Miguel's Journal



Entry #9: Sometimes you just need to be outside.


So The kitchen is crammed with people. It's really hot and everyone is shouting orders to everyone else as they get everything ready for Christmas dinner. Too many relatives in too small a space. I feel like I have to get out into the fresh air or I will jump out of my skin.

Uncle Carlos notices that I'm not in the best mood. He asks me if I want to take his dog, Taco, for a walk. I tell him, "Sure!"

There is a lot of open space not far from my house. I like to walk up there because usually there is no one else around and if I do run into someone, it's no big deal. You just know that the kind of person who likes that sort of wild place, is the kind of person who is there to be alone with their thoughts, and with Nature. They are up there walking with their dog, or alone, or riding a mountain bike. So when you see them you hi and move on, without ever having to leave that private place you have made for yourself inside your head.

The trail up the hillside is lined with all kinds of trees and underbrush. Someone, years ago, had the idea to make this into a real trail that you could walk on. It must have been a lot of work to cut it because on either side of the trail things are pretty overgrown. The trail is narrow and it winds up and up, turning here and switching back there. It's more fun for me to walk a trail like this than a straight line because, even though I have walked this same trail many times, as I come around each bend, there is always something I have never noticed before.

Today there is also fog which I like very much. There is something very nice about walking through the trees in the fog. It makes the whole woods seem mysterious... not in a scary way, but in a magical way. I can't explain it, but it just makes me feel like I've walked into another time and place.

Taco keeps ahead of me on the trail. I don't need a leash here, which I like and I know he likes. He's the kind of dog that's independent. He wants to be out in front, but he's not so independent that he will take off and lose me. Sometimes he runs up ahead, chasing a bird (which he knows he will never catch, but still enjoys the game of pretending that he can). If his chase takes him up the trail around a bend, and if I stop to see if he notices that I'm not behind him anymore, he will soon come back down the trail looking for me. It happens every time! Once he catches sight of me again, he seems to smile (like whatever he was worried about, instantly disappears).

I have a lookout place on this trail that I always stop at. From there I can look pretty far out over a valley of trees. I know, from standing there on clear days, that neighboring hillsides are also visible from this point, and that they are covered with houses, but on a foggy day like today, not only can't you see the houses, you can't even see the hillsides! Everything is blanketed in the swirling fingers of fog and all I can see in the distance is the blurred, faint outline of a tall tree, and behind it the even fainter outline of another large tree. Finally, the slightest hint of a third tree whose silhouette is so faint that I can almost imagine that it isn't really there at all.

Looking over the valley of fog, with no houses or signs of civilization, it's very easy to imagine what I am seeing is exactly the way this land looked two hundred years ago, or more. No people, just trees, distant hillsides, and fog. And if I were a man from two hundred years ago, walking these hills with my dog, I would probably have spoken Spanish, like my ancestors, who lived on this land back then.

The top of the ridge is covered with eucalyptus trees and man do they make a mess! At this time of year, wide strips of their bark are strewn everywhere. It's as if they were shedding their skins, like gigantic buffalo or snakes. (It seems like a strange thing to do as the winter is approaching, but that's the way it is with eucalyptus trees.) They also drop these nut-like things, seed pods, called eucalyptus "buttons." They are small and brown and knobby and they smell like... eucalyptus, which, if you have never smelled it is a cross between nutmeg and pine. At least, that's what it smells like to me. And on the underside of these buttons, are five slits, that meet in the center and look like a star. The seeds come out of those slits and that's how new trees get started.

In case you're wondering how I know this, my grandfather used to walk this trail with me and he taught me all about this stuff. He also told me that eucalyptus trees were brought here to California from Australia and that because of how fast they grow and multiply, they usually push out the native plants. As I looked around at the tall shaggy trees on the ridge, I could see that it was true. On sunny days, the eucalyptus hog all the sunshine. The small native plants and bushes, stay really small because they don't get enough light to grow any bigger.

It made me think about white people who came to California (and to lots of other places in America) and how they grew really fast and strong and ended up hogging all the resources and eventually pushed the natives off the land.

As Taco and I headed back home, I saw three empty bottles left under a tree. One was clear glass, one was brown and the third was green. I picked them up and carried them down the trail. There's a recycling container at the trail head and I was going to put them there. On the way down, I passed a woman who was hiking up with her dog. At first I was embarrassed that I was carrying three beer bottles. I was afraid she would think they were mine. As she passed me she noticed them and said, "You picked up bottles! Thank you for doing that!" When she said that I felt, you know, proud. I didn't know her, but it felt good that someone thought I was doing the right thing.

When I got home, I felt much better. I was also starving and I hoped it wouldn't be too long before dinner was ready.




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