I went hiking twice over the weekend in Malibu Creek State Park, and during those several hours each day it hardly occurred to me that I was unemployed for the first time in my adult life.
This says a lot about the wonders of nature and its power to distract from the realities of civilization. My senses seemed heightened as I strolled among hillsides made green by recent rains, and alongside creeks that, thankfully, no longer seemed dying of thirst.
This is not to say I completely forgot about my plight. For starters, I parked with the cheapskates outside park boundaries--at the Las Virgenes Road/Mulholland Highway intersection--to avoid paying the $12 vehicle entrance fee.
I was with my brother, who is worried about his job, and we both turned our heads shamefully as we walked past the manned entrance, as if we were in violation.
But once inside the helpless feeling vanished and was replaced by a desire to explore. We took side trails to avoid crowds and in more remote areas people sounds were replaced by birdsong and the occasional cry of a hawk.
On Sunday, high on the Chaparral Trail, we encountered an older man with long, silver hair. He looked like a wizard and said he was nearing completion of a 15-mile loop around and through the park. Though he looked to be at least 70 we did not doubt his story, as this seemed his domain as much as it's that of the animals.
Dusk was close at hand and the wizard told us if we walked to the campground meadow the deer would be emerging for their evening browse. The herd is healthy this year, he added, explaining he had counted 22 during a recent afternoon.
"That means the mountain lions aren't doing their job," he said with a smile.
We followed him to the meadow and sure enough, deer were sauntering down from the forested west slope. But we're longtime visitors to the park and know of other deer haunts where the animals are more easily spooked and, thus, more of a challenge to find.
One is a smaller meadow just north of the campground meadow. Few people tread here and to access this spot you have to climb over or walk around a wooden fence. We left the wizard in favor of this meadow, and soon encountered two small mule deer. They pricked their ears and stared at us momentarily, then trotted to the cover of nearby trees.
Victorious, we decided to make the long trek back to the car, and that's when my reality began to take root again. But there's always another day, another trail, more exploration and, to be sure, new surprises around the bend.
-- Pete Thomas
Deer photo by Pete Thomas