Friday afternoon I finished with my work early, but could not get an earlier flight from Los Angeles back to Dallas. I drove to the South Coast Botanical Garden, one of my favorite places, to kill time. The South Coast Botanical Garden was formed roughly the same year I was born, in 1959. The garden sits on a converted landfill, and marks one of the first American reclamation of a dump for purposes of a public garden. In some parts of the garden, methane exists just underground, which is captured and converted into fuel oil.
I walked through the garden, nestled in the rolling hills about a mile from the ocean. I enjoyed the Crown of Thorns the size of a small tree, the way that green hummingbirds flitted and hovered near the blue blooms just outside the rose garden, the many flowering shrubs and bushes, and the way the sun had its Mediterranean brightness and yet softness, compared to Texas sunlight.
Thursday night I drove up into the San Gabriel Mountains, into the Angeles National Forest. I wanted to walk on a trail twenty minutes more remote than our old home in La Crescenta. The Red Box Trail sits just off the Angeles Crest Highway, at the intersection at which one turns to go to the Mount Wilson observatory. I wanted to walk the Red Box trail, which is, for me, a kind of "home", in the same way that Trinity Trail near here is a kind of home for me.
I got to Red Box while it was still daylight, and, as was often the case when we lived near there, I had the trail to myself. It was close enough to the end of the day, though, that I felt an extra caution. Mountain lions are not abundant things. Each one controls a solitary range of five miles or so. Thus, at any given place, one is relatively unlikely to see one. Further, they prefer deer to personflesh in any event. But the waning hours before dusk mark the opening hours of mountain lion hunting times, and I was alone with nothing but the sound of those huge dark squirrels here and there.
Red Box Trail is at 5600 feet elevation, and one walks through a wooded area along the ridge of a mountain--very non-dramatic, but very satisfying. I had a moment's trepidation, at first, as I looked at each "higher ground" I passed.Then I hit upon the idea of grasping a huge rock, which allayed my concern. Still, I did not hike as long as I might have at 10 in the morning. It was good to see Red Box again, and I gave a prayer of thanksgiving to have made it back to this place of "home" for me. It's nice to be alone on a mountain, because one need not bother to keep one's prayers wordless and inaudible.
On the drive back into the city, I thought to myself how although I have little interest in seeing again the quaint and cute foothill home we sold in La Crescenta, I'd love to see again Two Strike Park, the little pocket park in which I would walk Scout and Teddy, which sits overlooking the Verdugo Mountains. I imagined to myself that if I visited that park, I would sit and cry about lost times and in particular my lost friend Scout. I am not much of one to cry, usually, though I can think of a few times I have cried, so I suspect the daydream was a bit melodramatic. But it was good to connect with that feeling.
Saturday morning I went to swim at the natatorium, where I floated and dog paddled in the lazy river, and then sat in the hot tub pool to wind down. Then I took the car to the "hand wash car wash", where they did a great job of making it look new again.
Saturday afternoon our friends from Pennsylvania, A and E, came to visit us, along with their son A, whom we had never met before. A and E met us years ago when I was the moderator of a sub-section of a message board in th California Forum, and we found ourselves spending a day or two with them in Los Angeles showing them the city as they sought to decide whether to relocate from Canada to Los Angeles. They ultimately stayed in Toronto, but we all became great friends, who gather for dinner every few years.
A. owns his own software business, but also serves as a Marine Corps helicopter pilot, who has now done several tours in the past few years of conflagration. E surprised us by letting us know that although she is an engineer-type by training, she obtained a certification in therapeutic massage in night school. Their son, young A, is eleven months old. Young A, as most kids do, enjoyed being hoisted on my shoulders. I am one of those people fortunate enough to get along with most kids and almost all toddlers.
We all went first to a western store, called "Cavender's boot city", where A and E got young A. a red straw cowboy hat and stylish red boots. I got myself a broad, flat straw hat, made in Mexico. It had the "style" name "Carolina", but the look was pure "Coahuila". The felt-hat store clerk cowboys gave me that "you look like a Tejano song" look, but I have always rather wanted to look like a Tejano song, provided it did not involve lyrics about the joys pf being a runner of narcotics but instead about a beautiful dark-haired woman from, let's imagine, Guasave. I loved its wide-brim hiker-friendly straw hat elegance. I do not have much "cowboy" in me, but I am not entirely devoid of that way of dressing, as many pictures of me in chaps and a buzz cut, sitting on a shetland at age four in Amarillo, Texas, attest.
We drove up to McKinney, a charming town of 25,000 just to the north of where my wife and I live. This town has a quaint "town square" downtown. We shopped in some stores, which were getting ready for an upcoming Hurricane Katrina silent art auction. A harpist sat strumming a harp on the street corner as part of the festitivities.
Young A. leaned back and forth as she strummed out "Norweigian Wood". Everyone getting ready for the art exhibitions did not have on comfortable jeans and hats in the Coahuila Carolina style, as I did, but instead the kind of stylish dresses and "take me to the ski slope" dress clog heels that say "evening function".
One set of paintings on display was an interesting bit of landscaping, while another looked like it had been squeezed from one of those glitter paint make-up kits that kids get in dollar stores nowadays, and used to paint psychedelic art that in my teens would have adorned black light posters. I liked the contrast between the artist's somewhat breezy (a word chosen as a quick edit from "cheesy") conception and the gorgeous 20something Texas girl, all art-patron-welcoming-appropriately-dress
We then headed over for our dinner at Mama Emilia's, whereupon ensued two and a half hours of delicious food and delicious conversation, about the world of things that people talk about when they are old friends who have not been together in six years. We made plans to try to visit Pennsylvania next year, where our friends live an hour north of Philadelphia. We had so much to talk about, from the most mundante to the most intricate. I love conversations like that. Sadly, I allowed the general dessert rush to capture me, and I had half a bread pudding, which may come to haunt me when next I weigh in. We all had a delightful time.