Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Way down the trail as the canyon doglegs right, a gnarly old cottonwood awaits your arrival….

Allow me to introduce you to an old and dear friend, Senor Cottonwood.
bigmorongocanyonhike 035

I first made his acquaintance in July of last year, on a very hot summer day, when for some unknown reason, and after throwing caution to the scalding winds, I impetuously decided to hike all the way down the canyon trail from the Big Morongo Canyon Nature
Preserve to where it comes out upon Indian Avenue near the
junction with Hwy 62. What was I thinking?

Hot, sweaty, and running dangerously low on water, I spotted
this tree about the same time as I heard those cottonwood leaves
rattling with the breeze that built up as I approached it. In all my
life, I don’t think I ever welcomed such a sight—this was no mirage
shimmering in the distance, it was real.

As I passed the rock formations to the left of me, that were dwarfed
by the canyon walls rising up above, the insects buzzing around me
hoping to take a drink from my sweaty brow did not distract me
from the totally unexpected image of what at that moment in time, was the single most welcome sight I believe that I have ever seen in my whole life on this planet- a cool and inviting oasis of green in the
distance, leaves waving with purpose and invitation,beckoning for me to come closer.

With alacrity I attempted to obey the command to come nearer, as
footsore as I was, and covered the distance seemingly in just a few
steps to discover with delight, at the base of this huge tree, a large root about 8 inches in diameter perfectly located for sitting on, underneath and in the shade awaiting my arrival, as well as a noisy and persistent bird up above in the branches, loudly and vociferously protesting my being there intruding in his space as I sat my weary self down beneath his lofty perch on that natural “chair” so thoughtfully provided by mother nature.

What a sublime moment! Pulling out my formerly ice cold and full
water bottle, I leaned back and saluted my new friend, naming him
Senor Cottonwood and after thanking him for being there, I gratefully
took a small sip of my remaining precious water and just reveled in the rustling of those myriad leaves in the breeze that miraculously kept blowing the whole time I sat there underneath.

I wish I could say I thought great thoughts, I did not, unless ruminations about the ancient one’s history qualify. The thought did
cross my mind that this tree had seen its’ share of history and change,
and I wondered just how it got its’ very distinctive shape, perhaps the
winds had shaped it over the centuries, whistling down that canyon,
and I marveled at how it had probably been a popular stop for the native people as they made their way up and down the canyon, as this
was a busy thoroughfare in those days, heading down in the winters
and up during the summer.

It also occurred to me that this old and gnarled tree had probably
been home to many, many birds in its’ lifetime as well as other animals such as mountain lions; the thoughts of which brought me out of my philosophical mood and instilled a sense of urgency in me and so I shakily got up from that comfortable spot there under that great big old cottonwood, and saying thank you and God bless you Senor, I
made my way slowly out from under those “so green they hurt my eyes to look at them” rattling leaves into the blistering, glaring desert sun upon which in celebration of my being there, the breeze promptly
stopped blowing, and I continued my hike an additional two miles or
so where I barely made it to the highway with about an inch of hot
water left in my water bottle, and where I, totally exhausted and unable to walk another foot, much less the four miles or so back up the road to Morongo
Valley, stuck my thumb out rather forlornly like the hobo’s of old and amazingly about four cars later, got a ride from a young man all the way up the hill to the village and where I offered him a cold drink of his choice and he suggested I get him and me an Arnold Palmer Half and Half which is half green tea and half lemonade, and I discovered what the true meaning of sublime was, as I had never, ever tasted anything as good as that ice cold, sweat beading on the cold can Arnold Palmer. Wow!

Those of you visiting southern California or already out here, if you
can drag yourselves away from the theme parks for a day, allow me
to suggest that you live a little bit, go a little out of your comfort zone
and head up to the Big Morongo Canyon Nature Preserve and venture out on that canyon trail going down hill and go see Senor Cottonwood as a favor to yourselves.

I would be truly grateful if some or just one of my readers went to
drop in and introduce themselves to my old friend, and I believe that
such a visit would probably be just what somebody else needs in their
life at this very moment or would provide a memory to last a lifetime,
at the least.

Old Senor Cottonwood has been around for hundreds of years, that I
am sure of, as sure as I am that the sun will come up in the morning
warming up this cold orb, and I believe that this, dare I say, sacred
tree can make one lose all one’s worries of the moment, if one can
make it to the spot underneath, out of the sun and into that shade, sitting there with the canyon rising above you across the trail, at that moment you will finally feel a love for the deserts like some of us feel now, an unrequited love when you are away for any significant period of time, for me that’s measured in days I can count on my fingers, and a feeling of such peace and joy will come over you, similar to experiencing the awe one gets looking out over mile after mile of endless desert mountain ranges unfolding in the distance before you or the feeling one gets when you walk up on a few deer grazing on a trail before you, or watching the raptors endlessly riding the thermal updrafts above you, or coming across a thousand year old creosote growth ring with a striped tail lizard observing you from underneath the shade- you will become a changed person, a change
that you will greet with the emotions of the wide-eyed child we all
were in our youth, before the world and all its’ travails became a part
of our very souls.

Trust me, believe me, it will happen to you, if you will only go and open your heart and mind to nature’s beauty.

Go meet Senor Cottonwood my friends, or meet nature wherever
you can find her. Trust me, there is more to this life than theme parks
and tourist traps. Or computer screens for that matter.

I look forward to meeting up with you one day on the trail, perhaps
we’ll drink a toast to Senor Cottonwood, long may he stand proudly
and patiently there at that dogleg canyon, leaves rustling with an
invitation for tired travelers to drop in and sit for a spell underneath--

Until we meet again, take care and Godspeed.