Saturday, April 29, 2017

Falling Up 5: Canyon child

When I crossed the field above our house some mornings, dew hung on the spiderwebs in the wild oats by the path, sparkling like strings of rainbows.

At the bus stop, there was a creek bed with large and small sand stones. We would hunt for small colored ones, blues and pinks mostly, and draw pictures on the bigger rocks. Once there was a hummingbird nest and we would very carefully look at it everyday, not touch, until the eggs hatched and the babies grew and left.

During recess we often hunted lizards. Bluebellies were most common, but I liked the little sand colored lizards. You had to be careful with the alligator lizards, they bit.  They weren't venomous or anything, but when they clamped on they wouldn't let go, and it really hurt. You had to run them under water to get them to release. A good teacher was one who would let us keep them in our desks, as long as we did our work.

There was a type of flower that a friend showed me, blueish on a long stalk.  If you dug up the root bulb you could scrape it against a rock at the creek and it would foam up just like soap.  When we packed our lunch and stayed out all day, we washed our hands before we ate.

There was a bank covered in bushes that I knew about.  Once you were under the bushes, there were trails, though you couldn't stand up under there.  We called them fox trails. It felt like a very hidden safe place.

We didn't play Cowboys and Indians, just Indians.  We gathered grains and seeds and ground them on rocks.  We were peaceful.

We knew our neighbors.  We knew Mr. and Mrs Robinson and sometimes we would stop and to see their parrots. I knew Mrs. Morgan. Sometimes I would stop by and she would offer me tea. She gave me a stuffed poodle once that had been her daughter's. Almost every house, a mile straight up the hill to the bus stop, I knew someone at somewhat. Even when I walked alone, I always felt safe.

All the girls were in Girl Scouts, even the Catholic family that didn't go to our school.  Most of the boys were in Boy Scouts.  

But the canyon was, and always had been, a little different. At one time Woody Guthrie and Pete Seeger had lived there.  In the 50's there were beatniks. In the 60's it became one of the grooviest places outside of San Francisco.  The kids I went to school with, many of them were artists and musicians, and writers. I knew gay and lesbian couples just as people I knew before I even knew what that meant. My dad sold a house he bought and fixed up to two men who were raising some adopted sons together - in the sixties.  If anyone in my community had a problem with it, I never heard about it.

In some ways it was the most typical Wonder Years type childhood, with air raid drills and PTA. But it was so much more. Like out Halloween carnival.

We had the best game booths, and a cake decorating contest, and tickets and prizes.  But the best part was the costume contest.  I don't know how to explain it, people went all out.  One year my friend's little sister won; she was a giant witch's hat. One year we had a marching band leading the costume parade. If someone showed up in a store bought costume, everyone felt sorry for them, like they had a black eye or something. 

When you grow up running those canyon hills, you learn an independence of spirit and a unique appreciation for the lessons of nature that last a life time. And you also grow up understanding that we are here by permission, mother earth can stir and clear us away just like that.  Anyone who grows up in Southern California Mountains knows, I've seen fire and I've seen rain.

These are two lessons my feet learned.  When you are walking on rocks across a creek, you keep you weight and balance on the back foot and test the next rock before you trust it and then gently shift, but keep that security of the last rock before you fully trust the next one.  If you need to go down a steep bank, you can slide down on your butt and look silly, pick you way down slowly and maybe end up on your butt anyway (or worse, your face).  Or, if you are brave enough, you can spread you arms for balance, let yourself begin to fall forward, then let you feet run to catch up.  It is really scary, and sometimes you still fall, but it is also one of the most powerful feelings in the world.  Caution and unrestrained risk, and the discernment to know which to use when.

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