Thursday, June 19, 2008

Sitting in the Lap of God
It's now been three days since I sat, naked, in the lap of God.
My friend Maggie took me to the back country outside Santa Barbara--somewhere between the Santa Ynez Mountains and the Sierra Madres, in Los Padres National Forest. Our destination was a sulfur hot spring. We packed our peanut butter and jelly sandwiches and headed out in her pickup on Tuesday morning. Santa Barbara is right on the Pacific coast with the Santa Ynez range behind, so our first climb was up through the neighbor-hoods, then around hairpin turns and switchbacks to the 2,000 foot ridgeline. From the top, the road, though paved, was one lane wide. On the right side I could look down and see the city, Stern's Wharf sticking out in the ocean, and the blue Pacific stretching before me; on the driver's side, the rolling mountains of the continental U.S. stretching as far as I could see: the San Rafaels and the Sierra Madres. (I still forget that there is a whole continent behind me, accustomed as I am to living on an island in the middle of the Pacific) Last summer the Zaca Lake fire burned through the Sierra Madres--we could see the scars of the burn about half way down the west side of the mountain range side--the gray rocks sticking up like a backbone, reminding me of the buried blue whale that is being uncovered by the surf down near Ventura (but that's another story…). We headed down, down, down into the valley between the mountains. After about forty-five minutes (impossible to tell distance--the windy road makes for slow going), the paved road ended and we continued on a dirt road. The ranger service had posted signs warning that the next day all the roads into the Dick Smith Wilderness would be closed, due to fire danger, no doubt. We felt very blessed to have chosen this day for our journey. The only sign of human life was a forest ranger driving to his encampment. He stopped us and asked if we were planning to camp, making sure we were aware that the area was going to be closed. We assured him we were there just for the day. He waved us on as we passed his house and headed for the hot spring.
Water is still running in the streams this time of year--the last of the flow. Soon the creek beds will be nothing but rounded stones showing where seasonal water flows. In the Northwest, we don't think of creeks and rivers drying up, and we build bridges over flowing water. Here, they pour slabs of concrete in the riverbed and we drive through the water (if there is any--in this case, now only about an inch deep). We passed a small lake and I saw sunken hoof prints in the mud and could imagine deer coming there in the evening to drink.
Maggie took a right fork off the main dirt road onto a little used dirt road--no fresh tracks. We had left the world long ago, but were now entering magic space--a place where no one had been for a long time.
"It's not far," she said as she pulled up under the shade of a lone pine and parked. We grabbed our lunches and towels and hiked a short way into the springs.
Some kind souls had hauled in some plastic pipe to divert the springs, then hauled in cement and gathered river rock to build two pools beside a sweet little creek in a quiet canyon.
Mid-June in the creek valley was hot, but I was anxious to take a dip in one of the rock-lined pools. I stripped off my clothes, ready to sink in the warm water up to my neck. I eased myself up on the edge of the pool. I tested the water with my toes, then put my foot in up to my ankle. The water was hot, but I thought I'd adjust once I got in. I slipped off the side of the pool and eased myself down. And quickly eased myself out in less than a minute. There was no way I was going to be able to stay in that tub. Between the warmth of the day, the sun shining on the pool, and the temperature of the springs, I would have been boiled to tender perfection in no time.
Instead, I tiptoed across the stepping-stones in the creek and found a flat stone between two large sandstone boulders a little ways downstream. The perfect spot! I made myself comfortable, leaning back against one of the boulders and let small waterfalls pour over each shoulder. For company I had a bluebird, a scrub jay, and the smallest hummingbird I've ever seen. Oh yes, and about a thousand flies. I was glad I'd brought along some white sage, and after I smudged the flies seemed to disappear. It was then that I began to melt into the surroundings, no longer smelling like an outside entity, washed clean of civilized ways. The water covered my outstretched legs, leaving my torso dry.
Taking a deep breath and letting worldly stress wash downstream, I sank lower on my rock. The water was the perfect temperature, being warmed from the overflow of the sulfur pools. I let it fall over my breasts. Then I sat up and leaned forward, splashing water over my shoulders, feeling the rivulets run down my spine, wishing I could bathe this way every day.
I sat on my rock, facing downstream, most of the afternoon. Every once in a while, a slight breeze rustled through the cottonwood trees near the creek bank. Then the sharp scent of nature's perfume would waft through the air, reminding me of the Lombardy poplars along the lane at the house on Miller Street. (It's funny, isn't it, how smells evoke other times and places?)
Totally at home--me, with my naked butt firmly planted on Mother Earth. I had removed my watch
when I tore off my clothes, preferring Earth time to man-made time. I had no place to go and nothing tugging at me to be done. I was nature's child now.
I witnessed the water skippers sliding across the creek, the occasional leaf floating by. The sunlight peeked through dappled shade to reveal colored pebbles in the creek bottom. The only sound, the babbling of the small waterfall flowing around the boulder I rested against. When I turned my head and looked back up the stream I saw a ribbed rock sticking up out of the ground, reminding me that we were on the edge of the San Andres fault line. Creamy blooms of the yucca dotted the steep sides at the head of the valley, the only accents in the dusty chaparral.
Maggie came to find me after the afternoon shadows had traveled across the surrounding hills. "It's time to go if we want to get out of here before dark."
Why is it that the trip back always seems shorter than the trip to? When she started the truck, I glanced at the clock to see how long it would take us to return to civilization. She drove an hour and fifty minutes. Later I tried to pinpoint the spot on my gazetteer. I was able to trace the first part of the journey--the marked road--on the map, but when the road went from a solid red line to small dots, I knew I might never find the springs again. All I carried out with me are memories.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I will enjoy the reading!! with the first morning cup.
Tuxtla Gutierrez