Fall has arrived in the local mountains with startling suddenness. Two weeks ago I took a leisurely hike along the backbone of the San Gabriel Mountains, sunning myself from time to time on the hot rocks, the desert haze on one side, the ocean haze on the other.
Last week, at 9,000 feet, I had to walk warily around patches of hard ice — for a lone hiker even a sprained ankle up here could be big problem. To the south, fleecy autumnal clouds were building up over the ocean. To the north the desert air was scrubbed clean enough to clearly see the growth of habitation in what used to be the dreaded empty Mojave. To the east I could see the purple mountains near Palm Springs, to the west their counterparts overlooking the Santa Monica coast.
The sky was a faultless blue and the crimson of the one deciduous tree I saw among all those evergreens was shocking.
I started early and saw the full moon go down and the sun come up. A cool breeze made me shiver as I took the first steps on the trail from Dawson Saddle to Throop Peak, just over 2 miles away and 1,200 feet higher, a comfortable hike on a trail built and beautifully graded by Boy Scouts. But soon the wind died down and complete stillness, like that in an empty concert hall, enveloped everything.
I walked past the place where a few weeks before a well-fed bear lumbered across the trail just ahead of me and disappeared into the vegetation. I have often asked myself what I would do if I met one of them at close quarters. Now I know. I would stand stock still, trying to look like a Jeffrey pine, while Red Skelton’s immortal verse flashed through my mind:
Algie saw the bear, the bear saw Algie.
The bear was bulgy. The bulge was Algie.
By now I imagine my bear thinking “Half-past November already. Time for a few months’ nap. At any rate, I didn’t see him or any of the squirrels that were scampering so eagerly just a few weeks ago or even any little sunbathing lizards. All around the tempo of life was visibly slowing.
As I took in the 360-degree view, I wondered, as I do almost every time in these mountains, how all this wilderness can exist so close to one of the world’s largest cities. The answer, of course, is that people don’t get the pleasure from it that we avid hikers do. To them it’s either boring or frightening or just a waste of time with hard labor thrown in. I’d guess that fewer than .01% of Angelinos ever take to these trails. I understand their reluctance: it is a different world. But what an experience they are missing.
Luckily, I didn’t think of this until I arrived home:
The bear who saw Reggie
Likes plants, fruit and veggie
But might mistake what Momma means
When she tells him, “Eat your Greens.”
REG GREEN lives in La Cañada. His website is www.nicholasgreen.org.