I spent the day in the mountains east of town. The fresh air was crisp in the Autumn sun. It moved through the treetops and scattered leaves like confetti. Under my feet, the ground crunched and sighed as I walked through the limited undergrowth. Many would call this area “High Desert” not mountains but I don’t care. The trees are tall, the air is clean, and the world is quiet. I am at home in these hills. There are paths winding through the area and a few camps are set up – people willing to brave the cold evening winds. I move through silently, not wanting to disturb them. In a few months, if we are lucky, these hills will be covered in snow. And this summer, covered with friends and families looking to “get away from it all”. But for now, it is quiet.
I have fond memories of this area, the hills and surrounding community. When I was a child, my family would come here to camp. My father liked that it was away from town and you could see the stars; my mother liked that there were bathroom facilities and we were only 20 minutes from Tehachapi. She wasn’t much for the outdoors. I remember one trip we we decided to camp at the last minute. We had the necessities: tent, sleeping bags, and few things to build a fire… We had brought some food, but not enough. My brother and I went into town with our mother. We pulled into the grocery store, bought hot dogs and buns, soda and beer, and a few other supplies. That night I watched as my father BBQ’d using his pocket knife – all we had were plastic utensils. We ate beans from the can and had one of the most memorable trips ever. Many of my happiest moments were here. No wonder I love this area.
I’ve spent the day remembering, reading, and just enjoying the surroundings. But the sun has gone down. The ranger is making the rounds and collecting fees from the over-nighters. It’s time for me to head home. I take the narrow roads out of the campgrounds and keep the car in second as I coast down the mountain. I turn left onto Highline Road and another memory surfaces. My brother and I are telling Daddy, “faster! faster!” as he heads over the little bumps in the road – what my mother has called “whoopty-doos”. Then we put our hands in the air, pretend we were on a roller coaster and laugh as the butterflies tickle our tummies. I laugh out loud at this memory. Things were so much simpler then.
The sun has set but the moon is still missing. In the darkness, I drive a little slower so I don’t miss my turn onto Tucker. The town has grown and it is much brighter than it used to be in the area, but better to be safe than lost. I take the road all the way through town, still a small mountain community despite it’s growth, and turn onto the freeway. The stars are clear and abundant above, and the scatter of houses on the shadowed hills are stars on earth. I keep my window open so I can smell the cool night air but that doesn’t last long. On this road there are too many trucks and, soon, the smell of diesel and hot brakes becomes too much. I close my window and drive in silence, pulling away from the heavier traffic. Soon, I come round a bend and the valley floor opens below me. I trade millions of silver stars for millions of city lights. I’m not even home and I’m already wishing I was driving the other direction. It isn’t that I don’t like living in the city. I JUST don’t know when, or if, I will ever make it up this way again. The life I have chosen will keep me far too busy to allow me to come up here. I think, sadly, I didn’t get to say goodbye. Silly, because it’s just a mountain; just a town like any other… but still…
If I never do make it back this way, at least I have my memories. We can never go backward, only forward. But our past gives us something to hold on to. It is a precious gift to hold in our heart when we need a light to brighten our life. I will hold the memories of this mountain close and bring them out when I need a smile.