Canyon Days - part 2:
I decide to take the steep route, up to the spine of this part of the canyon.
Turn right, from the main trail, at the first small offshoot, a barely hip-wide footpath through tall a meadow, which descends into a shallow, stony gorge amidst thick brush and trees, and then climbs out again, steeply, onto another meadow and up, up, up a classic golden California hillside, and onto a rocky ridge with glorious 360 degree views of the canyon.
The paths up here are sinuous, under-traveled and unkempt. There is little shade and the highroad gets brutally hot quite some time before the trails down in the folds of the canyon do. There are confusing twists and turns and splits in the trail, and many branches off the "main" path, if there even is such a thing in this section. The paths don't seem to follow any logic, jogging off at seemingly random places, down treacherous slopes, or into thick tangles of weed and underbrush. It's a maze.
I've been lost in this section before, briefly, maybe 30 minutes, but enough to feel uncomfortable. It was strange - I knew I was never far, as the crow flies, from the neighborhood, the lovely if somewhat antiseptic gated community at Topanga's summit; I could see its rooftops, and yet there I was, lost in an authentic wilderness, where I know there are venomous snakes, mountain lions, coyotes, the occasional vagabond. And that was two years ago, when these paths, for some reason, seemed much better traversed.
I chose this path today for a different kind of challenge. It's like a HIIT (high intensity interval training) workout. Most of the climbs are not terribly long, but they're very steep. Then you have either a flat section or a nice downhill. Repeat. I jog as much of it as possible, but a number of times I have to stop and bend right over to catch my breath. I'm seriously rethinking the wisdom of this route on only my second day out. I took pictures, but none of them captures the vertiginous quality in a way that makes me seem as heroic as I actually am (perhaps marginally less heroic than the gorgeous woman I met in the canyon on my first day, who, at not a minute less than 38 weeks of gestation, was running the trail in a sports bra and hot pants, with nary a jiggle anywhere. It's LA.)
Many of these paths off the main drag seem unusually unused right now. I wonder why? As I trot along, living things stir from within the little groves of low trees and high grasses; things that don't sound like birds, that sound rather...larger. They don't seem to have been expecting me; though I can never see them, they sound startled as if from a long sleep, or like a child caught in some illicit mischief. The only thing about it I find truly frightening is that, being the first passerby some days, I may inadvertently run through a spider web, and wind up with a... passenger. Shudder.
My legs are scratched bloody from some particularly malicious wild sage bushes. I hear the whine of a coyote somewhere behind me, from down in the gorge. It suddenly occurs to me that maybe some these off-trail trails aren't people paths at all, but just the habitual routes of canyon fauna.
I know the way well enough to know that today's run will not lead me toward the labyrinth.
Yesterday, when I visited the labyrinth, I thought it might be a good idea to go there every day, walk and talk with it as a regular discipline. And that would be valid, rich. But it would also mean going the same way every day, as, for now, I know only one way to access it.
I'm torn between different approaches to my canyon encounter.
In vinyasa (flow) yoga, one returns to the same fundamental routine over and over - Surya namaskar, the Sun Salutation, forms the foundation of every practice, it's the access road into every other posture. And if it alone was your whole practice, daily, you could stay in pretty good physical condition, and would have a solid exercise of moving meditation. Consciousness transforms rote repetition into valuable, sacred ritual.
Then again, if that's all you ever did, you'd miss the benefits - the challenge, fun, frustration, and eventual joy - of exploring deeper, more complex shapes.
Likewise, there's something to be said for the idea of doing the same trail over and over, knowing it intimately, getting bored, then rediscovering it, something to be gained from communion with the same path, daily; it allows you to recognize subtle changes, tune in to the canyon as a living thing.
But Topanga is huge and full of wonders that I don't want to miss, that I'm dying to explore. I know such a small section of it. I've heard, for example, of another labyrinth nearby that I want to find.
Maybe I'll do an every other day sort of thing? I haven't decided.
Yesterday, as I was working on my post about my labyrinth experiences, I did a little research about their origin and uses. In English we often use the words "labyrinth" and "maze" interchangeably, but in contemplative circles (no pun intended) they are actually different concepts, different physical structures, serving different purposes. A labyrinth, to a purist, has only one path that through many twists and turns or inward spirals, gradually, inevitably draws you to its center, a forgone conclusion. A maze, by contrast, has multiple paths, it offers - demands - choice.
Even the broad, well-traveled, horse-trodden paths of Topanga have a maze-like quality. There are tempting tracks in every direction, that seem like the traces someone's private adventure. Even the signage along the way can be obscure. Unlike these more, you know, traditional type signs, offering actual directions --
-- today I came upon this marker, right where "two paths diverged" on a yellow hill.
Both ways seemed equally well-loved and inviting, and the post at their intersection offered unbiased -- or, depending on your point of view, unhelpful -- advice.
Is it the Yogi Berra of Topanga trail markers? An intentional koan? An homage to Robert Frost?
Make a choice the sign seems to say. Take your pick. There is no right answer, no one path, no forgone conclusion; only your gut feeling, your wanderlust, your faith, your willingness to be decisive and confront your fear, and the strength of your yearning to engage the maze, meet it on its own terms and accept whatever it has to offer.