I was late leaving for Mt. Tam on Monday morning. I kept telling myself I was wasting time. Focus. Focus. Prioritize. Determined to hike at least 18 miles, I really needed to be on the trail at the very time I was leaving the house. As I accelerated down the on-ramp to the 101, I had a flash of a feeling in between checking for merging traffic and singing to Garbage: You’re going to be there at the exact right time.
I’ve not hiked Mt. Tam on a Monday, a day when the trails would surely be quiet. The timing was perfect. I was really grateful for the opportunity to ascend her face, be surrounded by Nature and all her signs and messages, come to a place of peace with the events of the day prior, and to burn some calories. My training has quieted, and life sped up, which led to me gaining 5 pounds. Maybe 6. My Mom says it’s muscle. Nice try, Mom. It’s not muscle. It’s me moving too fast, not being as grounded as I need to be, and not nourishing my body properly. (Too many Builder’s Bars and not enough food from the earth.) All actions that need to be remedied.
I was determined to hit the trails hard. Really push myself in an effort to wake up my body, quiet my mind, and foster a deep connection with the mountain, a releasing of negative thoughts, mindless comebacks to the moves of The Genius. I needed to purge.
Within the first mile I nearly stepped on a garter snake that I didn’t see until I heard myself yelp. He slid through leaves that littered the path silently and made his way up the slope, disappearing around the base of a tree. I smiled and reminded myself to be open to the signs, both obvious and subtle. I really wanted this hike to prove fruitful in understanding the challenging time I have had these past several days.
I emerged into the first clearing on the Matt Davis trail and turned to view the town of Stinson Beach spill into the sea. The sun turned the ocean’s surface into an iridescent swath of luxurious blue, grey and mirror fabric that rippled in a gentle breeze, creating small flashes of glittering white light as far as my eyes could see. So blue was the sky that I had a hard time looking at it, as if I was staring into the sun. It was rich, brilliant, electrified. It had weight to it.
I was hiking through the first grass covered hills after the stairs and switchbacks of the forest, on a sandy trail dotted with lizard holes, when I rounded a bend and came upon a bobcat no more than 8 feet away. While startled, my heart didn’t race, I didn’t feel threatened and neither did the bobcat. He (he really looked all boy) held my gaze with his golden eyes for several seconds, his face broad, extended by tufts of fur circling his cheeks, leading up to ears tipped in black. He gently blinked his eyes in the way a domestic cat does when you say something sweet to them, as if replying, You are so kind to notice my loveliness.
Then he slowly walked through the dried, amber colored grasses and down a slope out of sight, but not before pausing one last time to look back at me. I had started back up the trail but could not bear to take my eyes off him until he vanished over the edge and was rewarded with that one last connection.
It was a heady encounter. Time slowed, we were both content to move through each others space unhurried, the earth fell away, I heard nothing. We really saw each other. I felt as if I had dipped my hands into his spirit, and he mine, each leaving a little part of ourselves behind. I was honored that he didn’t deny me the opportunity to be with him by scurrying down the slope and into the brush.
I checked my time. All good. I’m going straight to the top, eat my apple and head back down in time for sunset. So grateful. A picture perfect hike.
I disappeared into the thick of woods again, appreciating the relief from the bright sun. I hadn’t even made it to the West Point Inn and already it was a very adventurous day! I took the bend of a switchback, hopped over a tree root, bounced over some rocks and nearly squashed the curled bright red/orange tail of a northern ring-neck snake who appeared miffed at my sudden arrival overhead, hanging in mid-hair, a giant ginger with feet large enough to flatten him with room to spare. He took his adorned body up the slope; I could hear him muttering, Damn flipper footed gingers, always messing with my siesta. I laughed at my good fortune, thanking Nature for what was turning out to be quite the show.
Then I thought, It’s not about ‘collecting sightings’, it’s about connecting with and communicating with the earth and the beings that inhabit her. While I’m not sure that the garter snake, the bobcat and the ring-neck snake were all summoned forth to speak specific messages to me (anything’s possible), I do believe that I came upon them at a time when I could learn from observing them and by connecting with their spirit, which they display with no hidden agendas or red herrings.
I’m easily delighted. I need to remember that delight is only one aspect of an encounter. Each deserves an excavation. And then time alone to ponder so the lessons to be learned can be woven into my being.
I made a note to spend some time with the animal totem cards, but not before simply absorbing their energy and noticing how it affected me. Continuing on the trails, making my way to the Pantoll ranger station, I skipped around buzzing bees before realizing a nest was dealing with some sort of disturbance that had nothing to do with my arrival. Yellow jackets began to swarm, so like any calm, cool and collected person who doesn’t want to get stung, I ran like a little girl being chased by a boy threatening her with a face full of toad. It worked, but it wasn’t my prettiest moment. I noticed that my knees weren’t too keen on the run.
Better not do that again.
At the Pantoll ranger station, I crossed the road to continue on the trail, walking past a woman who had pulled over on the side of the road, her head buried in a map of the mountain and took to the stairs that would lead me back into the forest and to Boot Jack. Pausing, I looked back at her car. Why walk by someone who is stopped on the side of the road looking at a map? She wasn’t parked in a spot and checking out trails, she was lost. I approached her window and asked if I could help.
She was looking for the Matt Davis and where it crossed the Coastal trail. I had just passed that point and directed her across the road to a barely visible trail head.
If it was any closer…we laughed. She began to fold the map and said,
Even with a map it’s hard to figure out which way to go, huh?
Okay. I’m now believing every being I encounter today has been directly sent to whisper sweet all-importants into my ears.
No answers needed, no map to guide me, just living fully present in the moment is enough to insure I will stay on my path.
I left her to find her path while I returned to mine, making my way to the summit. I had tweeted my news of the bobcat and snake encounters and received a reply from an HGM kitten, Nancytex, that she was at Angele in Napa, complete with photo. She was making her way to Mt. Tam and then to Pt. Reyes, a Cleo tour if there ever was to be one. I was delighted, buoyed by the idea that some of my favorite places were going to be seen by a kitten. I never expected our paths would cross. She’s never going to get here in time to run into me, I thought.
After a pit stop at the East Peak parking area to fill up my water, I made my way to the summit. The city was free of fog, Alcatraz clearly visible in the bay, and turkey buzzards floated above it all, looking for their next meal. I made it to the ranger look out with strong legs, looking forward to eating my apple on a boulder, perched above the city I’ve come to call home with such gratitude.
One bite in and I received a tweet that Nancytex was at the East Peak marveling at the view. It took no time to zero in on each other. I waved from the top, excited to meet her. Hoping she would wait for me to descend. I declined an offer from a ranger to join him in the lookout for tea (Is that the Marin-esque version of ‘would you like to see my etchings’?) and hustled down to the lot.
We embraced. I could tell she was a little nervous, that she felt a little funny about the remarkable timing that resulted in our encounter. I consider it providence. On a day when I surely needed it, I received a hug from a kitten that has been with me since nearly the beginning. Someone who has cheered me on, pumped me up, and made me laugh. We had an easy, enjoyable and laugh-filled conversation. I felt like I was spending time with an old friend. I knew they wanted to make Pt. Reyes in time to see the lighthouse, so I tried not to be too chatty and let them get on with their adventure. We hugged again, this time longer, more connected, more at ease.
I left the parking lot of the East Peak with a brisk cadence, excited to ponder all the various encounters I had along the first nine miles. Progress was being made. I felt more like myself – it had been some time. The mountain and all the beautiful souls on it came to hold my hand, and by doing so comforted my soul.
I’m surrounded by love, support, beauty, awesome wild life, gorgeous scenery…the recent events and those to come involving The Genius were being diluted by my time on Tam. Put in their proper perspective. They are temporary while the mountain is forever. Always there for me. They are my past and this is my present and future.
With a brisk pace I made my way along the trail just underneath the parking lot, soaking in the smells of fall in the bay and watching lizards dart for cover. It had been no more than 3 minutes since I waved goodbye to Nancytex, and then I heard his screams.
They were from the gut. Short but powerful ‘Aauuh’, three times. Then, Call 911! Call 911!
I reached for my phone. I had bars. I dialed.
Is this a medical or fire emergency?
Medical – I’m at the East Peak of Mt. Tam and someone is yelling for an ambulance!
Let me connect you…
Where is your emergency?
I’m at the East Peak on Mt. Tam. Someone is yelling for an ambulance. I heard him say he cut off his finger.
Are you with him?
No. I started to run back up the trail to the parking lot.
I’ll run up to find him. He’s directly above me. I could tell she wanted some kind of confirmation that I wasn’t mistaken. I was not mistaken. I could tell by his screams. We lost our phone connection.
I saw two young men in the lot, a small dirt bike (which I had heard periodically while on the summit), and one other couple. Then I saw him. He was holding his hand, blood had colored his palm and wrist. He was pacing like a caged animal, yelling No!, distressed, freaked out, undone. I could see his insides whirling.
My phone rang. It was the dispatcher calling me back. I answered some questions – he’s maybe 18, he’s coherent and pacing, yes, he’s got the finger. No, he doesn’t want anyone to apply pressure.
I stood 15 feet away from him, my eyes traveling from him to his friend who was distraught, looking for guidance and also trying to reach 911.
Sir, I said, you’ve got to sit down. Please sit down and put your hand in the air.
I heard her say, No food or water at the exact time that a couple was offering some water –
No. No water. He was becoming agitated.
Please, I asked, trying to making direct eye contact, please sit down. Breathe. Breathe.
My finger! He held his severed pinkie and his injured hand in the other, and rocked forward and back as he tried to metabolize that which had just transpired in a single moment. A moment that will change him forever.
I locked eyes with him for the first time. He stayed right with me.
Get out of your body. Go somewhere else. Breathe. Relax. Leave your body. These words just erupted from me without a filter.
The dispatcher let me know that the paramedics were on their way. I assumed from Stinson Beach. Not a quick ride.
I need to talk to him. Can I hang up, and if you need to reach us you can call back?
Bye was not uttered before I ended the call. His gaze never left mine.
Two people, strangers to each other, were about to become very intimate on Mt. Tam in a most intense, sad, painful and beautiful way.