"Do not burn yourselves out. Be as I am-- a reluctant enthusiast...a part time crusader, a half-hearted fanatic. Save the other half of yourselves and your lives for pleasure and adventure. It is not enough to fight for the land; it is even more important to enjoy it. While you can. While it is still there. So go out there and hunt and fish and mess around with your friends, ramble out yonder and explore the forests, encounter the grizz, climb the mountains, and bag the peaks.... and I promise you this much: I promise you this one sweet victory over your enemies, over those deskbound people with their hearts in a safe deposit box... I promise you this: you will outlive the bastards."
- Edward Abbey
And isn't that the truth. Part of my early meandering was based on the sense that I needed to be outdoors, in the wild places, the free places, the places removed enough that I knew human contacts would be rare if they happened at all. The central coast of California was a great place for me to start anew down such a path after my military tour ended. Wide open beaches and remote mountains, oak forested foothills, clear streams and psychedelic sunsets all were blessings upon a hungry spirit and here there was bountiful room to roam. I thirsted for discovery of new places. More than once I've found wonderful, grand places because I just had to go around one more bend in following a remote creek, over just one more knoll to see what was on the other side...
I've read somewhere that in using our public lands, 90 % of hikers utilize only 10 % of the trails. That leaves a lot of room for those of us in the other 10 % of hikers... especially when the trails I follow are only deer trails.
My habit of hiking alone always bothered my friends and family. But I had found that it is in the being alone that one gets to know one's self. And truthfully, for me, being alone was never lonely.
"The right to be let alone is the most comprehensive of rights and the right most valued in civilized man."
-Justice Louis D. Brandeis
I would often spend a few days at a time - usually during the week when everyone else was working - camped up a small creek in the Sierra foothills near Pine Flat reservoir east of Fresno. It is a magnificent place with a 40 foot waterfall and a swimming hole 15' deep and at least 40' in diameter. In the winter time the roar of that creek at that waterfall when the rain is heavy is unbelievable. The flooded creek shoots out and hits a bowl of water-worn bedrock halfway down to the creekbed below, where it shoots out a second time into the big pool. The surrounding canyon is very steep and the creek takes a 180º turn here - oak and pine forest on one slope, rock and scruffy grass on the other forming a huge bowl - and it reverberates the thunder of this cascade so that the body actually feels the pressure of that constant hammering of water against stone. It never failed to make me smile.
But that same creek in the early summer when things were green and flowers bloomed... blue tailed skinks, bobcat and mountain lion, redtail hawk, newts and turtles and lots of snakes and lizards and clean water... perfect for swimming on a hot day. There are bedrock mortars there too. I find them everywhere I go in California. And because I know tribal folks, family now, these grinding stones remain a reminder of the otherwise silent history around me. And knowing the genocide that took place throughout the Sierras and the rest of gold country during the California Gold Rush I always tread lightly, acknowledging those old ones who loved and knew this land in a way that I would never be able to come close to matching. Their attachment was generations old... The bones of their ancestors were now the limbs of trees and the blades of grass. So... alone? Nah, I was never alone. In solitude I found the trivia of the day was not always exciting but occasionally was surprising and was always enjoyable.
To watch an ouzel bounce its way up a stream or river in its endless search for food... and then to follow it and find its nest, always in some remote crag pretty much inaccessible to any predator, is to wonder at the creation itself. The ouzel is a way cool bird, John Muir called it his favorite. To hear an ouzel's song is to understand why it would be Muir's favorite.
Solitude in nature is for me the ultimate meditation. Through the cycle of a day the sublime going-ons in nature is far less sublime when the details are scrutinized, when hours are spent watching who comes and goes and what they are about in their comings and goings. Life slows down, breath takes a deeper slower rhythm and you can hear everything... I learn that the fat field mouse with the nick in his ear lives in the rocks under the rootwad of that sycamore and that there are one heck of a lot more quails (sisquoc) in this canyon than I thought when I first sat down on this boulder. Contact with nature has a familial intimacy. Camped in one place long enough and I see the mouse and the cottontail rabbits, the turtles and hawks all have their routines. In fact they are, on occasion, observed to be enjoying themselves, acting like they live there... like they have a role equitable with that of any other, even the humans who so easily ignore them and occasionally shoot them.
So, while the good families that only a little more than a century ago lived in these places I've come to love and to consider part of my territory are here no more, I still share this with them, this cycle of light and darkness, this place of warm sunshine and cold water, this land, this earth that has given so much to get us to the place as a nation we are today... and I wonder... did they as they sat here grinding acorns or seeds, maybe gramma watching the babies as they splash in the shallows of the creek, did they have a sense of me, as another there, in their place, in their time?