California Blessings

California Trail
It's not heaven. It's the wild part of Southern California, and that's plenty good enough for me. Photo by Austin Baker. All rights reserved.

On weekends, I drive an hour out of the big, sprawling city and into a state park. I leave my car and hit the trail in running shoes with a bottle of water lashed around my waist. Most of the world is still asleep, and the sun hasn’t had time to burn off the marine layer that blows in from the Pacific like something between high fog and low clouds. The mule deer watch as I pound out the miles, getting further and further away from roads and traffic, commerce and commodities, away from city sounds and smells.

The trail leads into the mountains. Striated rock formations the size of office buildings jut out of the ground at awkward angles that I attribute, perhaps erroneously, to violent, prehistoric plate tectonics. Wild flowers grow low to the ground. Quail flush out of the brush when I pass. The sky is that cartoon blue unique to California.

As the morning heats up, I keep one ear open for the warning rattle of a snake caught unaware. Neither of us wants to meet the other.

Not too many other people grind out miles on these steep, quad-busting, calf-burning trails, no matter how beautiful. Saturday, though, I passed an older gentleman shuffling slowly but determinedly up the steepest slope.

“Good morning,” I said, as I went by. “Doing well?”

He turned a smile on me that put the whole mountain to shame. “I am so blessed,” he said.

I hear you, brother. I hear you.