Half Feral

Saturday hike in a rare California rain. Just me and the boy. Couldn’t let it pass. The place, the Los Padres National Forest: mountain grass/woodland – my favorite. Everywhere was a misty Monet, and it only took a few steps to fade into the painting.

We tip-toed through sleepy meadow tallgrass bent under the weight of countless drops from heaven, wetting our bare legs, while wispy scents of chaparral, finally and gratefully freed from drought, floated teasingly by.

“Ahh!” I said, suddenly stopping, “What is that bouquet?” and I’d hunt around, sticking my muzzle into this or that plant, not caring that cold water splashed my face and ran down my neck.

It was the smell of fresh, the perfume of life! Off to one side, the boy would patiently wait, watching and grinning. Likely he thought, Dad, you’re an odd one!

“I know” I answered. Then he’d turn and do the same.

Someone happened by on a bike warning of a mother bear and cub on the trail ahead, then was gone. Sadly, mama and child had already disappeared into the dripping brush by the time we arrived. “Oh well”, I shrugged, disappointed.

We reached the crest and admired the view. A trillion tiny droplets, all hushing down around us, obscured it. Peaks ablur, alluring, mysterious; but we weren’t fooled. We know the valleys around them. Starting down the other side, the rain, which had wavered before, began anew. By now we were thoroughly soaked. Oh well… Mud squished around my sandals at low points, pulling with each step as if to say, Why not stay awhile?

There was a trough filled with water, an aid for wildlife in this thirsty land, and I reveled in the unusual act of kindness.

Below was a cactus and Toyon.

We continued on. The boy spotted some sparrows which landed just ahead, dancing and chirping, daring him to give chase. He obliged, but it was no use. So they’d land again and he’d pretend disinterest.

Side by side

Side by side

A breeze picked up, and I pulled my cheap rain coat tighter around me. It didn’t go all the way, though, since it also covered my pack. I noticed, however, that the uphills kept me warm. Still, I began to think of home and heat and food. Thus, we choose a spot and turned around. The rain picked up, then let off. I struggled to keep the camera dry under my hat’s brim while shooting.

Thoughts go through your head when you’re out there with none of the usual distractions – well, through mine. I’m open to it. I imagined the animals living here, no abodes to retreat to. Not like ours anyway. But then, they don’t need them, wouldn’t want ’em. We’ve lost that, that ability to survive, no – to thrive, happily in the wild. Again, I wonder if the trade-off, utter predictability, questionable security and mind-numbing routine for wind-swept lives was worth it. I consider Cro-Magnon, early modern humans, and wonder what happened. Well the Pleistocene was cold.

Heading down the other side. From here it’s another two miles. Suddenly the sole falls off one shoe. Really! One minute it’s on, the next off. It’s flopping around by a thread. Humpf! I spout in disgust.

So I detach it completely, then remove the shoe and begin to walk. It’s a bit awkward. OK, I take off the other. The ground is saturated, making it softer. Most of the way is smooth, but the trail is peppered at points with small, sharp rocks that I try to step around. My thoughts return to our prehistoric ancestors. Barefootedness was natural to them. Would take some getting used to even so, at least to toughen the feet. Interestingly, I notice that, after awhile, it begins to feel natural to me too.

“Ug”, I grunt.

As I write this they are sore, but soon they’ll be back to normal, safe inside my shoes.

Continuing down and back, I hope that we don’t encounter anyone else: I look a sight – drenched and muddy. We don’t. Mustard is glad to be back at the old truck. He jumps in and lies down, wet paws in my lap. So I fire her up and home we go.

Later note: lest some think I’ve gone completely round the bend, I’m not disputing that there are, and have been, obvious material and intellectual benefits to civilization. I’m just reflecting on, and mourning about, what we gave up in the process, and wondering where it is exactly we’re going.


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