It takes a little getting used to Southern California weather. You won’t be wearing a big parka or overcoat, and your gloves and scarf will lie forgotten in the closet. Santa Ana winds can blow the humidity right out of your mouth, and winter is our spring. While the rest of the country is grunting under shovelfuls of new powder, it’s raining here. In a semi-arid desert climate, rain is always a blessing. Withered seeds tucked away in the dust for seven months suddenly spring to life. Hillsides that have been studies in tan and taupe suddenly blush bright emerald. Wildflowers in retina-burning fuschias and purples spatter even the most modest highway median, and the landscape lets out an exuberant song.
Yesterday I went for a run in the fresh green landscape, to a regional park I’ve been visiting for the past five years. I know almost all its trails, can scramble over the rocks in the gulleys with familiarity and ease. Each red dot probably represents a hundred footfalls, but it felt almost effortless in the cool 70-degree weather.
On the way back from my eight-mile run I took a new path. At the time I thought it was my usual path that cuts in donkey-width switchbacks down a canyonside and into a tight valley. This one started out the same then opened up into a broader valley filled with swaying grass, red and yellow flowers, and a gurgling stream. It was as if I’d stumbled through the back of the wardrobe and into Narnia. I have a good sense of direction and knew I must only be one ridge away from my regular path, but each corner took me to a new place, a more beautiful vista. When I finally reconnected with the trunk path, I knew I’d found a new favorite route, a hidden valley all my own.
The park itself is changing with time. After strong winter storms, some of my usual paths have turned into creekbeds, a tangle of fallen logs and rounded stones that obliterate the familiar. Is this where I’ve come before? Where’s the muddy bank with the long two-step over the creek? I find the exploration of familiar is what makes trail running so much fun. Roads tend to remain the same, but the trail is a living thing, and with each new excursion you get to be not beside nature, but in it.