XII — Summit

Fortuna Mountain — Hawks

“Come on!”

Pant, pant, pant. 

“Truffle, Maggie! Look. This waterfall! I bet water cascades down this in winter. Come on. You want a drink? Before we climb it? Watch for snakes. Here. Good, huh? I’ll have some too. Come on. You ready? You ready? Let’s go! Up. OH ROCK! How great! Where, put my foot here, here, here — I feel like flight — like a Dharma Bum! Up, up, up, the sun is flaming at the top. Let’s go dogs. No, Truffle, don’t follow me. You don’t want to mess with these rocks, there are easier ways, better dog ways. This is a silly people way. Watch ahead of my hands. Now what? Foot, there, down — oh shit! Now I’m falling — god, if I put out of my hand, I’ll probably break my arm, my heart, beating, beating, my head. Now this is stupid. Time really does stop! What if I get hurt? Who’s going to call an ambulance? Who’s going to know? The dogs? I’m on the mountain’s terms. I’m OK, dogs. I’m OK. Let’s go. This time I PAY ATTENTION. I bet in the spring this place is covered with shooting stars! Through this mess. I hate this part, bang, bang, bang on the ground with the stick. The breeze, finally. Let’s go come on dogs, all the way! I’ll give you a drink once we’re up there. This is good, this is hard, but it’s good, look, everywhere! Feel the wind! What’s the top? Bang, bang, bang the ground. What? A rabbit? Be careful, Truffle. Such a place — wow! Out there! Wow! I can see real mountains! Up. Up. Up. A hawk! Look at YOU!

I caught this morning, morning’s minion, kingdom of daylight’s dauphin, dapple — dawn — drawn Falcon, in his riding of the rolling level underneath him steady air, and striding High there, how he rung upon the rein of a wimpling wing in his ecstasy! then off, off forth on swing like a skate’s heel sweeps smooth on a bow-bend: the hurl and gliding rebuffed the big wind. My heart in hiding Stirred for a bird!” *

Come on Maggie. Climb up here. He has a baby! Incredible! He’s teaching it to avoid ravens! He dives for it; if the baby evades the dive, the big bird lifts it on a wave of air from its wing; if it fails? The big bird bites it! Look at that baby! He seems to be in love with the sky! The sun is getting low. Come on. Down the road. I know it’s hard, Truffle. It’s steep, but you can do it — MAGGIE! Stay out of the bushes! Stay here — oh look at the sycamore trees! They seem lit! And the field! It’s glowing! What? What’s that? Louder. Again. What do you mean, “What will happen can’t be stopped: what won’t happen can’t be forced.

At this point in the file folder — after everything had seemed more-or-less in chronological order — I realized things WEREN’T in chronological order. The young woman writing this (aka me half a life ago) was doing something else, trying to write the kind of “order” that we all actually live. We go through life, always forward, one step at a time, but our minds are all over the place. Her dog’s death was ever-present in her mind, and on hikes she would ruminate about what happened. In this story, she’s hiking somewhere but remembering the first time she hiked up Fortuna Mountain. That day she had Truffle and Maggie. Why no Molly? No idea and she wasn’t telling.

Until that early November day she had hiked up ONE mountain — Kwaapaay. For some reason that afternoon when she pulled into the parking lot at Old Mission Dam she felt ready to tackle a new trail, a higher hill. She ended up going straight up a dry waterfall., bushwhacking. She fell at one point and caught herself, only scratching her hand. Meanwhile Maggie, whose existence exemplified “joie de vivre“, ran madly through the overgrown brush chasing scents.

Once the young woman was on her feet, the three went on their way. She felt happily impelled to keep climbing and ended up on top of Fortuna Mountain. From there are views in all directions, and back then a lot of the country was still virgin chaparral. Luckily, Mission Trails DID become officially a park and it acquired a lot of the land around it so people in San Diego can still see the REAL Southern California if they want to.

She didn’t come down the way she’d gone up. All the trails were obvious from the top and she went down a fire road. In later days she often wondered if that was the day Maggie had been bitten so that was on her mind as she took the hike that led to this bit of story. The reality is she never figured out when Maggie had been bitten, but the message she got,”What will happen can’t be stopped, what won’t happen can’t be forced,” quieted her mind. She realized she’d probably never know, and it didn’t matter. Knowing wouldn’t change anything.

Even today she remembers a thought she had as she headed up the waterfall. She had looked down at Truffle and Maggie and thought that her dogs were young and they’d be able to have great hikes like that for a long time. She stops herself now from thinking that because we don’t know. Jim Morrison was right. The future IS uncertain, etc..

Our ties are both permanent and impermanent, accurate and mistaken, concrete and illusory. Thirty years after this hike, Bear leans against my leg, and Teddy licks the remaining cream and coffee from my cup, every moment so very precious.

View from the top of Fortuna Mountain looking back at the trail. The trail goes to South Fortuna Mountain where there was a solstice circle. In the middle distance is Kwaapaay and then Cowles Mountain.

*Gerard Manley Hopkins, “The Windhover”

These are all stories from a folder I found in an old trunk. As I was busy shredding them, I stopped to read. This turned out to be something I didn’t want to shred. I’m sharing it here and I have also put the stories into a little book. The stories are from the very first years I lived with dogs and hiked on my own, with dogs, in the California Coastal Chaparral of San Diego. The stories are a kind of record of the beginning of the best things I’ve done in my life — hiking in nature with dogs. I wrote these stories in my late 30s.

12 thoughts on “XII — Summit

  1. A rather poignant story. ”What will happen can’t be stopped, what won’t happen can’t be forced,”, so true and somehow comforting.

  2. Certainly glad you didn’t shred all your stories, Martha! I loved this and also the thoughts you share after. Yes, every moment is precious. And sometimes we (I) need a reminder:)

    • Trying to live in the moment but the moment just involved vacuuming so I don’t know about that since I do that so I’m less grossed out in the future 😉

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