The other day, my daughter and I were walking our dog in the canyon near our home, like we do several times a day. It was hot, so we wanted to get our dog back inside as soon as possible. However, my daughter wanted to get some water, go back outside, and play in the dirt. She wanted to dig holes and play with mud. As she should.
I looked out over our dry, shadeless canyon and convinced her we should go elsewhere. I thought of somewhere new I could take her that wasn’t too far. I remembered my hike 6 years ago to Bernardo Mountain, on a similarly hot day. I remembered a shady creek alongside the trail that might work better than our hot and orange canyon. I hoped there was still water.
She agreed and we drove out to Lake Hodges. We had been wanting to go over the pedestrian bridge for a while, so we parked on the south side and walked over. We said hello to all the others that were hiking on the trail. Before long, we were looking for shade. I knew that we had to take a right at the fork to go up to the Bernardo Mountain trail and then go down to Felicita Creek, which was just to the right. A small sitting bench would be there.
However, the first shade we found was under a large oak tree to the left, off the main trail. We walked past a picnic table and saw Felicita Creek gurgling below. We had some water and snacks at the bench and then headed down to the creek, carefully avoiding poison oak. Confirming that there was no poison oak right along the creek, we rock-hopped to a shady spot, where my daughter immediately started digging. I found a comfortable rock to sit upon and chatted with my daughter as she continued her project of creating mud.
Since I’ve started opening a restaurant, it’s been hard to get outside as much. And when I have the opportunity to get outside, my thoughts drift to the endless details. The effort of learning a thousand new things has crumbled my attention span. This time was no different. I was thinking about our construction process, our hiring process, ordering supplies, etc. Sometimes a shadow covers my spirit when I think about how my opportunities to get outside will be reduced once the restaurant opens.
My mind gets so filled with a chorus of ideas and responsibilities that it is often hard to be present.
Just then, I noticed some clouds of silt spreading on the bottom of a large pool in front of me. I wondered what had caused it. As my daughter sang to herself next to a flowing part of Felicita Creek, I sat still and watched the microcosm of the creek come to life.
Water striders skimmed the surface, looking for mosquito larvae. Small translucent fish, likely carp fingerlings, swam within the pools. Along the edges, some black tadpoles were starting their journey. After a few minutes more of quiet observation, the crayfish started emerging. Some small and grey, others proud and deep orange, they scoured the bottom of the creek for edibles and postured for the ideal hiding spots under rocks and leaves.
Butterflies, blue damselflies, and a large amber dragonfly made their appearance, humming through the pleasant breeze that flowed downward through the drainage. In the trees, black phoebes and spotted towhees hunted for small insects. Occasionally, a shadow would pass over us. A turkey vulture, looking for lunch, patrolled the skies.
I was hypnotized, and temporarily completely present. I had forgotten about the dissonant complexities that had been tapping on my skull for the past few months and was simply there, enjoying this little world that was Felicita Creek.
Occasionally, we heard voices of hikers, the rhythm of trail-running shoes, or grinding dirt under mountain bike tires on the sun-baked trail above, but those travellers were unaware of this little bubbling eden below.
We stayed there for about 3 hours, enjoying the place and moment. Sophia sang to herself while constructing her mud hill, and I just sat, watching and listening to the life around me, forgetting about my own complex one.