There is a hiking trail that begins just to the right of my driveway and winds up into the lovely Santa Ynez mountains. The trail is paved in asphalt beside my driveway, then turns to dust and rocks then when the trail splits in two, about a half mile up. One side leads east to Rattlesnake Canyon; the other goes north to Inspiration Point.
The path to Inspiration Point is a narrow, sandy track bordered on both edges by a short, steep incline, above which the chaparral grows. In some places, the path is too narrow to allow two people to pass.
I have lived in this location for almost four decades, and when I first moved here I thought of the trail as an extension of my own property. I would hike it for a few miles every day, grateful for the easy recreation, grateful to live so close to Los Padres National Forest that I would frequently see deer crossing my driveway, possums hanging from the trees, racoons trying to get into my trash, and several different kinds of snakes. As the years wore on, however, I found that the trail grew increasingly popular with joggers, dog walkers, baby carriers, and just plain folks out for a recreational hike, as I was. The wildlife creatures that, to me, made each hike an adventure, were gradually disappearing.
Do I need to add that as the years passed, I changed as well? In place of my rapid one-two stride I now shuffled a bit, found it harder to raise my right leg as high as it needed to be, and generally slowed down. My hands had changed to wrinkled, bat-like appendages and my hair had turned gray. After tripping several times over rocks or roots that left me bloody (but unbroken), I watched carefully where I planted my feet. The gentle noises of the forest had long since been replaced by people shouting on their cell phones, groups of young people screaming and laughing, and iPods playing. I kept hiking.
One day, as I huffed up the trail, I heard the sounds of feet beating a regular rhythm behind me. I looked over my shoulder and saw a jogger coming up on me swiftly, with no indication that he was going to slow down as he approached. We happened to be on the part of the trail which is very narrow, with room for a single person to walk only if he or she puts one foot directly in front of the other. Panicking as the rapid footsteps grew closer, I scrambled up the sandy side of the trail and lost my balance, slipping down to land on my left side in the dust. The jogger leaped over me as if I were a fallen log.
“Sorry,” I heard him mutter as I crawled up to standing position on my hands and knees, and then he was out of sight around a curve. I picked myself up, somewhat scraped, a bit dusty, and brushed myself off as well as I could. I kept hiking. But at some point, I was huffing and puffing badly and crying tears of indignation at the indifference of the young man who didn’t even stop to see if I was hurt, or offer me a
Without making a conscious decision, I turned around and started back down the trail towards home. In southern California in August, the trails are treacherous; with no rain in three or four months, it is easy to slip on the loose dirt and small pebbles that line our steep tracks. Walking down the trail is more difficult than walking up. Afraid of falling again, I moved slowly and carefully, holding on to occasional tree trunks where I could. Where the trail looked impossible, I turned sideways and moved crab-like.
About a hundred yards before the pavement, the trail widens out and people can stride vigorously again. Walking through this section, I heard the thudding of footsteps again.
“Ah, well,” I thought, “if it’s him already on his way down from Inspiration Point, he can pass me easily enough.” But as the footsteps grew nearer, they grew slower, until they were echoing my own as I walked.
“I’m sorry that you fell because of me,” he said.
I kept hiking.
“I’m sorry,” he said again, “that I didn’t stop. I should have.”
I kept hiking. In a few minutes we were on the paved part of the trail.
Again the voice from behind me: “I’m really sorry. Do you think you can forgive me?”
As we walked down the asphalt, one behind the other, I realized that we would come to my driveway soon. I desperately did not want this man to know where I live. I came to a stop and turned slightly. “Okay,” I said. “I forgive you. Now will you please leave me alone?”
“Thank you. It’s all right now,” he said. He bounded around me and continued jogging down the road.
In a few minutes I turned in at my driveway and was home. But I was still angry, and now I also felt guilty for telling him I forgave him when I did not feel the slightest bit of forgiveness. I thought about it for some days, and became involved with other events, and the unfortunate walk faded from importance. Yet now, more than a dozen years since it happened, I still remember the jogger and how he craved forgiveness.
I often wonder what happened to the jogger between the place I fell and the top of Inspiration Point. Or perhaps nothing happened. Perhaps it wasn’t until he drew close to me on my way down that he realized my small figure was human, after all; admittedly slow, admittedly old, but human and more in need of help than he had been willing to offer. Or perhaps he was reminded of his own mother during the journey, and hoped that if such a thing happened to her, the offending party would stop, excuse him or her self, and try to make amends.
Meanwhile, I keep hiking.