During the hot summer months my usual hikes up the mountain turn more into walks down the road. The trails are now covered by weeds and brush obscuring the resident rattlesnakes. This year hasn’t seemed too bad yet. I’ve only seen three so far, but I’d rather be safe than sorry and opt for the path a little more traveled — at least for now.
As I write this though, my 19-year-old son, Chance, is walking back down the dirt road. He’s been trimming the trail leading to the Saddle with long-handled pruning sheers and a folding saw.
He tells me that he saw three deer this morning. The first he came across earlier during his run and then later there were two fawns up at the Saddle. He’d heard a noise and jumped up onto a boulder to observe them. They just looked at him, since he was holding still, before heading up toward the 2,200-foot peak. He said that their ears looked overly large compared to their small heads.
The image reminded me of our visit to the town of Nara in Japan, where the deer seemed to outnumber the people in the streets surrounding the large, central park. We had gone to visit our oldest daughter, Jessie, while she was an exchange student studying Japanese.
These days I prefer to start out walking in the early mornings before the sun peeks over the ridge. Dawn has always been my favorite time of day. When I let myself sleep in and don’t go outside until the sun is already shining, I miss the exciting awakenings in the canyon. The songbirds begin their joyful melodies pre-dawn, about the time the poorwill ceases its nighttime call. The red-tailed hawks have already flown from their sleeping perches and are circling high above. The rabbits are hopping about finding tasty morsels under the bushes, and young squirrels are cavorting over the boulders.
Mussey Grade Road dead ends into a gate overlooking San Vicente Lake. To me, walking or riding a bike down the old winding cement road feels like being on vacation. It strikes me sometimes how this paradise lays practically in my own backyard.
The only downside is that the more difficult part of the walk, or ride, is on the way home — huffing and puffing at the end of the exercise instead of near the beginning when I’m fresher and have more energy. But as they say, “It’s all good.”
The Mussey Grade creek is still running — a little more than a trickle. That’s pretty good considering how late in the year it is and how little rainfall we’ve gotten. I chuckled happily to myself when I peered down through the grass and noticed the sparkling water below on last Sunday’s walk. A neighbor had joined me that morning, forgoing her usual late slumber, grateful for the incentive to exercise.
This area known as Fernbrook had also been called Buzzard Gulch in the past. During all my years growing up here, and on into my 30s, dozens of big, beautiful vultures nested in the eucalyptus grove down our dirt road. My dad used to “Caw… Caw…” at them when he was outside working in the yard. He seemed to have a real affinity with them. I’d forgotten about that, but was later reminded when I noticed our eucalyptus tree full of them one morning shortly after Dad returned home from open-heart surgery.
Does this mean he’s gonna die, I thought. Or are they his protectors? Well, I guess they were the latter.
By then most of the vultures had vanished. Now, decades later, they’ve come back. In the mornings they can be seen atop telephone poles sunning their outstretched wings and surveying their domain below. In the evenings these shrouded sentinels can be spotted dominating entire eucalyptus trees.
They are back! And I love them! When driving by I roll down my window to talk to them. “Hello, beautiful! You guys are gorgeous!” I don’t even care what the neighbors think.
These turkey vultures have lots of wrinkly, red skin all over their heads and necks. Sometimes they can be so ugly that they’re beautiful. I find them to be tremendously awesome beings. They live off everybody else’s discarded waste and make do.
Recently my daughter, Kali, convinced me to go get a pedicure with her. I reluctantly agreed, deciding that having someone else massage and decorate my toes once every couple of years or so might not be too bad. I selected a color that could blend in with the shade of dirt that I tended to walk around in. But she informed me that it was “Not my color.” She stated matter-of-factly that I should “Do red.” At last, a burgundy nail polish was agreed upon.
For the next week, every time I happened to glance downward I was taken aback. My sympathetic nervous system informed me that my toes were bleeding! Each time my brain had to readjust to the “painted toenails.”
And then I would think of the buzzards with their floppy, red skin hanging off their heads encrusted with all the disgusting trash and dead things that they eat. Somehow, I’ll bet that this is not an image that most women see when they look down at their recently pedicured feet.
Anyway, we seem to be having a fairly mild summer, although it hasn’t been very consistent. We run the gamut through dry, humid, hot, warm, cooler, nice breeze, no breeze. But I really do appreciate these long days of summer. So many more activities and fun can be packed in and enjoyed.
When I was a kid summer was my favorite time of year. Probably because there was no school. And I could swim in the pond. Perhaps things haven’t changed all that much. I still enjoy many of the same things I did half a century ago.
Chi Varnado is a Ramona resident. Her memoir, “A CANYON TRILOGY: Life Before, During and After the Cedar Fire,” and her children’s book, “The Tale of Broken Tail,” are available on www.amazon.com. She directs the Ramona Dance Centre. Her collection of essays, Quail Mutterings, can be found on www.chivarnado.com.