With the pace of today’s workaday world, we need to take time out so that we don’t burn out. Some of us do that by kicking back and putting our feet up; others do it by heading out and picking our feet up—one at a time with a hike.
This past weekend, my wife, five-year-old son, and I went camping on Palomar Mountain. While it is always nice to get away from work, it is especially pleasant to get away from the hustle and bustle that defines our normal lives. They call it civilization; but, it isn’t always civilized. Luckily, our phone service is not strong enough to reach the area; so, technology was not coming with us—a very welcomed and obvious omission.
The crisp air of fall was beckoning. Leaving the city midafternoon provided us with an opportunity to get camp set up early enough so that we could take a stroll before the sun went down. We found the trailhead for the Observatory Trail that leads from the campground to the Palomar Observatory at the top of the mile high peak. Not wanting to over-do it with the kid on the first night, we hiked about a mile until we reached what might be best described as a trailside patio-deck tucked in a clearing between the trees. The vista that it offered was unlike any other that we had experienced in Southern California. Being raised on the East Coast, my wife and I were used to valley meadows surrounded by lush green hillsides; we just hadn’t seen on since moving to California and starting our own family. The glassy ponds in the valley reflected the changing colors of the leaves. The expansive sky hinted at the blanket of stars under which we would sleep that evening.
Back at camp, the chaotic cacophony of cackling co-workers was quickly replaced with the calming combination of crickets chirping and coals crackling in the campfire. As the daylight faded to darkness, the Universe’s vastness introduced itself, star after shining star. We had picked up a nighttime sky activity book for our son at the local general store earlier in the day. With book in hand, we each learned a new constellation before we hit the sack. The promise of no morning alarm clock makes any night’s sleep more restful than it would be otherwise. A one inch foam pad is a pillow-top luxury mattress given the right circumstances; this was one of those nights.
After a breakfast of yogurt and energy bars, we set out on our hike. We were not intending to break any elevation or distance records; the point was to be outside as a family. For us, a hike is pointing out fallen trees that look like alligators, rams heads, or Cheshire Cat’s smile. We bring along an extra bag so that we can collect interesting rocks, acorns, and litter (Seriously—who throws away a Styrofoam cup on a trail? Who even takes a Styrofoam cup on a hike?!! Who hates Nature that much?).
At the top, my wife snaps a picture of my son and me as we stand next to a 5500 elevation marker to record the accomplishment. The observatory museum and gift shop is a few hundred yards away, across a parking lot that held the cars of folks that took the easy way up. In the museum, we learned a lot about how small we really are and how impressive the construction of the observatory was. We left there to investigate the grounds as we made our way to the observatory. Being blessed with a “severe clear” day—infrequent in Southern California, in the distance we could see Mount San Jacinto towering 10,000 feet into the wide blue sky. Other areas of the property offered views of the surrounding valleys, playful clouds, and Autumn’s changes.
The stroll back down to camp was peppered with a few more acorn-gathering sessions. From the deepest of purples to the most brilliant greens, the acorns mirrored the color palette of the leaves that covered the forest floor as well as those that still clung to branches overhead.
Another night under the canopy of constellations further eased away any tensions from the work week. My foam pad was a king-sized feather bed that night. The next morning, I awoke feeling like Rip Van Winkle after his twenty-year sleep. Begrudgingly, we packed up the car in preparation for our return to undesirable normalcy. A few more acorns–all dressed in their oaken berets–were gathered so that our son could take some to school for his classroom. Finally, the key turned the ignition and the sound of the engine reminded us that the weekend was soon to be over. Refreshed and invigorated, we were ready to face what the upcoming week had to offer.
As soon as the Winter weather breaks, we are heading back up!
Sometimes, you have to unplug in order to recharge.
Ye Olde Wordsmythe