Portia finally graduated to a short hike, the one I take when I am in a hurry but I still want the dogs to have a romp in the park, off-leash. It’s a generous sunny day, if a bit chilly, and this corner of my canyon, unknown to most but the residents, miles away from popular Runyon Canyon, is even emptier than usual.
On Sundays, one can always count on bumping into fellow law breaking dog owners, who oblige by picking up smelly waste, using degradable poop bags generously provided by the State Parks Dept with money California doesn’t have, but who otherwise merrily ignore the well posted sign stating “All dogs must be on leash”. Fat chance.
A stray dog welcomes us as we step on the main trail – he is sweet, has a craggy face and a thin body and no collar and I worry he is lost. He doesn’t follow us, though, and I promise myself that, if he is still there when we leave, we will take him to a shelter. On second thought, if he is really loose, his survival chances are better on the streets than in a shelter who will kill him within 6 weeks if not adopted. Moot point anyway because, 40 minutes later, there is no trace of the dog, and I’d like to think he returned home.
At the fork, we veer left, instead of the usual right. Our regular hike is much longer and more strenuous and I don’t feel confident Portia’s legs can take it. While ascending, a bare footed, red-bearded young man, descending, wishes us a happy Sunday. You can always count on Californians being friendly.
The wide trail ends in a flat, large expanse overlooking the ocean and the bay. If one ignores the reddish ribbon of smog hanging over the city, the view is otherwise pristine, clear all the way to Catalina. What is harder to ignore is the very naked man standing on the edge of the lawn, hands in prayer, his thin butt facing my approaching way. Ottie and Portia run to him, and, cringing at the thought of their muzzles in his crotch, I avert my eyes, long enough for the man to reach for a pair of shorts. I am wearing a thick sweater and he seems happy in shorts and nothing else.
As I walk by he wishes me a good Sunday. The dogs, in the meantime, have decided to adopt him and do not respond to my whistling and calling. Maybe the Messiah has alighted on my corner of the Canyon. In reality, a few years ago, some faceless souls built a maze at the top of this hill, crudely modelled on Chartres Cathderal’s. It is always immaculately kept, delineated by rocks of all colours and shapes. It has been adorned with white tiles here and there, pebbles spell out words such as “forgive”, “peace” and other well-meaning intentions. Torrential rains or powerful winds never disrupt the maze, as if some angel glided over on occasion, pulled weeds and restored order. Recently, small offerings have started to appear in the center: shells, bracelets, pins and, today, even a card. I can’t resist walking it, every time I go, and I am always surprised by the meditative quality of the act. It looks like those monks were on to something.
The popularity of the maze must have spread in recent times as, entering the park a few months back, a girl got out of her car and asked me if I knew where she could find the maze. Which also explains the presence of the bare footed man, the naked one and the banjo strumming boy, swaddled in a Hawaiian skirt, we happen upon on the way back. He also bid us a good Sunday.
It would be a cheap shot to make fun of these Californian “kooks”, who most definitely would not be found strolling around Manhattan. They were polite, they were welcoming and kind to my dogs. I have no experience of communing with trees, as one appeared to be doing, standing under a massive oak, facing the trunk and praying to it. But who am I to judge? That this city can encompass new fangled hippies, hipsters, celebrities, and the whole gamut of regular folks in between is an ever ending testament to the “Go West” dream. Here, you can be whomever you choose to be, in the certainty no one will judge you for it.