Monday, February 11, 2008

I Smell the Wildflowers

Some semblance of a social life returns after the endless agonies of defending and revising a dissertation, job hunting (that agony persists), exams and just general mayhem of all sorts. My personal posts have been a bit infrequent lately, which is not by design, because those are the ones I love writing the most, as I imagine what it might be like to read them a decade later and reminisce on the way we were.

Had an incredible, amazing hiking trip in Palos Verdes last Saturday and cannot wait to go back hiking the coming weekend. This despite the fact that my shins were so sore that I could barely walk from one end of my room to the other. How odd that the pain hit me with the lag of one day - not on Saturday or even on Sunday, but on Monday morning when the walk to the kitchen became a drag. But my shins are spoilt - they haven't been used and abused so rigorously in a long time - despite my regular strength training workouts.

But enough with the pain and let's focus on the joy - a quiet, reflective, ruminating sort of joy - the sort that fills you up and makes you slump back on a grassy patch with wildflower and sunshine all around you and think, what if I gather these moments by the armfuls and carry them home and set them in a corner so they never leave.

Palos Verdes is an exceptionally pretty corner of Southern California. That's saying a lot, because Southern California has a lot of pretty corners, never mind the smog and bleak commercial and industrial edifices of its urban core. Once you start losing yourself in the mountains, beaches and forest trails of this region, there's a lot of unexpected beauty, tempered with the jagged edges of rocks, homogeneous highways and dusty trails.

We started off as a big group, but soon split up into two, because S, E-M and I wanted to hike all the way down to the beach, whereas the others weren't up for this unscripted adventure. We wound our way down and on our way found an older Korean woman bent over and foraging the abundant mountain greens, deftly cutting them up with an experienced hand. I have always wanted to go on a wild mushroom gathering expedition when they are in season, and mentally added identifying and plucking wild greens to that list as well.

When we finally managed to climb, scamper, and leap our way down to the beach, it wasn't as picture perfect as it had seemed from the top of the mountain. For one, the fine gleaming sand turned out to be small pebbles, fairly treacherous to walk on and I nearly twisted my ankle on them (prompting a mean response from the boyfriend that I'm more clumsy cow than mountain goat). And then jutting out from the cliffs surrounding the beach were these gnarly, almost prehistoric looking black rocks, fascinating to me, but definitely not in the mould of pretty-pretty beaches that are all sun and sand and deep blue ocean.

Now that we had climbed down, there was this matter of hauling ourselves back to the top where our car was parked, an impossible feat given how our joints were creaking in protest. We asked Em and Ferry, who had gone with the other party to come fetch us, and giving them directions was a challenge because we had no earthly idea where we truly were. This started a whole sequence of wrong turns, misguided detours, and Em and Ferry proceeding to get hopelessly lost, leaving us with the dim prospect of having to spend the night shivering on a roadside bench being lashed by the cold ocean winds.

S and I are generally very sanguine under these sort of circumstances - S more so because he's sailed under stormy conditions so does not get perturbed easily. He proceeded to sprawl on the bench and take a nap, while E-M went on to get more and more anxious and stressed and alternatively badgered Em on the phone and then S and I about what a terrible mess we were in. In the midst of all this chaos, I found my moment of calm because I noticed that the sun was setting in the sea and its last rays seemed to skim over the mountains, bathing them with a precious fleeting hue. It's a slim window of time that you see this phenomenon and then its all gone, as the sun sets and there's quiet darkness all around.

Finally, after what seemed like eternity, Em and Ferry managed to find us and we piled into the car and headed straight to a restaurant because we were famished and proceeded to gnaw off our lamb bones, wolf down our kebabs and polish off every bit of rice. Well, there go any calories we might have lost with all that hiking.

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