It’s the mountains that I find most compelling. When I’m there I can’t stop looking at them, almost as if I’m trying to commit their peaks and points to memory. On Friday the mountains were shaded, something I don’t recall witnessing previously in this place which lacks little but shadows. I stared at them intently as I sought the path with my eyes which I had so enthusiastically followed on foot earlier in the week.
My hike that day had been reasonably satisfying. I had climbed higher in the San Jacinto Mountains than I ever had before, nearly 2400 feet in just a couple of miles, but I still failed to reach what I perceived to be the top. Like the line for an attraction at Disney World, the end seemed consistently out of reach, no matter how many curves I turned.
At approximately 2 miles in (or should I say up?), I turned myself around and began my descent. There was still my water in my Camelback, but the sun was hot and I didn’t want to push my luck on trails seemingly untraveled other than by myself and the small lizards which kept startling me as they ran across my path. It was time to go back down.
As I worked to permanently capture a mental image of the mountains, I started thinking about all the previous incarnations of myself these very mountains have observed. The 18 year old version of me, for instance, lacking direction but knowing that there must be a place where I could begin a life which might provide me with security and a future.
My next trip to the desert was at the age 20. I intended to stay permanently, but was so brokenhearted that I lost 12 pounds in 10 days and did little but drive around town with tears running down my cheeks until I finally came back East to pick up the pieces of what I had wanted to move beyond.
I wonder what the mountains might have said to me then. Perhaps, something like “Slow down on the Coronas and tequila shots?” Or maybe even “Time to get your ass in college, girl?”
Whatever the message from the mountains may have been then, I received it belatedly. At the time, I wasn’t listening.
Decades passed before I made it back to Palm Springs. In the years in between, my life had grown exponentially. College and graduate work had been completed, there had been numerous trips abroad and I had married and had three children. Although so much had changed, those mountains retained their hold on me in a manner, as I had recently learned, far stronger than marital vows.
Since that reintroduction, I’ve been back to the desert much more frequently. The mountains have invited me to run and hike and walk on paths in my various states of fitness, consistently inspiring me to get higher and go farther. They’ve seen me struggle to find trail markers, painted an inexplicable and difficult to discern shade of grey, forcing me to rely upon my own rather poor sense of direction and the knowledge that up is up and down is down.
I managed to find my way. Every time.
The San Jacinto mountains have witnessed my evolution from a teen high school dropout to an adult with a Master’s degree and only a handful of years to go before retirement. They’ve shown me how to stand tall, even when my knees buckled from the fear of being responsible for three sons, a house and my own happiness, and they continue to inspire me with their steadfast presence.
It’s impossible to know which is more remarkable – that I would grow to become a woman with a life that, as my Palm Springs friend/Jewish Mom said, is complete or that mountains could completely captivate me. Next time I see those mountains, maybe we’ll talk about it.