By Chi Varnado
Another Friday morning finds me hoofing it up the trail to the saddle. Fridays are wonderful — a break in routine for
something special. For me, that means riding my horse into the backcountry or taking a hike up the mountain with my Australian shepard, Job.
My dog is a rescue from Lone Pine, named such because he has a job: to keep me company and provide safety when I meander into nature alone. His name, however, is pronounced the same as the biblical character who is always getting himself into unforeseen trouble, no matter how good his intentions might be.
Today I notice fresh deer tracks in the path. Either there are quite a few of them using this trail or, more likely, a few use this path regularly. It’s the end of October, usually a time when we’re fearful of wildfires spurred forward by the dangerously dry Santa Ana conditions. But this year we’ve had an unheard of three-and-a-half inches of rain between the end of September through this month. Instead of having to squint to avoid the dust-filled wind, or scratching the dry, cracking skin on my hands while enduring an east-wind induced headache, I’m smiling and breathing in deeply the clean, fresh mountain air.
I’ve lived here over 50 years and can’t remember another October quite like this. The earth is richly moist, offering up fresh green grass tenders toward the warm sunshine. The hillsides and the canyon below have a green tint – more like what we’d see here in early spring.
Just yesterday, during my morning run, I saw a doe with three adolescent fawns peeking through the bushes at me. I’m quite sure I looked a little silly running from seemingly nothing at all. We humans are such a strange breed.
Today I noticed three different kinds of mushrooms poking their heads up through the voluptuous soil. The first one looked almost like a small white flower in bloom, albeit with a much thicker stem. Another was a deep mustard-yellow with a swirled, cone-like cap.
The third was more fungus-like, rather shapeless and hard. This one wasn’t attached to the ground and with a quick kick of my boot it released a dusty yellow powder giving the illusion of smoke.
Job raced up the south slope and yelped an unusual bark. I called him, but he just barked again. I heard him running through the brush. Just then, a bobcat took off across the clearing leaving Job barking at an empty bush. I’m glad of it. That could’ve been a tussle that I’d rather not see or have happen. My dear Job is in over his head again.
A little while later I’m up at the saddle gazing over Kimball Valley below, across the mountain ranges to the east, past Country Estates and Barona, out to Cuyamaca. Last time I was up here the mountains were layered in fog giving the illusion of islands in a mysterious sea. It was breathtaking. Even if I’d had a camera it could not have done it justice. The view was spectacular and I’m grateful this vision was offered that day when I happened to be here to see it.
Coming back down into the canyon I notice that it’s a good acorn year. The live oaks and scrub oaks are laden with the little capped nuggets. It seems as though a good crop of them only comes through every other year or so. Some are starting to turn brown.
Darn, I hope I haven’t blown it and waited too long. I really want to learn how to cure them and make acorn flour that I can add to bread dough. As children, my sister and I sometimes joined the Mesa Grande Indians for celebrations and ate shewi (acorn mush) and other interesting indigenous dishes. When making bread I like combining rosemary, our goat’s milk and whey (from making cheese) and other ingredients found here on our property. It just makes it that much more home-made and delicious.
A horny toad is sunning himself in the warm dirt as I quietly walk by without Job noticing him. A friend once told me, “Lizards are protectors of children.” That’s good news since so many of these sun bathers dwell here alongside my daughter and grandson.
Our family has lived in this canyon for five generations. The place is full of Indian lore, rich for the cultivating mind. Many of the large rocks and boulders have indentations where our native sisters ground acorns into flour. Perhaps when I get around to grinding this year’s harvest I’ll make use of some of the same holes in the rocks.
Thin white clouds decorate the sky as I head home noticing that my stomach is growling. It’s probably all the thinking about that special bread. But for today I’ll probably pick some sorrel and tomatoes from the garden and make a quesadilla with Sunday’s feta cheese for lunch. Yep, that oughta do it.
Ramona resident Chi Varnado’s memoir, “A CANYON TRILOGY: Life Before, During and After the Cedar Fire,” is available on Amazon. She is working on a novel based in her father’s Mississippi homeland as well as a children’s book with backcountry artist Dorothy Mushet. This particular piece was written last October and is from her collection of essays titled “Quail Mutterings from Nestled in the Canyon.”