By Erik Nygren
21W755 with Prof Alter
October 12, 1995

It was about 85 degrees outside when I left work. I had spent the fighting with some uncooperative software. The bug I was tracking down had alluded my every attempt to track it down and the tech support people were being even more allusive. Even with a jacket on, the air conditioning in the lab had kept me chilly.

But now that was behind me. As soon as I got into my car, I discovered without any surprise that the bright sun of the early afternoon had made the air inside unbearably hot and oppressive. I pulled the ineffective sun shade off the dashboard and tossed it into the back seat. After rolling down the windows as far as they would go, I drove past the guard post and started heading west towards the mountains. As I crossed over the highway overpass, I saw that 101 had effectively turned into a parking lot. Columns of red break lights extended in both directions into the grey haze. I moved slowly down the road for a few more miles until the traffic came to a standstill at an intersection. Looking ahead, I heard the clanging of bells and saw the wooden arms descend across the road. A horn blared a low note and a large, silver train moved quickly from left to right in front of me. Car after car passed by. The metal wheels made a low rumbling noise as they rolled along the track. After a minute it had passed and the bells finally stopped and the arms slowly raised. The light had barely changed when the car behind me honked it's horn.

Castro street was filled with people. It took a few minutes to get down each block. People jumped in front of the car as they crossed the street. People sat in restaurants on either side of the car. People hurried up and down the sidewalks. People were in cars in front of me. People were in cars behind me, honking their horns. After block after block of concrete buildings, I reached the end of the street and started driving through a residential neighborhood. I passed a driveway with a tricycle. I passed children playing in the street. Rows after rows of houses branched off from every intersection.

Soon the rows of houses were gone. After about 5 minutes I had reached the foothills and found a windy road with only farms nestled into the hillsides on either side. Long dusty roads extended past grassy fields and old, knotty trees to the faded houses in the distance. The farms became sparser until they disappeared except for a few scattered every few miles. There were then trees on either side of the road. They were dark, tired trees, arching over the road and hiding the gravel from the scorching sun.

The road started winding up into the mountains. I kept on driving up and up. The road got steeper and the turns got tighter. At a few points, the road pulled around tightly with a cliff below the bend. The view over the edge looked over a wide valley full of green trees. Past the trees was the checkerboard of the suburbs, then the bay and the cities drowning in the distant grey smog. At one point the road turned sharply 140 degrees and at the same time banked very steeply upwards. The combined accelerations made it feel like the car was climbing into the cloudless blue sky. After driving a while I realized I had left in a hurry and had forgotten to bring water with me. At that moment, I passed over a ridge and saw the cities and highways and people and stifling, unbreathable air. I was far from it all and was not about to turn back now, even for their water.

After about 15 minutes I was on a ridge line. The road had a wide shoulder near a trail head, and turned my faded blue car onto this shoulder. The car rattled and jumped as it climbed the dirt curb, then it settled into a deep rut and came to a stop. The car was at a steep angle so I had to push the door into the air before I could climb out. As soon as I let go the door slammed back into place. The care was glad to be rid of me.

About 10 feet away was a pasture where some horses were grazing. One looked at me. He smiled. "Welcome," his smile said. "We don't get many visitors here." I went through the gate and walked down through a valley of golden grass which stood still under the brightness of the golden sun. Insects buzzed around and I followed the trail down towards a shady glen. The path took me into the heart of a bay forest. Trees extended to high above. Their canopies moved ever so slightly and the light which managed to sneak by the leaves danced on the trunks of neighboring trees. As I took each step, the thick blanket of bay leaves under my foot would rustle loudly. Leaves were crushed and a wonderful smell of bay leaves filled the air. I closed my eyes for a moment and inhaled deeply. Continuing on, I followed a path up a gentle hill.

After a few minutes of walking through quiet forests and meadows filled with buzzing insects, I came to an empty creek bed which passed under an old wooden bridge. As I approached, a small black snake with orange markings on its side slithered quickly out of a sunny patch in the middle of the trail and hid itself under the leaves. A few feet further ahead, I turned my head just in time to see two alligator lizards disappear into the bushes with a quick rustle. This was there home but it also felt like mine. Nevertheless, it was hot and I was getting thirsty. The path kept rising away from the old creek bed. A ways further, the trail turned above away from a bluff. Through gaps in the thick trees to the west, I caught a hint of the sparkle of the vast Pacific Ocean. The rustling of the wind in the trees above blended with the distant crashing of the surf on the rocky shores. I couldn't tell whether it was all wind or if I really could hear the ocean.

A mile later I reached another ridgeline. I was getting very thirsty now. Out of the shadows I walked and ahead of me were rolling hills of gold. Fingers of the trail spread off, caressing the hillsides, and eventually disappeared over distant golden ridges. One trail passed by a large boulder and entered another cool forest. My mouth was dry from the heat and the dust so I quickly passed through the open area and soon reentered the cool, welcoming forest.

The shade felt good for the short walk under the bright sun had made me even hotter. I passed a fallen sign which read "Lost Creek Trail." The sun was getting lower in the sky and it was starting to cool down. Still, I was thirsty. I passed many more lizards who were searching to bask themselves in little golden puddles of the last remnants of the dying day. If only I were cold blooded as them, I'd welcome the sun that now chased me. More insects were buzzing as it slowly cooled. In one canopied canyon I heard a strange noise behind me. It was not a bark and not a chirp but something in between. Looking up into the trees above, I saw a little squirrel running back and forth on a high branch. His bushy tail arched over his back and he was making a noise I never knew squirrels made.

The path wound down a cool hillside. A fox walked in front of me, a few paces ahead. He stared at me with a penetrating and knowing gaze. "You don't belong her," her eyes said. "That world you left is yours. We don't want your kind here." Then she ran away.

"No," I whispered inwardly with defiance. "This is my home. Never again do I want to return to glowing screens and ringing phones and cars spewing smog." I ran down the path, tripping on the loose rocks and branches. I entered into a shady glen and stopped to take a breath. I inhaled the birch smell and my breathing slowed to normal.

I listened quietly and heard a gurgling sound. Up against the hillside was a clear creek. I took off my shoes and and walked over to it. The bank was made of large blocks of granite but the bed of the stream was soft mud. It felt good oozing between my toes. I kneeled down and put my mouth to the water. It was cold and ran slowly by my legs. I splashed water on my face and drank deeply. This was home.

My feet sunk deep into the soft, damp mud and my toes spread outward. I closed my eyes and reached my arms high into the air. Higher and higher they stretched. Soon I could feel the sun on my hands. Now I felt warm life rather than hot death flowing from the sun's dying rays. My fingers swayed softly in the breeze. My roots drank long and deep from the water below. Night fell and the forest was cool and peaceful. An owl sounded out in the night and some deer walked by me without noticing. Now days and nights pass and I don't notice or care. The life-giving sun pours down on my leaves and the birds and lizards and squirrels play under my shade. As far as I know, an old car sits on the side of a lonely road. I don't know if it has been towed. I don't care. Miles away a phone rings in an empty office. I don't hear it. I don't hear anything. I just feel the warm sun and the cool rain and the gentle breeze.

Erik Nygren