IDYLLWILD, PART ONE
I drove up to Idyllwild yesterday, with the intention of working on my tour of fire watchtowers in the San Bernardino National Forest (I abandoned this project a few years ago, when I decided to focus on school, but now I have a bachelor’s degree in religious studies, and do not need to focus on school). But also, I woke up angry and depressed, in a total funk, put gas in the car, and just drove to the trailhead in silence, knowing that trudging up the snowy mountain (while I was hardly prepared, too!) would dissolve my funk, somehow.
Winding up the mountain road, the desert changed into a snowy pine forest. Cars sat on the sides of the road, collecting in turnouts, with families throwing snowballs at each other. I passed by, focused, taking note of places to stop on the way back down. And so, I drove to the trailhead, slung on my backpack—heavy with too many lenses—and began the four-mile hike to the fire watchtower, completely covered in snow.
I didn’t have those spikey, stabilizing things that people throw on their shoes, even though I wanted them. So I slipped up a sloshy snowy trail, with bits of ice, for two miles. Trees crowded a trail marked only by footprints of the hikers before me, bordered by fresh powder ("Look at all that pow-pow!"). And the mountains rose up in a large crescent, as if I were walking up half of giant bowl. I took a picture or two in the afternoon daylight, knowing that it was the sunset that I was here for. I would hike on the slippery trail all the way up to Tahquitz Peak, take a picture around sunset, and slip my way back down. But I was already exhausted, two miles into it.
Exhausted and slipping upwards, I remembered an All-Trails comment by Kelly Lovejoy, less than a month before: “Please be careful on this hike. I was on southridge close to the fire tower when the person in front of me slipped off the trail and had an accident that they did not survive. It was genuinely slippery on the ice and it goes from crunchy to slick really quick.” An unsurvivable accident on this exact trail, the half-bowl upon which I had set my goal. Here I was, where it was genuinely slippery, unprepared. I stopped for a second, took a picture, and turned around, giving up my goal (this is probably the first time I’ve ever given up a goal like this: ah!!!!!). Why was I trying so hard in the first place? The half-bowled mountains did not reply, the wind spoke silently. Who cares if I finished?
I turned around and walked with tiny, controlled, and deliberately measured steps down the mountain, happy. I’d do this hike in the summer, I thought, and enjoyed the trees and the snow. But for now, with the goal cleared from my mind, I remembered that the trees, the snow, the mountains, the lakes that reached in the distance, all of this world spreading out beyond me, was (how could I forget) beautiful. A good snow walk, I wrote down later.
I got in my car and drove down, surrounded by more and more trees, through the cabin-filled town of Idyllwild, with people sitting outside eating and standing, throwing snowballs. A blue mountain range in the distance rose up, peeking behind the trees passing by, and, through a crisp yellow light, the road threaded under me, continuously. The walls of this view pushed out, expanding. And here I was, just someone driving on the mountain on a Sunday afternoon. It was just simple, not really a secret.
Here, all I can say to myself is that even in the midst of a beautiful world, I might be too preoccupied to remember its beauty. Or, to remember that the angry depressed funk that I woke up in is not totalizing: the world still turns, unflinching in its beauty, while, also, prone to accidents that we might not survive. It is a multivalence that insists itself: that the half-bowl pinetrees stand in silent apathy to the despair surrounding them. The cabin-town people celebrate life with snowballs and food on a mountain with a body-count. What would you do, on this mountain, in this life?