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The Walk on the Hillside

 

This happened in the Spring of 2003, when I was in Southern California. After being at Disneyland for a couple of days, and then spending time with in-laws, I felt a great need to be on my own in a natural environment. Don't get me wrong, we had a great time as a family at the Magic Kingdom, and it's not such a bad thing to do Passover, even with the Maxwell House Haggadah. But when the next activity was to go take all the junior cousins bowling, David graciously allowed me to bow out. To be inside a noisy, windowless bowling alley on that gloriously clear, bright spring afternoon sounded depressing.

After completing a few chores, I decided I would grab my journal and simply walk up the nearest hillside. Initially I followed a drainage channel, and then set out cross-country.

Threading my way through the blooming wild mustard, which grows to five and six feet in height, I soon realized that there would be no place to sit with my journal. The vegetation was thick and spiky. I figured I would climb higher, and see if I could get a view.

When I got to the top of the ridge, oddly, all the mustard was gone and there was only grasses and sage in bloom, which was much easier going. I followed the ridge to the summit, seeing a large eucalyptus tree there that looked like a pleasant spot to sit.

When I reached the tree, I was startled to see four, comfortable high-quality patio armchairs arranged in a semi-circle. Then I looked up, and I saw four hawks, kettling above me. They were swooping out over the drop-off, and then returning to summit, almost close enough for me to touch.

I stood there at the eucalyptus tree, watching the hawks, and tears came to my eyes. Then I decided I would choose a chair, and bent down to select the nicest looking one. When I looked up again, the hawks were gone.

It was only after riding ten miles on the way to work a week later, that it hit me that the number of chairs corresponded to the number of hawks. If I were a storyteller, I would say that the spirits of the hill had the four armchairs as their thrones, and me disturbing their resting place caused them to turn into hawks. They then watched me as much as I watched them, and then vanished when I touched one of their usual seats.

Another side of me says that it is silly to think of the hawks as spirits of the hill, or of them coming to greet me at the tree. Rather, what is important is that my eyes were opened to see them there. Other times, they might have been there, but my brain would have been too busy to notice them.

I dragged the chair over to a different view, so that I could see all the way down the San Gabriel Valley. While it was clear, bright, and breezy where I was, dark clouds were gathering at the other end of the valley, and it might have even been raining there in places.

I sat there for a while, looking at the clouds and the mountains. I could hear the purrs and growls of the traffic on the 210 freeway, but I could also hear the wind whistling through the grasses and the sage. A dove in the tree was cooing. I could feel the warmth and spikiness of the grass and soil under my now bare feet. The chair supported my back and arms. I sat there, noticing all that was around me, relaxed, breathing in and out.

Then I saw a tick on my jeans. I flicked it off, and then spotted another. I flicked that one off, and then did a complete vermin inspection. My meditation interrupted, I decided to pull out that journal I had brought with me. I sat there and wrote for a while.

Later, I thought that although probably people for years have come up to the top of that hill to screw, or drink, or get high, there was no sign of the usual messes that such people leave behind. No broken glass, no discarded used condoms. The only human leavings were the chairs, which were pleasant and helpful.

After I finished writing, I decided to descend the hill by following the ridge all the way down. As I came to a saddle, the grass gave way to a slope of black-eyed susans. Hundreds and hundreds of them. I threaded through the susans, and then finally indulged the desire to pluck one and put it in my hair. Then I took an overgrown path back through the mustard, down, down, until finally I was at the street on the other side of the hill.

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