Tuesday, July 04, 2006


The fourth of July is my birthday and I have been, as my husband has inscribed on my birthday cake, soixante all day. We Americans always think things are fancier in French and I have felt very fancy and special today and for the last several days leading up to this big event. I am living with two men, my husband and my 18-year-old son. My other son wanted to be here today but he's busy working a catering job so he can pay his way to Europe in August. I want him to work but I liked that he called me no less than five times today to say happy birthday, he loves me, he hopes I have a great hike, he wishes he could be here, too. These men I live with indulged me today and went on an 8-mile hike with me, along the breath-taking Dipsea Trail that goes in a loop from Stinson Beach through Douglas Fir and Bay tree forests to open grasslands and incredible views of the Pacific Ocean, San Francisco, the Golden Gate Bridge, and the Marin Headlands. We saw wild orchids still in bloom and hawks circling in majesty above us. We tramped over two-feet deep roots from Redwoods and Firs. Beautiful. And we only saw a few other hikers along the way. The Steep Ravine part of the trail was, well, steep and the Matt Davis part of the trail was rough climbing but there were so many payoffs, so many majestic views and small lovely moments--the hawks circling above, munching on sandwiches on Flat Rock high above Stinson Beach and the Pacific, the "ladder," the steep climb down a ladder to make it past a waterfall, dark, mysterious moss and ferns with overatching tree trunks and earthy smells. We ended feeling jubilant. And tired. We stopped in a Stinson Beach restaurant for steamed muscles and clams and a glass of red wine, afterwards. Perfect.

Hikes like this give plenty of time for reflection. At first, I felt like Burt Lancaster in The Swimmer, one of my favorite movies. The main character, played by Burt, of course, swims from pool to pool and in the process, moves through the history of his life. He starts off charming and perfect and as he moves through the pools, various other things come to the surface. His life was complicated. He wasn't perfect.

That's the way I felt today. I thought of all the idyllic hiking times I've had: Appalachian Trail hikes in the Blue Ridge Mountains of North Georgia with my father and brother in my childhood and teens, hikes in the Nantahala and Pisgah Forests of North Carolina, hikes on little hills called mountains in New Hampshire, hiking the Grand Canyon and the Sierras, my honeymoon hike, the Milford Track in New Zealand, hiking in the Catskills, the Rockies, and the Alps. Then my mind began to free-associate to create all those links to other hikes. I realized that I have had some friends, ok, some of them were more than friends--and our main interest in common was hiking. I've had other situations where hiking made the situation abundantly clear--this relationship was going nowhere. But hiking, especially through mountains, has been a constant in my life, a sign that I'm getting in touch with myself and feeling at peace. How perfect that I hiked today, the day that I turned 60. And that I hiked with men that I like. And who indulge me.

As we walked down the last few steps of the path to the highway near where our car was parked, my son, David, said quietly, "Happy Birthday, Mom."

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