CHEETA POST / REFLECTIONS ON A TWO-DAY SOLO HIKE TO MOUNT TAMALPAIS
Sunday April 29th, 2018
I am on the side of a mountain, looking straight up at the top of Mount Tam looming above me, much larger & closer than I’ve ever seen it. It is about mid-afternoon, clear sky, sunny, 60 or 70 degrees: a perfect day. Yesterday evening I set out, on foot, from Greenbrae, carrying a backpack, bag of groceries, tent & sleeping bag. My original quest was to make it all the way to the top of Tam by tonight. I told Jim to think of me & wave up at the mountaintop this evening around sunset. That plan has proved slightly overambitious. Burdened as I am, & not having brought adequate water, I am settling for the spot I’m at now as my bed for the second night — within sight of the summit (& how!), but still hours of steep hiking away from it, no doubt. I guess that I am on the crest of one of the neighboring slightly smaller mountains; not King Mountain but the one flanking Tam on the other side. Fair enough. I’ll come back, better prepared & hopefully in company with friends, soon to achieve the pinnacle. For now, this is a dramatic enough view to enable me to gain some perspective, as was my hope before setting out.
Yesterday I hiked up through Madrone (or Baltimore) Canyon — barely resisting the urge to stop by M’s house along the way (she whom I have nicknamed The Madwoman of Madrone Canyon) — marveling at the beauty of it &, I must admit, envying those who make their home there. I was filled with the conviction that it is the most enchanting place I’ve ever been, as far as places where large numbers of humans make their home. I mentally compared it with the most astounding neighborhoods I recall from my wandering days in San Francisco (Diamond Heights, Grand View, Mt. Sutro, Twin Peaks, Noe Valley, Liberty Hill), but even they fell short, I felt. There is just a kind of celestial tawny redwood glow to this valley that is virtually indescribable.
I followed Dawn Falls Trail to the point where it became steep; then, since it was already dark anyway, I bedded down for the night. Couldn’t figure out how to properly pitch the tent (which I borrowed from someone else), so I just zipped myself & sleeping bag inside it as an extra layer of protection. I did not hang my food bag from a tree branch, but stashed it some distance away, so that on the off chance any tough forest customers with the munchies happen by, they would hopefully direct their energies that way & leave me in peace.
I was left in peace. Indeed, it’s a bit ironic that I lay awake with anxieties for hours — fearing animals, fearing rangers — because last night was by far the quietest, most peaceful, most utterly still & undisturbed night I’ve had in… I really don’t know how long. The deep dark hush of the canyon was complete, a thick black blanket, undisturbed even by wind, which was blocked by the towering stone goliaths that hemmed me in. Deep in the night when I awoke to listen, I literally heard nothing at all, beyond the softest noise of birds & tree branches creaking. It was so still & calm, it almost kept me awake, in a backwards sort of way, dreading a noise that would break the silence & signal an intrusion — an intrusion which never came.
“Is he kind of Jack London-ing it?” I heard a couple joggers say early this morning, when they passed me still laying inside my improperly erected tent. I think that’s what they said. I’ll have to Google that.
Right after that I got up & resumed the upward climb. After consulting a couple & their dog on the fire road above my first-day campsite, I realized the summit was beyond my present powers, & have spent most of the day arriving & settling at my present lofty perch instead. If it falls short of my original goal, I can’t complain: the top of the mountain is far larger, clearer, & closer to me right now than I’ve ever seen it, towering like a green dream before my wondering eyes, so close I almost feel I could reach it with a flying leap. There is a drinking fountain just down the road from my spot. A cute little lizard is keeping me company, less afraid of humans than they normally are, since I surmise they don’t get so many of us up here; I found a spot off-trail away from the other folks who come up here for their morning & mid-day jogs. I’m imagining this little lizard, who seems to like me & keeps hanging out near my stuff, is my mother, in reptile form. I’m reading Wu Wei’s version of the I Ching, the ancient Chinese book of Changes (or Answers), borrowed from Malia, who considered coming on the hike with me, but went to a concert last night instead (free tickets from a friend), along with a philosophy book I purchased on sale at Copperfield’s in San Rafael, titled Every Time I Find the Meaning of Life, They Change It, by Daniel Klein.
One thing I will complain about a bit is THE PEOPLE. There are a lot of them, more than I expected, at least on the fire road below, & almost all of them appear to belong to the “middle-aged dog-walking property owner” class — the class that long ago seized control of Marin County, & so many other former paradises, as I know so well. I may be partly imagining it, because no one has actually SAID anything hostile (this time), but I feel pretty disapproved of by most of these staid, gentry types, when they see me striding along in my ripped jeans & big fake-fur hat, obviously sporting a sleeping bag & tent (it’s part of my philosophy not to hide anything that I’m doing, as much as possible & within the bounds of decency; call me a student of Diogenes), which more or less brands you as a criminal in the NO TRESPASSING / NEIGHBORHOOD WATCH climate we live in these days.
Why do so many humans seem to feel they always have to be briskly charging along, while chattering loudly about their families & finances & business dealings, even in such splendorous surroundings? Just because you have a voice doesn’t mean you have to use it constantly, does it? I wish more people would respect the eloquence of silence & just sit still & humble themselves to appreciate the natural beauty around them more often. I came up here to get away from people & bask in the sublime, & then this morning found myself unexpectedly surrounded by chattering people, just as if I was in one of the residential neighborhoods of Marin that I meant to avoid.
But a few of them were friendly — let me not fail to record the flip side of my too-frequently misanthropic musings. For instance, as I paused to adjust my camping gear this morning, on the hike up from where I hiked last night, a man with two young boys approached, holding something. In a paranoid mind-flash (people at Shazam warned me it’s illegal to camp & there are rangers who patrol) I imagined he was holding infraction tickets or anti-camping literature; actually, he asked in a friendly tone if I was traveling & offered a couple CLIF brand “Organic Z Bars” (for children!), which I gratefully accepted. (Yum, thanks!) One friendly person like that goes farther than a hundred of the not-nices & neutrals. So, that’s a workable formula.
Several other people were friendly as well. THANK YOU, I want to say, to those people, & others like them everywhere. Thank you for not buying into the all-too-prevalent attitude these days that sleeping or camping are crimes, & that to be or appear to be transient marks you as good as criminal. I promise I picked up my camp well & left no litter. Having grown up in parks & nature preserves, with a mother who worked for the National Park Service, I am pretty good about that.
MARIN COUNTY CIVIC LEADERS VS. THE HOMELESS POPULATION
I just saw a front page newspaper article about Marin County civic leaders congratulating themselves for unveiling a new “housing-based approach” to homelessness. Just the caption & photograph of the smiling white impeccably groomed civic official faces all lined up applauding this new strategy of theirs made my blood run cold. “Housing-based approach” sounds suspicious, a political euphemism with a sinister undercurrent… It sounds kind of similar to an “incarceration-based approach,” society’s catch-all solution for all the other problem people it considers to be eyesores trespassing on its beautifully embroidered gardens. Are they building a Big House for homeless people? “They want shelter… we’ll give ‘em shelter all right… we’ll make ‘em a shelter they can’t refuse!” (Obscene laughter…) Were any actual homeless people consulted in the midst of the forging of these grand plans? How much weight did they carry in the decision-making process, hmmm? Well, I can tell you that some houseless people want houses, while others enjoy the freedom of the open road & just want society & its civic leaders & bodyguards to leave them in peace & not criminalize them for existing! Let them sleep where & when they choose; in a tent or in a park, in a vehicle or on a dock, on a boat or with a goat — SLEEPING, like skateboarding, IS NOT A CRIME!
Be part of the solution, or quit bitching, right? Well, sit down folks, & if you’re already sitting, go ahead & prostrate yourselves flat on the ground, because HAVE I GOT A SOLUTION FOR YOU. I want to construct a massive cat tree (one of those things constructed of wood covered with scuff-friendly upholstery that you see in pet store windows & frequently lying in the middle of the sidewalk for the taking), scaled to human proportions, called THE NAPPING POST, to be a utile public artwork. (Utile is an adjective meaning “useful, with a practical purpose,” spun off from the noun utility, a neologism.) People are welcome to stop & take a nap, or spend the night sleeping, on one of the platforms, on a first-come, first-serve basis. If there is a safety concern over traveling drunkards toppling from one of the higher perches, injuring themselves & attempting to sue someone, I’m not sure… maybe install a safety net at the bottom, like the one Cirque du Soleil has beneath their trapeze artists in some of the more dangerous seasons.
THE STRANGE RIDDLE OF SAN RAFAEL
What a strange town. Is it even a town, a single cohesive town? Or an archipelago, a veritable patchwork quilt, of disjointed townlets haphazardly sewn together? Where does it begin, where does it end, & why? The sign that seems to mark the beginning of San Rafael on its west end pops up like a Jack-in-the-box right in the middle of a commercialized stretch of highway that doesn’t look like the beginning or the end of anything. Continuing eastward, something resembling a town gradually emerges, & grows clearer — now we have a library, a post office, the downtown business area, the transit center… But just when you think it’s a cute little town after all, it goes all cross-eyed on you again. Where did San Rafael go? It was here just one block ago… Now all we have is one residential street that runs alongside a train tunnel, a bike path, & then the freeway; then further blobs of stores & fast food joints intermingled with (prefab) residential clusters that verge at times on gated communities; & then there’s the Civic Center drag, a dour concatenation of governmental / administrative buildings thoroughly detached from all that we’ve seen so far, & on the other side of the freeway from it all (though the centrifugal Civic Center building, designed by the magnificent Frank Lloyd Wright, is a Dr. Seuss dream in the form of architecture come true, that I love); & still further on we come to Northgate, a dreary bundle of big box stores, an oversized but underwhelming shopping mall, & a megalithic SEARS edifice that looks more like an impregnable cinderblock fortress than a retail department store. Surely we’re in another town now, right? This can’t still be San Rafael, are you kidding? So yeah, it’s, um, diffuse. But there are some things about it I love. Like… the St. Vincent de Paul dining room on B Street! Which welcomes nomads, doesn’t call the police on you if you’re caught occasionally muttering cryptic remarks to yourself while alone in public! And the San Rafael Goodwill store, on Lincoln, is ROCKIN’ so hard. Sometimes.
And I just witnessed a beautiful moment in San Rafael. I’m beneath a freeway overpass waiting in traffic & we see the reason everyone’s paused: a mother duck with eight baby ducklets is crossing in the middle of the street, jaywalking in the most charming way. Everyone stopped. The construction workers stopped. Everyone stops for a mother duck with eight babies. If anyone tried to hurt her, someone else would pull out a gun & blow them away, & no one would hold them to blame. That’s one of the (sort of?) cool things about Marin…
Now back to Shazam to prepare for our Open Studio parties coming up! But first…
I recently read an incredible nonfiction book by Indian-American computer programmer & literary author Vikram Chandra, titled Code Sublime: The Code of Beauty, The Beauty of Code. Among the astonishing number of seemingly disparate & invariably fascinating subjects discussed in this book, was an African tribal “language of the drums,” in which the imperative phrase “come home” would be translated with the quatrain I’ve typed below. One notes the greater proximity to music & lyrical poetry of this English, as compared with English. Chandra follows it by saying, “The languages of the past speak to us in ways that we refuse to hear.”
Chandra, thank you, & for what it’s worth, I hear the beauty of these lines, & did the moment I read them.
Walk your legs back the way they came
Walk your feet back the way they came
Plant your legs and your feet back in the ground
Here in this village that belongs to us