Monday, October 3, 2011


I leave dinner in Hollywood and start to drive home.  I don’t want to be home though.  I’m restless and I’m listening to mixes for the new record.  I get off at my exit, but keep driving past my house, up and over the hill, right back onto the freeway...

I drive until it transitions to a four lane road, then two lanes.  I wind upwards from the outskirts of the last suburban neighborhood, past the make-out-spots lined with cars, past where the streetlights cease and the forest takes over.
Twisting into the mountains, around granite faces cast blue beneath the full moon, I pass a mountain biker pedaling with solitary purpose along the late-night highway, his outline black in my review mirror against the orange circuitry of the city below.   
The last of the mixes settles with a final cymbal swell and I roll down my dirty windows.  Every time I’m confronted with a crossroads I take the path that pushes me higher up into the mountains, until the glow of Los Angeles is blocked by miles of shadow, until I’m slowing down and craning my neck to look over the guardrail, over cliff edges.  Then I stop the car.

Everything is warm and still as I step out and climb up onto the rocks at the edge of the turn-out.  Looking over the rim, I’m slammed by a sheer drop to the tips of pine trees rising far below.  Vertigo hands thrust to my throat, yanking me down and down by my shirt collar.  I hold my ground and gaze up into infinity, into the legion of stars - cold currents flashing from my head to my knees.  Across the wide valley, mountains beyond mountains fade into the fringes of moonlight.  And everything that unfurls below - the spreading wilderness, the jutting cliffs, the rigid wildfire-scorched manzanitas - all of it is illuminated into crystal blue clarity. 
My car engine ticks.  Something rustles on the hill above.  In all the miles of road that I can see, there are no headlights, and I can feel no wind.  Trees arch over, dangling frozen fists of silhouetted leaves against the mountain faces.  I just stand there, heart hammering in terror.  Everything in my body wants me away from that cliff’s edge, back in my car, back into the city, back into safety, while a chorus of 10,000 crickets lifts from the valley depths to my ears.
I know I won’t fall, but I can’t keep my thoughts from pulling me away from this moment. And it hits me: it’s the vastness, the stillness, and in the midst of that, the solitude that I hardly can take.  How humbling, below the vivid extremes of space, to look downward and outward and upward at such a distance - especially when that unending breadth is only mirroring the extent of what’s within.  
I think about the deceptive tranquility thrown across it all, every creature scurrying across the forrest floor, every rock tumbling down a mountainside.  I stare at the sky and imagine exploding suns, meteors colliding, ice and ore spraying into oblivion.  I wonder at all that stirs in the shadows of my consciousness, the entire world at work in every cell, vast systems of the mind twisting to the fingertips.
Nature doesn’t judge you.  Nature doesn’t punish you in abstract ways, doesn’t care about the shape of your clothes or your beliefs.  Nature takes you at your reflex, the weight you can carry, the certainty of your step, your tolerance to the elements.  It rewards you for your awareness, for your ability to see - to really see, to really hear. I stare into the face of a mountain until its unique anatomy starts to show in ridges and rockslides and clusters of dark forest.  Power is a whole different phenomenon out here.
Finally I allow myself to be dragged away from the edge and back into the car, back onto that long road home.  Somewhere down the mountain I pass that biker again, his back to the city, still pedaling deeper into the night.  I wonder if there is anywhere he’s headed or anything he’s escaping.  And I envy him as I plunge back into the familiar hum of the city sprawl.