Soo … I wasn’t intending to be gone so long. But it’s been a crazy past couple of months–or at least it’s felt that way to me. I was gone from D.C. six weekends in a row–and given that I cherish the slowness of weekends, the chance to take a breath and get caught up on everything, it’s felt a little intense.
But mostly in a great way: I’ve been traveling galore, which I love … it’s such a joy to see places I’ve read about or heard about in person, and pick up on all the atmosphere no book or movie can perfectly, wholly convey.
One of the places I went to was Orange County, California, which despite going to college in Southern California, I’d never been in this part of my home state. (Except, upon reflection, for a performance of “The Phantom of the Opera,” which was delightful. Even though we were broke college students literally in the very backest row you could be in.) I was there for a work conference, and decided to arrive a day early to see a dear college friend.
(At Whiting Ranch Wilderness Park in Lake Forest, California.)
But I also knew I should try to do something healthy … because traveling is generally some of my worst times for eating and working out. With all the stress of new places and weird schedules, I’m often quick to justify not striving to lead a healthy life.
I’d love to say I was a New Person during my travels this summer, but well, I wasn’t.
However, I did decide I should try to go hiking before heading over to the work conference, just to see a bit more of California and get in a work out.
So, after googling to make sure I wasn’t super likely to get eaten by a mountain lion (ironically, the way you’re supposed to scare mountain lions off is by looking big, so it occurred to me that the more weight I lose, the less safe it’ll be to hike in California), I settled on an Orange County park that reportedly had a Grand Canyon-evoking rock ridge.
And saw my first rattlesnake.
(A stranger’s rattlesnake pic–mine was coy and also I wasn’t sure it was the smartest idea to get close enough to get an iphone shot.)
Mind you, I almost blithely walked right by it. The only reason I even realized there was a rattlesnake was the guy in front of me stopped and basically went: there’s a rattlesnake.
And it still took me a moment to get what he was saying, because I was just happily listening to Pandora’s Broadway show tunes station.
But in that moment when my ignorance did cease, I decided that, my mixed feelings about whether I really needed a guy to hold open a door for me when I was fifty feet away be damned, I was a staunch believer in chivalry.
(And yes, I did spend four years of my life, thanks to the wonderfully chivalrous guys of my college, actually getting doors opened for me when I was fifty feet away from them. And whatever my mixed feelings about the fifty-feet distance are, I’m all about it when you’re right at the door.)
(I have no idea what this is, but I can’t stop watching it.)
So I stayed several steps back and waited for the guy, who I had never met before in my life, to handle this situation.
Then, from the other side of the path came a couple, who looked like some kind of outrageous, glowing, fresh-faced REI ad. (A little later, a guy would take a look at me and go hot day, huh? I felt embarrassed that I was so visibly sweaty–only to learn later that no, it wasn’t in the 80s like I thought, it was 105. Have I mentioned how much better dry heat is than humidity?) The four of us murmured vaguely. The original dude tried brandishing a stick in the rattlesnake’s path.
Ultimately, the rattlesnake decides to slither off. The REI couple bounces off, no doubt to do cross fit or spin class or drink kale smoothies, and the guy ahead of me heads forward.
(This kind of couple.)
I think about what I know about rattlesnakes, and it is … not much.
I know you’re definitely not supposed to get bitten if you can help it. I vaguely think you’re supposed to throw a rock at their head if you think you’re in danger. I think about how fast I can run (hint: not very) and wonder if I have any idea how fast or slow they slither (I don’t).
I’m also pretty sure I had people on the Oregon Trail (computer game, of course) die from rattlesnake bites.
It occurs to me that the beginning of wisdom at this moment might be hitting up google.
So I do … and discover my internet no longer works, so deep am I into this McMansion-rimmed Orange County hiking patch.
The sensible decision, I think, would be to head back. If one rattlesnake is around and bold, others could be too. And I have no clue what to do if I do get bit. Do I move? Do I definitely not move? Do I have 15 minutes before death? Do I have hours before death? Is there a period of lucidity before I go insane?
I have no answers….
No internet …
And I generally make the sensible decisions. (See: the fact that I buy Naturalizer shoes even though I’m still in my 20s.)
(Photos blurry because my iPhone decided it just wasn’t into taking non-blurry photos most of that day. Seriously!)
But for some reason, I’m feeling really stubborn about wanting to see this rock ridge I didn’t even know existed before I googled Orange county hiking paths.
So …. I keep walking. Forward.
After all, I was just half a mile away from this faux Grand Canyon. I’d keep my eyes on the ground. I’d stop listening to music, so I could hear if there was a suspicious rattle.
So I kept on walking, keeping the guy in my sight. (My affection for chivalry extended to the point that I was willing to let him first face any more rattlesnakes, just because I wouldn’t dream of emasculating him.) But at a certain point, I lost him–I wasn’t sure if he was still on the same path or not.
And that’s when I started to hear a lot of rattling.
I stopped. And reflected on whether it was the rattling of a snake, or just plants rustling. I looked around at the rocky landscape, catci springing up everywhere. There didn’t seem to be much in the way of rattling-prone vegetation. I looked at the rocks, saw all the nooks and crevices adjoining the dirt path.
Again, I tried to google–and my phone remained willfully, recklessly determined that I would lead the internet-free life for a while longer.
I wondered how fast rattlesnakes could move. (I wondered how fast I could move if I thought my life was in danger.) I wondered if they traveled in pairs, or if they sometimes had broods of baby rattlesnakes, perhaps in quantities to rival the von Trapps, that could helpfully corner an idiot like me, because teamwork makes the dream work.
I wondered if crickets or some other insect could be making that rattling sound. Maybe, I figured.
So I walked onwards. And saw the red rocks …. Which were nice.
On my way back, I realized I couldn’t remember around which bend we’d seen the actual rattlesnake. So I ended up walking the whole half-mile path in a mild panic, wondering if every bend was the bend, only consoled by the thought that if I died of a rattlesnake bite in a hiking trail, at least people would think that my cause of death meant that I was the kind of cool, active-living person who did hikes and was connected to nature and all that jazz.
What can I say? I’m clearly a hopeless optimist.
(If you squint, it looks exactly like the Grand Canyon, no?)
I’ve taken other believe-things-can-go-right risks since. Like parking in an ambiguously marked spot that I was 90 percent sure was kosher, but had 10 percent doubts about. (Washington, D.C. seems to think the best way to encourage a car-free life is with parking signage so ambiguous you become convinced the only place you’re definitely allowed to park is a $24 garage.)
Easter hit me hard this year. Normally, it’s Lent that does, but this year, thankfully I’d overcome that whole sinning bit and just cruised right on through it. (As if. Although I did cruise through the latter half, but that was more about, um, some rather unremedied traits.) At some point, I read something or heard something demanding whether I lived like the Resurrection had happened. And in the months since, it’s lingered with me.
Working in news, it’s easy to drown in all that’s going wrong: you’re inundated with it. (If it bleeds, it leads … ) And somewhere along the way, I started forgetting more and more what’s going right. Which isn’t to say there aren’t real problems in our country, and world–there certainly are, and it’s why I want to stay in news. But it’s a reminder to me that, if I truly believe my faith, I’m assured the final ending is a happy one … and trying to mediate on that, live that, has been a way of quelling grief, including the kind of grief that makes it feel like the only way to restoration and peace is through inhaling a whole lot of Reeses.
Oh, and as you might have guessed from the fact that I’m writing this post, I didn’t get bit by a rattlesnake.
And since I never stumbled upon a corpse, I”m also hopeful that chivalrous dude made it out, too.