Gaviota Beach and trestle bridge.
An early fall morning, just before dawn, and Gaviota Canyon is doing yeoman service as a wind tunnel. The Sundowner winds peculiar to this area are magnified by the narrow pass behind me and they’ve been rocking cars, pulling tent pegs, and making campfires impossible for the past 12 hours.
A fine grit pervades everything, and I wonder how long it will take me to clean up.
But two months (or more, I’ve lost track) of nonstop work, travel, and “drama, not otherwise specified” have made medicine of a couple of days plotzed in a campsite. The waves crash, the squirrels, ospreys, and Monarch butterflies go about their business, and they catch me up in their rhythm, allowing me to reset my tempo and reflect in a way I could not last weekend in a Chicago hotel room.
So I will take the grit. And as the sun rises, I start to see the path forward with unaccustomed clarity.
I reach for my boots. It is time to begin.
In the topor of the afternoon, Mr. Gopher pops by, inviting himself to tea.
Our conversation is interrupted by the distant shriek from the osprey nest under the trestle, and Mr. Gopher
decides that tea might be best taken underground. Without so much as a “good afternoon” he leaves us.
I reach for my coffee, toast the now-deserted tunnel entrance, and marvel aloud how Camping turns “pests” into “wildlife.” Somewhere, John Muir, Edward Abbey, and perhaps even the Almighty himself may be nodding in agreement.
If the California desert continues to hold secrets, it is not because they are hidden, but because they are ignored. As we ease into fall, the thoughts of our Scout troop naturally turn inland and towards the desert.
October through March offers the best season to camp in the deserts. Days are comfortable, nights are chilly but not arctic, and enough animals are active during the day to make hiking more than a long walk.
One of my favorite places in the desert is Saddleback Butte State Park, a modest, Joshua Tree-girt peak located in the heart of a triangle between Palmdale, Victorville, and Edwards Air Force Base. The campsites were mostly primitive, but there were toilets and showers, making extended stays possible.
We had originally planned to go in February of this year, but cancelled at the last minute. The winter had witnessed a parade of great storms roll through the state that effectively ended the long drought, but also spewed flash floods across the desert floors. Given that Saddleback was accessible only by roads susceptible to flash flooding, and that we were driving in at night, we decided that discretion was the better part of valor, and rescheduled for March.
It was the right call. Sharing our gigantic site with another troop, we enjoyed the weekend immensely. I picked up this patch at the interpretive center at the northwest corner of the park after a short hike up from our campsite.
No doubt we will be back this way.
On my long, windy walk to breakfast today in downtown Chicago, the results of yesterday’s rain showed themselves along the Riverwalk. The Chicago River was up 2-3 feet over flood stage, and access to the Riverwalk was closed.
We’re going to see more of this, I suspect. One wonders if Chicago is ready.
I am a nostalgist at the best of times, and at the worst the combination of music, moment and memory turn me into a weeping ninny.
A fair chunk of Tom Petty’s oeuvre does that to me, “Free Falling” more than most. My teen years were passed in the San Fernando Valley, and the song brings the worst of those years back in a painful rush. I never said so aloud, but Petty for me was like that cool older brother I never had, the guy who made me feel like everything was going to be okay because I shouldn’t take it too seriously, anyway.
In “Free Falling,” I heard Tom telling me that, yeah, I had hurt people, that it was wrong, that it didn’t make be a “bad boy” for breaking a heart, but that my true struggle was going to be learning to live with the hurt I had caused without daring to try and rationalize, minimalize, or forget it. That’s what the bad boys did, and that was anything but cool.
Was that what he wrote the song to try and provoke? I don’t know. That’s what the song meant to me. I can only hope that my expropriation of his music for my own emotional purposes wouldn’t have bothered Tom.
I think about meeting him on some other level of being and asking him about it. I hear him saying “no, man, if I can sing and you can heal, I’ve done my job. Mission accomplished.”
The Rebbe once said “music is the pen of the soul.” Mine will always carry an autograph of Tom Petty.
Keep playin’, big brother. Lots of healing to be done where you’re going.
Reading on my balcony in Deerfield, every few minutes my eyes are drawn skyward to the sound of a jet, or of a southbound flock of Canadian Geese.
Autumn has sneaked into the Midwest. Hopefully it will grace my home shores of the Strawberry Coast soonish.
I don’t find many here in Illinois who share the sentiment, and I acknowledge that my joy at the coming of Fall is colored by the mild and pleasant winters of the California Coast rather than the lake effect blizzards that punctuate the season hereabouts.
For me, the sharpening chill of October evenings makes me think of sweaters, thick socks, and a good book with a cup of something hot. It means fast boat rides on windy chop, migrating whales, and the constant tang of the Pacific in the air. It means comfortable camping in tent and RV, a banket across my legs before the campfire is kindled.
It is meals in a Sukkah, a giddy dance with the Torah, the ranks of children knocking on our door on Halloween, Thanksgiving dinner, Chanukah lights, carols, movies, and school breaks with my son. It is the World Series, my son’s basketball schedule, and bowl games.
Fall is first and foremost an affirmation of life in the maw of the oncoming chill. And for that it will ever be my favorite season.
Fly on, old friends, I think as another flock honks southward. May you find peaceful flyaways far from the engines of airplanes.