He was having some trouble getting down the hill without slipping. Taken with my N8008 using AgfaVista Precisa — analog all the way!
I took a break from Whiting Ranch to explore the season at nearby O’Neill Regional Park, specifically the Live Oak, the Hoffmann Homestead, and the Vista Trails, a lariat that I began at the corner of Meadow Ridge and Chisolm Trail in Mission Viejo. Summer is the season of death here in Orange County. Memorial Day weekend marks the final demise of the foxtail and wild oat grasses. Gone are the Golden Stars, the mustard, and other competitors for the sun of the open range. The country turns resplendent yellow except for dusky patches of sage, toyon, and chamise creating a pattern on the hills.
Few things can be more frustrating that to aim your eye through your camera’s viewfinder and discover that its battery has died just as a brilliant vista comes into view. This happened to me as I surmounted the hill near the Vista Point and looked down on the Live Oak Trail as it plunged down one slope and crawled up the long ridge that rises after the junction with the Coyote Trail. I sighed and contained a tantrum by remembering that I had my Samsung S5 in my pocket. It couldn’t compete with my Nikon, but it was better than nothing.
I made good time going down Whiting Road even though I had to keep stopping and climbing back until I saw Lynn waving and jabbing her poles against a fall as she crept down the double track. The clatter of chains alerted me to the mountain bikers sweeping through Sleepy Hollow, but I was surprised when I saw another hiker in front of me, a man of average height who wore one of those green boonie hats that one associates with Vietnam. He draped himself in camouflage and wore black combat boots. The only thing out of keeping with his casual uniform was his blue backpack and the tube from his Camelbak. I followed in silence for several steps, watched as he stopped to tie his shoe then resume without noticing me.
“On your left!” cried a voice behind me and “On your right!” as it passed me. The mountain biker shouted the same warning as he passed the trooper, who turned around and noticed me for the first time. He jerked as if he was thinking of reaching for his gun and then realizing that he was unarmed, picked up his pace a little and fast-footed it down the trail, glancing behind every few seconds to see if I was still there. We parted ways when I turned to go up the Concourse Trail to my home.
I thought about his dress and his gear. Was this some sentimental journey for him? Was he remembering old companions? Or did he miss life in combat zones? I thought about what a bad option camouflage was when you didn’t need to hide from people. A nice bright color — a white or a red or an orange — were my choices when I went afield. I made sure that I could be seen should there be an accident. Plain brown and forest green suited this man. We didn’t talk, so I didn’t know his mind but I wondered about his march and his mental destination. This landscape of golden oats and dead mustard stalks was like none of the places that America has battled in our lifetimes. People came to Whiting for the peace. This man found himself walking in war, an adventure in which he would not die or have to kill someone.
Wide fire roads and ranch roads from the days before foothill subdivisions attract trail bikers to the Southern California wilderness margins. Some will dare the narrow single tracks and in some cases local parks authorities allow this. Just witness the Cactus Hill, Sleepy Hollow and Sage Scrub trails in Whiting. Walking should not entail taking your life into your hands, but keen use of all the senses especially sound and sight will keep you bones unbroken and your vitals unsquashed. Most bikers show respect for walkers. There are those, however, who forget themselves as they feel the adrenaline rush of speed and forget that paths in the chaparral are not rides at Disneyland or Knotts Berry Farm.
So many rocks! They seem to have dropped from the sky and landed on the peaks of this narrow trail in Whiting Ranch Wilderness Park. Stones of rust and bruise settled in the depressed center of the trail, some loose, some fixed to the ground. I went down the hills slowly, finding footholds and soft soil where I could, grabbing dead brush where it offered itself. When I could feel steady enough to stand on the declivity, I threw the larger stones off the trail. They landed with a thud or, at one place, a click as they fell onto a rock pile that other hikers had hurled before me.
It felt like I was walking on a twig laid across where the forward ball of my foot ascended to the arch. I limped along, wondering what had gotten into my shoe. When I got home, I took my shoes and socks off. The sock had a huge hole and curled edges. I concluded that that was the cause of my suffering.
Yesterday, I found a pair of clean socks not in need of repair, put them on with my boots, and walked a few steps only to find that the pain had returned. I sat down in my red retro chair, took off the boot, and shook it. Nothing came out. I rolled off the sock and examined my foot where I found a long, irregular blister spread over the sore spot. The notion of puncturing it with a needle passed through my head but briefly: I did not want to be an heir in death to Calvin Coolidge, Jr.
A better remedy from Boy Scouts suggested itself: I taped a Bandaid over it. This pushed down the lump and prevented the skin from stretching as I walked. The pain bothered me just a little and only on slopes.
When I spent four years in North Carolina about 35 years ago, I hated going into the woods because doing so without a hat invited ticks to drop on my head. I remember one long post-hike affair when my girlfriend and I stripped ourselves naked and spent a distinctly unerotic hour searching for the vectors on our skin and in our various hairy bits. We broke up shortly afterwards, though not because of the ticks, I think. The plastic helmet that I started to wear to protect myself proved a more decisive factor — among many.
Ticks scare me. Just the thought of a creature burrowing its head into my body and sucking deeply from the nearest capillary gives me no happy thrill. I shivered when my dog’s veterinarian found one attached to his neck. It looked like a lump of grayish brown dog flesh to me. I backed off when he raised it to show to me. Good thing, I thought, that I didn’t let my Boston Terrier sleep with me. Who wanted to become a second course to a known carrier of Lyme Disease?