Sunday, April 5, 2009

Tales of the Koko Lion, Part 8: Canyon times.

"Like the grasses showing tender faces to each other, thus should we do, for this was the wish of the Grandfathers of the World."                                                                                              Black Elk  

    The sun was hot, and my moccasined feet stuck like monkey palms down on the broad granite boulder.  The big boulders were strewn around the chaparral covered hills, jumbled atop one another like they'd been cast out with some beautiful zen intention.  Golden tan no-tan.  Grasshoppers whirred their surreal, penetrating background buzz as Santa Ana winds blew the red-clay dust off the hilltop paths.  I and my dusty compadres occupied these canyons, laying just beyond the edge of San Diego, and stretching out to what seemed like forever.  Gray squirrels rhythmically chirped away in their boulder villages.  A lizard did push-ups on a rock.  The quails' call punctuated the humming stillness:  "kee KAW kaw... kee KAW kaw..."  This was where I would choose to live, if I could... and so I did.  From early childhood on, I'd disappear out the door, and across the street, on to the dusty oxide canyon trails and into the deceivingly welcoming wilderness there, to the best host a kid could have.  Later, when we moved farther out on the fringes, to the monolithic Mies Van der Rohe-inspired house that my father built, where the land surrounded us completely, all I needed to do was walk out the downstairs door next to my room, right into my scrub-brush sanctuary.  I could move free then, around the path-cut hills, out of the sightlines of the house's big windows.

    I had my rifle or my bow, and cut the knees of my jeans out, front and back, to allow the breeze to circulate; and there was always a cat or two out in the field with me.  Like Cathy, the tawny little tiger with one tooth, who retrieved like a hunting dog- bounding back over the low scrub with a lizard in her mouth.  Or Armando, the muscular white-chested tabby I'd raised on egg yolks and road work (he trotted alongside my paper route bike like the middle-weight he was).  Eventually, they would both fall prey to the coyotes' insidious gang-tactics- the heart-breakingly repetitive fate of all of my childhood cats who ventured into the canyons on their own.  The canyons seemed placid, but in truth, they buzzed and simmered with that kind of dusty menace.

    No one really seemed to see the beauty of the semi-arid wilderness back then.  It all appeared to the unconscious developers to be a lot of nothing but potential dollar signs, and everything but a few parcels were buried by bulldozers and covered with an unsustainable layer of suburbia.  But all things change.  Most of those developers are probably dead and gone on now.  All things come and go.  One day the canyons will reclaim it all-- when the water runs out, and the sun, the creosote, and the jackrabbits and horny-toads take it back.

    But for me in that evening of childhood, the big rocks stayed warm as the sun sunk.  Cathy would pull up a boulder nearby, her stripey arms outstretched in front of her, and we'd watch the dusk descending over the Pacific horizon, like the big cats do.  

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