Canyon Days - Part 5:
Beyond the Labyrinth
Back to my regular path today.
It's time to revisit the labyrinth.
Although there's been another afternoon of heavy rain, this path, unlike yesterday's, has no mud issues. I can see where the water ran, and the path feels stonier, so maybe some sand has been washed away, but the trail is perfectly serviceable, and I'm glad to be back on it.
A short way along the path a tree is down. There was no lightning storm here, so it must have just been the hours and hours of heavy rain. What a shock to the system of this dry gray tree.
It's humid and buggy this morning; things land on me, stick to me. I'm not sure how far I'll go. My feet are tired and complaining. I have real trail running shoes at home in New York; I even had them in my suitcase for awhile. But they're bulky and packing them would've meant leaving behind a rockin pair of peep toe booties, so out came the trail shoes and in went lightweight running shoes and the booties. The rocky path is hard on my feet without a sturdy tread, but... fish gotta swim.
I decide to go down the labyrinth path first, instead of on the home stretch. This is slightly lazy, but I promise myself I'll put in a real run afterward. Right before the turn off I discover something extraordinary. Someone has built a rock sculpture, a sort of altar of stones and shiny objects, on a boulder right at the edge of the trail. Could this have been here all along and I missed it? Would it even have stood the heavy rain? Did someone actually build this thing this morning, before 8:00?
At first glance it's just some piles of stones, but look close: the way they're structured and balanced is quite intricate and deliberate, at places, a feat of physics I don't quite understand.
And whimsical features have not been spared. A pair of broken sunglass stems with little rhinestones flank a large shard of blue mirror glass; they catch the sunlight, flicker as you move past. Wink wink. I wonder if this is the work of the labyrinth maker. Seeing this reminds me to take more interest in the beauty of the different types of canyon rock. Especially the smooth, soft-feeling, red- and orange-veined sandstone.
I turn down the path toward the labyrinth, but realizing that I've never followed this trail beyond it, I pass by the labyrinth and keep going. It doesn't actually go much further. The trail peters out; little branches that at first seem promising reveal only a few small clearings where it looks like people sit sometimes, maybe spread a blanket and rest or eat. Or coyotes make a nest or something.
The main thing that stops the path is a tree. From up the trail it looks quite large, I guess, but much like any other tree around here. But since the path dead-ended here, I thought I better see if the tree was some sort of destination.
I walk beneath a low hanging branch and into the canopy of a vast, majestic cathedral of an oak tree. I can't figure out how its size is so deceiving from the outside. I walk around inside its cool canopy, snapping photos from every angle, but none of them comes close to capturing the scope of the thing. I wish I had something better than a little point and shoot camera, but then, anything more would be too cumbersome on a run.
Last year, on a Topanga writing retreat with my dear friend, the marvelous author/mother/shining spirit Jennifer Grant, I took her down to visit the labyrinth. She ventured off on her own after a bit, then came back and summoned me to a tree, just up the path from this one. It too had branches that touched the ground all around, creating a dome, but underneath were two rather primitive swings - one fashioned from a length of pipe and some heavy rope, the other, just a small log hanging from a rope tied at it's center. It was a magical place, and the tree very impressive, but still intimate, familiar somehow, a place for children to play.
This tree is solemn and stately. It welcomes you in, warm but authoritative, invites you to stay, but commands respect and library quiet. I can't help feeling it's a conscious being, with wisdom to impart; I strongly suspect it can talk, and just chooses not to at the moment. I've had this feeling before, in the Redwood Forest.
I spend a long time with the tree, and then apologize to it for doing something as gauche as spending several minutes racing around trying to get a selfie that will express even a fraction of its grandeur.
Eventually, I pull myself away from the tree and head for the labyrinth with the intention of sitting down within its spiral and doing a little writing there, just breathing, listening, waiting for...something.
I enter the labyrinth from the opposite side today, to see if spiraling in the other direction will yield any new ideas. In yoga, you stand on your head to get the blood flow going, but also, to turn your world upside down, which sometimes helps you see things from a new perspective, breaks habitual patterns of perception.
I don't get far before I realize it will be impossible to sit down in the labyrinth, to think and write, meditate, pray, do yoga. A colony of savage looking red ants have invaded. From a small doughnut shaped mound within the spiral, they scurry all over, fanning out in every direction, crossing the labyrinth's paths any which way. They obviously have no respect for the order of things here, or the vibe of the place. I saw a few of them here last year, but nothing like this. Perhaps the rain forced them out of hiding.
I can't stand still even momentarily, for fear they'll swarm my shoes, bite my ankles.
I'm very annoyed and I tell them so. I'm like --
It may interest you creepy little bastards to know that, in addition to seriously crashing my private party, you are desecrating a shrine.
Ants, come to find out, are cheeky buggers. One of them plants a sassy hand on her gaster and says,
Get over yourself, lady. We have as much right to this place as you do. You think you know from labyrinths because a couple times a year you come here and walk through this one with a lot of pretentious reverence? I built ten of these underground before breakfast today, carrying 50 times my own weight.
Ooooh, snap. Honestly, the nerve.
The labyrinth says,
Ok. Break it up, girls. Everybody back to work. Move along now.
So, off I go in search of a new trail.
I run down to the road and cross it, heading for that trail marker that points in no particular direction; today I go left at the fork.
It's a good place to run, soft and sandy, long and gently rolling. It winds toward the hill where the lightning went down the other day. Suddenly I'm running along a high rock cliff; it makes me a little dizzy. I feel like I'm in a very remote place, deep in the canyon, it's so quiet, so secluded; but here the hoof prints of horses, which I find fresh, daily, all along the trail, are denser, so I must be getting close to the source.
The path makes a sharp left where there's a ravine on the right, and begins a steep climb. Close by, I hear someone whistling; the tune isn't familiar to me, but the whistler knows it well and warbles along assuredly.
Where's it coming from? I don't hear the footfalls of any other hiker. I peer through some bushes. On the other side of the gulch, tucked deep into a white rock wrinkle of the canyon, is a stable with a paddock. The whistler is a man in a stetson, grooming a horse. I can only see him from the back; is he young or old? Are these his horses or is he the help? He doesn't turn. Does he know someone is here?
The animal makes a breathy snort; the man clucks at it and says something softly, then goes back to his whistling. His tune, maybe just some silly pop song, doesn't know if it wants to be happy or sad; in the cavernous acoustic mouth of the canyon, it takes on a wistful tremolo that follows me up over the hill and out to the road, which, I'm pretty sure, is the one that will lead back to my home trail.
Wait a minute, you may say.
Whistling cowboys. You're venturing into a treacherous no man's land between Steinbeck novel and David Lynch film. Are you making this shit up?
The feeling of solitude out here is powerful, transporting, even if it's partly illusory. I must be hardly a stone's throw from a neighborhood, but it's hard to remember, as it's nowhere visible. Even just this little corner of Topanga offers endless opportunities to roam, hear unexpected voices, and imagine a backstory for the lonely ranch hand with a haunting song.
The canyon gives what the canyon gives. You never know what you're going to find -- out beyond the labyrinth.