Friday, December 17, 2010

The Road Less Traveled

This is 15 minutes from my house, walking slowly up a muddy hill, then down the other side, past a sign that says "No Trespassing" and shimmying through a narrow break in the fence.  My dog and I rarely see anyone else here, though a few days ago we did stop and wait for two coyotes to pass the trail 20 yards ahead of us.  There are a few houses clinging to the hill east of this trail, but we can't see them past the oaks and brush.  

It's quiet here, just a few noises. The soft suss-suss of a light drizzle on treetops, raindrops falling from leaf to leaf. Birds winging from one tree to the next. My boots on gravel.  Gibby's breath as it steams into a cloud in front of his snout.

It feels so remote that I occasionally plunge my fingers into the pocket of my rain jacket, just reassuring myself that my phone is still there, that I can still reach the real world if I need to.  My imagination swirls around my brain like marbles in a pinball maze.  Questions arise, ranging from those that my kids would wonder ("Did Indian live in these canyons? How long ago? Are there a lot of coyote dens here?") to the paranoid crazy warnings that my mother-bear instinct screams at me ("Are you sure there aren't wild bands of crazed heroin addicts or a Manson cult living behind that big oak tree, waiting to attack errant hikers? What will you do if a coyote attacks your dog? Are those holes where snakes live?").

Deep breaths.  One foot in front of the other.  I can't say that it will all be okay, but here I am, better just to keep walking, hoping we make it out alive.

When we do, I am always stunned by how quickly we are enveloped by the real world again.  Trucks roar past us.  Donkeys blare up from their stables. Over the hill, the freeway rushes by our neighborhood.  Same as always.

Or not.  I'm reminded of that poem -- Robert Frost? -- about taking the road less traveled.  And that, the poem goes, has made all the difference.

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