As I was not able to meet my friend the next day, I remember a conversation with a shaggy young grad student who had cornered me at an informal literary function.
“Man, you gotta get out in the country around here. There are mysteries and outrageous weirdness surrounding this city.” He leans in close and gestures frantically, like a marionette in the hands of a novice puppeteer, so that I am afraid he will accidentally strike my face with his flailing fingers. “You can head any direction and find something worth seeing.”
At the end of this very energetic speech, he settles into an angelic silence, peace exuding from his body and face.
I rise early and pack a day pack, heading out down an east bound thoroughfare, the Avenue of Snakes. By noon five miles east of the city, I am surrounded by small herds lazy cattle grazing in the cool sun. One hill rises conical with a flattened top about a mile further on. To the south of this promontory stretches woodlands interspersed with villages, farm compounds and fields. The original trees, mostly valley oak and small bay laurel with madrone and manzanita that still crowd close to the streambeds, had been cleared for farmland and replaced by great stands of eucalyptus, maple, elm, pine, cedar, and Cyprus among a few remaining ancient oaks, their immense twisting shadows spread over the fields.
As I explore the woods around the hill, I can see very clearly, the separate nature of each layer of woods like entering new worlds as I move into the heart of it. Starting at the edge, a light and airy clump of eucalyptus which becomes increasingly tangled with saplings, the floor covered with crunching leaves and aromatic gumdrops all mottled by sunlight filtered by the thin waving leaves above. I follow a narrow track overgrown with redbud and wild rose scrub as it descended into a small pinewood. My footfalls are cushioned by piled needles. Bent over and knees bent, I duck into the enveloping shadow fortress of fragrant branches that blanket the side of a hill. Emerging from the shadows, I stand in a scattered woodland of aspen and beech, leaves flutter and whisper in the slightest breeze like a conspiracy of taciturn elders. Beards of pale green lichen flow like mossy flags. The new green leaves glow translucent and shift in wavering patterns making muted shadows on the scraggly yellow grass below.
On a shelf at the top of a gentle hill a pond opened up shaded on one side by a massive ancient oak. Wild flowers bloomed concentric rings of color around the edge with the golden oat grass as a frame about the whole. I sit under the oak and gazed into the pond which due to the angle of light seems a bottomless well. Water striders darted here and there on the blue-black surface making tiny scratches the rippled outward.
I lean back against a rot softened stump and close my eyes opening my mind to the music of summer afternoons in my childhood.