scooped out the debris gathered inside of it, running my fingers across the perfectly smooth surface at its bottom. Whatever ancient people left this, it was an amusing testament to the fact that yes, this has always been a great place to camp. Whoever they were, however distant, I felt a certain kinship. Despite the possibility of being separated by millennia (many estimates of people in this region tag them between 2000 BCE and 200 CE), we’re still Homo sapiens with the same sensibilities.
As I stood surveying the surrounding ridges and peaks, I could hear the children and smell the smoke. I wonder who was the last to grind acorns here and whether they knew they wouldn’t be coming back.
I have a week off from grad classes, affording me the luxury of reading something for myself for a change. This was my first foray into E.O. Wilson and I’m quite impressed. He articulates things I’ve intuited for some time and his background in entomology and ant behavior is an interestingly fitting backdrop to any conversation on social behavior. I read it in a mere two sessions while on an overnight with my son and a friend of his. Teenagers are nice; the boys took care of themselves while I broke off to read.
Sitting streamside by candlelight, equipped with a down poncho, pad, and backpacking chair, I was prepared for some serious backcountry leisure. Rocking back and staring at the stars while pondering a paragraph, there couldn’t have been a better setting.
I finished the final pages in my sleeping bag with coffee before the kids were up. A proper stretch of reading indeed.
My last day of hunting was over before it began. Not even 0430 and there were already 5 trucks parked at my spot, at least four hunters headed in by headlamp. They could’ve been going in many different directions, but combined with the occupants of the other trucks, it was safe to believe this spot was bust. Between the holiday weekend and the last days of deer season, the forest was overrun. Things were beginning to look complicated. I was content to let it go.
I found a ridge and this sunrise instead.
Rifled cleaned, oiled, and locked away. I’ve now got ten months to think about what I was intending to do out there and why.
I look forward to these ruminations over a fire at my hermitage, unarmed and at ease. Time to let it rest, for both man and deer.
Another sunrise, moon sinking, the wind impossibly sharp and clean.
Fresh tracks but no blood on my hands, the deer nowhere to be seen.
Walking in darkness, then early morning light, the sun’s first rays warming a hillside. We found a few great glassing spots, a canyon holding good potential- if not for hunting, for simple solitude. It looked remote and wild and lonely, flocks of dove circling about the trees. I can’t help but imagine myself sleeping down there, wildness and sky boxing me in. No deer this time, just fresh tracks, hiking, talk. Next weekend.