Saturday, July 9, 2011

Sometimes, the milepost is capable of moving

... but tonight, it wasn't, at least not all that much.  However, the guy standing on the ridgetop, watching it from a safe distance, wasn't convinced.

Now that I'm no longer driving across the country with four kids in a rented minivan, I'm finding that I can still write about The Journey, rather than just my cross-country roadtrip.  And tonight, I passed a rather interesting little milestone that seemed to merit some musing.

Those of you who know me off-line, or even in my Facebook life, know that I am a walker.  I walk for exercise (and now that Dennys/McDonalds/Brown's IceCream/, etc... have added a few vacation pounds, I sure do need to keep that up), and I walk for sanity.  Walking is my "me" time: my music-learning time, my phone-conversation time, my thinking time, my worrying about sick friends time, my praying time.  And I walk the same territory most of the time: a park in my neighborhood that includes a lot of what California calls "Open Space" (yes, it's capitalized)--protected, undeveloped wildlife habitat with walking/biking trails flanked by firebreaks in the shoulder-high grasses.  As I walk, the vistas take my eyes to the twin peaks of Mount Diablo, the Acalanes Ridge that makes a gently serrated sunset each evening as the sun sinks into the bay behind the ridge, and to the treeless, tawny grasses of the Kirker Pass, hills whose curves resemble a sleeping nude when the light fades.

Because I have walked every foot of the park, both morning and evening, many, many times, there is a "not here" quality to my walks.  I don't have to think about where to go, what comes next.  I just walk, and as I walk, my mind goes wherever it wants to, often re-visiting previous conversations, mulling over something I've read, planning something I might want to sew, knit, cook, or quilt, even "writing" in my head, playing with the sounds of words and phrases that might make music on the page. So, although I notice things like the perfume of the Southern Magnolias along the trail past the bocce courts, and the funny way that dog-owners move in packs like their dogs in the public dog-park, by the time I'm panting up the hill to the oval of Live Oaks that frame the memorial to Vietnam vets, I'm "gone"--I'm wandering the terrain of my spirit; either wrestling or rejoicing, and I'm occasionally surprised by the creatures who are also out wandering the open space, probably much more focused on the here-and-now than I am.  I've gasped at red-tail and Cooper's hawks who watch me from a tree or fence until I'm close enough to see their eyes blink, and I've met up with coyotes at mid-day and twilight.  There are the ever-optimistic ground squirrels who stand erect beside their hillside burrows, seeming to dare the hawks to come down and try to catch them.

And then there are the snakes.


 I LOATHE snakes.  I'm not much of a reptile fan, but snakes, in particular, make me want to scream and run.  I've shared with my Facebook friends reports of feeling "trapped" on the hill by tiny, baby rattlesnakes, and utterly harmless, but big and intimidating California King Snakes.  For me, particularly in Spring and Summer, every stick on the trail is a rattlesnake, waiting to make this walk my last, and on particularly hot evenings, I have been known to carry a pointed-end hiking stick.  But a while ago, I learned that there is a much more common snake, a harmless impostor called a "Gopher Snake", that is very common in our area, and is often mistaken for a rattler.

Tonight, as I watched a fellow walker, on the trail ahead of me, standing motionless about 4 feet from a large, lumpy beige-and-black spotted snake stretched most of the way across the trail, I did NOT, for once, scream, freak-out, run, or turn around and go back to the oak grove.  Maybe it's like the progressive desensitization that parents go through:  when your first-born stumbles and scrapes a knee, you gasp, take a deep breath, try to remember your first aid training, dig out the first-aid kit that you carry everywhere with you, use the antiseptic wipe, the pain-killing cream, and the anti-biotic cream, cover the wound securely, and carry the weeping child to a bench for 20 minutes of consoling and temperature-checks.  When your 4th child takes a similar fall, you watch to see if the child notices the fall, and when he does, you calmly dig around in your pocket for a mostly-clean tissue, if you can find one, and push most of the dirt away from the scrape, promising to "take a better look at it when we get home".   Tonight, somehow, a well-fed (hence the lumps), sunbathing gopher snake (no rattle, and a tube-shaped head rather than a spade-shaped one) just did NOT faze me.  Instead, I found myself explaining, in Spanish, to my fellow walker, that the snake was not poisonous, had no rattle and no spade-shaped head, AND, had just eaten recently and was probably very sleepy and content on his patch of sun-warmed pavement.  No, my Spanish isn't that lyrical--more like the Taco Bell Chihuahua meets 8th-grade French class--but I think he got my meaning.  He laughed and smiled as I stepped past the snake and pointed out the lumps in the snake and said "he ate his dinner already", or maybe I said, "I'm going to eat him for dinner", or "nonsense, nonsense, dinner, nonsense, nonsense".

And so I walked on, congratulating myself on my turn toward being Val of the Hills just long enough to get back to my meditations on life at middle-age, and wondering why it has taken me so long to start noticing life, and making a mental note to brush up my Spanish grammar.

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