By the time we were a third of the way up, our house and acre of land had shrunk so small my hand could blot them out. By the time we were halfway up, I had already stopped to gasp for breath twice and regretted leaving my asthma inhaler behind.
From our driveway, the way had looked easy. But the path was rutted with narrow, twisting gullies and studded with expanses of bare rock dusted with a slippery layer of sand. The climb turned into an aerobic and balance workout, but the twilight breeze kept us comfortable. Across a valley, we saw two other figures climbing.
When we reached the top, we realized our neighbors had exaggerated when they said we could see the Fourth of July fireworks from there. Taller mountains blocked our view of the park where the fireworks would be. We walked along the ridge heading toward another, taller mountain. The going was easier here; the path wound upward at a leisurely rate, and the mountain breeze and the view exhilarated me.
Dawn is my favorite time of the day; dusk is a close second. The air shimmers as the light changes color and intensity from moment to moment. The sounds of animals of the night replace those of animals of the day. The sudden coolness refreshes and makes one’s skin tingle as the hairs stand up. Shadows distort and disguise and make the ordinary mysterious.
As we walked along the ridge and the sky grew darker, a nearby coyote pack began its evening song. We stopped to listen. Across the valley, another coyote pack joined in the chorus, followed by a third pack farther away. It was as if Giovanni Gabrieli, in his later, odder years, had decided that the span of San Marco church was too narrow to do justice to his multichoral pieces and placed his choirs instead on three mountains.
When the coyotes finished, we continued on and in a few minutes passed the two young women we had seen earlier, already settled on a ledge. We walked farther until we found a flat area of dirt and put down our bedspread. The mountain dropped off sheerly a few feet away. Looking across the valley to another mountain, we could faintly make out a knob of naked grey rock with an amorous couple balanced on its rounded top.
No city sounds intruded but the pop-pop-pop of illegal fireworks, which flamed here and there far below us. Around us, bushes rustled, and small creatures squeaked in the dark. I imagined we were the first humans ever in this exact spot, an illusion destroyed when Dave found a piece of iron driven into the rock beside him. We wondered who climbed so high to pound a single spike into a mountain top, and why.
As we waited for the Riverside fireworks, which were scheduled for 9 pm, still half an hour away, we twisted to watch the fireworks of Corona through a gap in the mountains, each burst as tiny as a thumbnail. Behind us, another town shot off fireworks. When those ended, we turned back around to watch the park, impatient as 9:00 came and went.
As we waited, I looked around and marveled that though night had fallen, I could still see the rocks around us and the silhouettes of mountains in the distance. The nights of my childhood were inky black; here, though we were in wilderness, the night was merely gray, so bright were the lights of the streetlights and houses far below.
At last fireworks started in several towns. What a magnificent sight! Whatever direction we looked in, tiny firework displays sparkled. Meanwhile, the Riverside fireworks flared huge and bright below us. Instead of stars beyond, the lights of Riverside and its neighboring towns twinkled below and for as far as the eye could see. Meanwhile, bats fluttered above us on their evening hunts. One missed my face only by veering sharply away at the last second.
Our new camera has a fireworks setting, and I shot picture after picture (a few of which are at left). Blur marred many and enhanced a few; next year I’ll get a tripod.
Too soon it ended. Dave suggested we follow the young women down because their path had looked less steep. Instead, the path was twistier, steeper, and less well marked than the one we had taken up. The young women lost their way twice, and we found the path again only because I had brought along three strong flashlights. That path took us away from our house to a road about a half mile away. We ended our evening of wonders with a pleasant walk home.
1. I am the “spotlight author” for July at Benston Blogs, the blog of author Rebecca Benston. Thank you, Rebecca! To find a long interview with me, scroll down to the bottom of the page.
2. I will be autographing the science fiction anthology Barren Worlds on 26 July at 2 pm at:
Bookfellows/Mystery and Imagination Bookshop
238 North Brand Boulevard
Glendale, CA 91203
Barren Worlds contains my story “Elessa the Restless.”
Coming soon: author interviews with crime-fiction writer Ed Lynskey and romance writer Lynna Banning and a writer’s meme