Guest Column: Being immortal isn't easy

You may have seen a couple of weeks ago the story of the oil-rich sheik who has had his name bulldozed in the sand in such massive letters that they can be seen from outer space. Let’s hope they spelled it right. That would be a costly typo.

You don’t need to have read Shelley’s “Ozymandias,” the ultimate put-down of would-be immortals, to know the futility of building such monuments:

“Look on my works, ye Mighty, and despair!”

Nothing beside remains. Round the decay

Of that colossal wreck, boundless and bare

The lone and level sands stretch far away.

Instead, just go out on the dusty trails in the reopened national forest. Since the warm weather started, I have done an early morning walk each day along the fire road from the Angeles Crest fire station and almost every time, I see the new footprints of one other hiker, though not always the same one.

These marks don’t last long. I’m there soon after 5.30, before the sun comes over the rim of the mountains when the sky is still almost white and everything is hushed, so I know he has walked up and down the evening before, after the last of the other hikers, bikers and trucks, which together wipe out almost all traces. Search as I might, when I go up in the morning, I can find only an occasional sign of my own footprints made just the day before.

From time to time, determined to make a statement similar to Sheik Hamad’s, I step off the road at one of the hairpin bends and plant my boot into the even deeper dust at the edges. By next morning, however, even those signs have largely been overlaid. It isn’t easy being immortal.

Man Friday’s boots tell me something about him. Like me, he prefers to go at a time when the solitariness won’t be disturbed by meeting even one other person. He strides ahead purposefully, rarely straying to the side to stop and look at the view. From time to time, I also see the prints of a dog, though I don’t know if the two travel together or if the dog hikes in the evening alone too.

The boots are distinctive — pointy toes in one case, very lightweight in another — and I feel sure Sherlock Holmes would have been able to tell at a glance what work their owners do and whether they shop at Vons or Ralphs. For myself, I just enjoy the feeling of sharing a simple pleasure with a complete stranger. It’s another of the gifts that La Cañada’s location next to this massive wilderness area brings.

Once upon a time, when I was a young reporter in England, I did think I might make a more enduring mark on the earth. Running at top speed to catch a train one day, I suddenly realized that the sidewalk ahead had just been covered in hot asphalt. Swerving to avoid it, I managed to step into the road, but not before the toe of my left foot sank momentarily into the gooey surface.

For the next 20 years, whenever I went to that rail station, I was pleased to see that my print was still there, like that of a pterodactyl preserved in a primeval swamp, and wondered whether future archaeologists might puzzle over this one-legged species that walked on tiptoe. It certainly lasted far longer than any of the imperishable prose I strove for in those days. When eventually the sidewalk was replaced as part of the central city’s redevelopment, I felt as though a little bit of me had been redeveloped too.

REG GREEN ( who lives in La Cañada, is the author of “The Nicholas Effect,” the story of how the shooting of his 7-year-old son in a botched robbery led to thousands of lives being saved.

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