Today is the last day of May. Summer is on the next page! Just the word, summer, brings up the feeling of freedom, a pattern formed in my early childhood when summer signified the holiday from school. Day after day for three months I could sleep late in the morning, living out a whimsical day of play with my neighborhood friends, creating our own circuses, lemonade stands, building tipis and playing Indians, never coming inside except to find something to eat, until the moon was high in the night sky and bats were flying around the streetlights. Only then would I surrender to the urge to sleep, crawling under the covers with a flashlight and a book and reading past midnight when my eyes would stay open no more.
Yesterday felt like the summer days of my later childhood and teens. I moved beyond the few blocks of my neighborhood, discovering what lay beyond the boundaries of our small western town. Summer became the time to ride horses on the trails in the forests, to hike and explore the hills and canyons, to water ski at the nearby lake, and to spend afternoons swimming at the community pool, trying to impress the boys as I perfected my jackknife dive.
My house, at 4000 feet, is a ten minute drive from Hot Springs Mountain, which at 6533 feet is the highest point in San Diego County. This mountain is in the middle of the Los Coyotes Indian Reservation, which borders the Cleveland National Forest and Anza Borrego Desert State Park. Yesterday G, Joel and I drove the 4-wheel trail that winds up the mountain to an old fire look-out at the peak. There we hiked the huge rock outcrops that push out of one side of the peak. The wild flower bloom is at its best and we enjoyed all colors of the rainbow. The pink manzanita was especially magnificent. From our high vantage point we could see the Pacific Ocean to the west, Mexico in the south, the great Salton Sea and desert to the east and nothing but green to the north. The trees included huge evergreens: pine, spruce, fir and redwoods and blooming manzanita. The sage, chaparral, creosote and many varieties of cactus and desert plants that we are familiar with at our lower elevation were sparse. The only wildlife we spotted was squirrels and lizards but birds were plentiful. Big raptors soared on the ridge lift rising from the sides of the mountain. A white sailplane circled the peak as we sat enjoying the spectacular view. The temperature was a perfect 75 degrees F.
Hiking with friends in the evergreens brought back that feeling of summers in the Black Hills. The wind whistling through the pines is a sound that is music to my ears. The smell of tree sap, the camaraderie of friends, the dust of the trail, the warm summer sun…these elements of my experience transported me back through time and I danced again along that neural pathway that was deeply grooved into my brain so many years ago.