My pal Pam has known me for twenty years and yet still, inexplicably, loves me. We met for breakast yesterday morning, caught up, took her dog up into the hills.
Pam’s boys are tall now. Their dad Dave, my boss at my last job (and yet still, inexplicably, glad to see me) packed the boys off to the skateboard park as Maya barked from Pam’s car. We waved.
Maya is protective of Pam, and a bit suspicious. It took me a full twenty seconds to win her over. A shepherd mix with floppy ears, long dark and lithe, she covered prodigious distances with each stride.
I’m gonna get your stick, Maya. Gonna GET it. How long since I had played that game? Years and years.
A mile or so of hike, and back. Ridgetop views of the bay and interior hills. I have avoided this, feared the pain of looming separation, the stupid vindictive resentment of the soon-to-be displaced. Home this
may not be next year, the green wet season carrying on without me, but home it remains for now and my spine unkinked a bit, if my heart did not.
And Maya, oh Maya. You are a beauty, and your human partner sees past my skin so effortless. I could almost live without a lover had I friends like you two around me.
And still there when I left work to go home.
John Muir was no purist. Were he to come upon me now, in a once-wild corner of his ranch, using a piece of unimaginable technology to publish photos of live oak barks and lichen for the world to read in moments, the engineer in him would likely have been entranced.
He tamed this land, as fond of wild land as he was. He planted fruit trees and sold the produce, making himself rich. His old house is here, behind this forest and downhill, and yet in this spot he could have lingered, his house near but obscured, and gazed out across a near-wild landscape to Suisun Bay, steamers on it bound for Sacramento laden with passengers and hay.
The miners lettuce is in week-old sprout today. Rain looms, a day away, and flickers argue with acorn woodpeckers down the hill. This much would be familiar to him still, and the wasp-galled oaks perhaps a bit changed in a century — some of them grown, some gone.
They named the highway below to honor him, four noisy lanes of John Muir Freeway, and if he headed east on it along the levee tops, past the refineries that block my current view of Suisun Bay, past the swelling suburbs of the Mother Lode, he would come to Calaveras Big Trees State Park, to Ebbets Pass in the High Sierra.
Muir championed the establishment of wild parks, of refuges for his beloved Big Trees and glaciated granite, and his vision in that regard has largely borne fruit as well. And I suspect that he would second-guess himself today. Mount Wanda, this place where he sauntered among wild and familiar oaks, has been set aside in perpetuity for contemplation and rejoicing in the unbuilt world. I do so here today, under a freeway din with one of our most deadly industries on the plain below, and everywhere around the press of houses.
We have preserved these parks as one preserves the shards of sculptures left after the looters have moved in.