Dans l’avenue des l’anis

I slept-in late this morning then

Hiked to Pt. Sal from Guadalupe.

View north at the summit overlooks San Luis bay 40 miles to Los Osos. To the south foothills of the mountains of Los Padres 50 miles away, reach toward the sea at Las Cruces. Somewhere in there, the Santa Ynez. It was too late to start hiking down the crumbling 4-mile path to the beach.

Swirling mists drift up from the sea. To the East, the sky is deep blue above chartreuse hills splattered with gold sunlight here and there. The trail, paved during WWII has been re-shaped by earthquakes, wind and storms; patterned with deep cracks, interrupted by abrupt detours around slides.

A large man in his 20s appears at a bend, leading a big, tired dog. He was not smiling. Most people turn back at the summit. I rarely meet anyone returning from the  beach because, beyond the summit the trail is difficult. “No water?” he says, “you’re hard core!” No. The thought just hadn’t occurred to me, my enterprise depends on spontaneity. I pretended to know what I was doing.  “A walk in the park.”  “This is a bitch,” he said. I rubbed the dogs ears. The dog wagged it’s butt. “You’re near the summit,” I said, “after the gate it’s downhill to the road.” He followed the dog.

The trail winds south. Below, the beach is visible on the north side of the point, steep hills above the shoreline could be Kalalau Trail along Napali coast. Instead of jungle and star fruit, there are brown hills dotted yellow with wild mustard and the remnants of guided missile silos. The last two miles of the trail is through an aromatic tunnel of flowering anis. Later in the season, stalks and leaves turn brown, birds, rabbits and lizards whisper through the dry brush. Distant muffled tossing of the surf, rustling leaves in an onshore breeze. I think, I’m the only human here now. No sign nor sound of human activity anywhere. Imagining aniquity.

Resting against hard sand, feeling the pressure of gravity lifting my body, my head cradled on a hillock. White wisps of clouds form strange shapes, transform, fly eastward, evaporate. Sitting up cross-legged, a timeless view of geologic and organic history of the continental plate. Every rock and stone, each outcropping of broken uplifted shale, the relentless clawing and sifting of waves and breakers, dark figures of seabirds on the pale sand, absent human scale inspires thoughts of cretaceous ancestors, patient persistence of grass, a scale of time immense and awesome.

When I looked again to the west, I was surprised by a sinister bank of fog about a half mile offshore, above swirling wisps of clouds danced like ribbons in bright light that falls on a shimmering sea. The sea before the bank of fog is in dark blue shadow as the fog advances at a startling pace. Time to go or perhaps,  swallowed into another dimension. Painfully, I rise and reluctant address the ascent. It did occur to me to pray.

Uphill, the ragged trail is slower and it is possible to observe more closely, the marks left by coyotes, the big cats, rabbits and lizards that live among the anises. While on the way down I seldom caught a glimpse of one of the little creatures though I constantly heard them scurrying as I walked by, now they showed themselves fearlessly, staying to nibble and graze as I walked past, their eyes watchful. To remove a pebble from my show, I sit down within the tunneled avenue des anis, look through thin stalks of anis at sunlit hills beyond, listen to the grasses talking in the wind, the world seen as through the eyes of a rabbit, when I examined the surface of the trail, knots of rooted vegetation, I saw, smelled and heard a lizard’s world.

At last, the gate at the summit, now 4 miles remain of ups and downs far above the beach, the trail invisible within thick fog twenty yards ahead. Sounds sharp and clear and thick aromas distinguish varieties of grass and scrub and earth and oak and sea, mysterious world along a ridge between the valley of the Santa Maria river the Santa Ynez.

Descending on the Guadalupe side, clues of human habitation arrive first in sound, a horse whinnies far off and a dog barks. The trail is now in the shadow of the wind off the sea, quiet, a place where insect voices dominate. Around a sharp bend, the trail cuts into a hillside, frantic motion explodes out of the fog, where a pasture rises steeply uphill. Dark shapes of fleeing cattle. These isolated slopes are frequented by coyotes and cougars, the steers are spooked at sounds in the fog.

7 thoughts on “Dans l’avenue des l’anis”

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