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Unusual times, remarkable places

The "Standard of Ur" from ancient Mesopotamia

The "Standard of Ur" from ancient Mesopotamia

16 July 2008

My town Wednesday: A Riverside Fourth

The higher we climbed, the taller the mountain grew.

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


Charles Gramlich said...

I love your descriptions of dusk and dawn. I've been taking all my walks here at dusk just for those reasons.

Beautiful pictures. We saw a few here but nothing like this. I'm gonna go check out your interview.

Sounds like a wonderful evening all told, and you got plenty of exercise.

Charles Gramlich said...

Great interview. Your advice to read, read, read is right on. Exactly the ticket.

Wish I could make your signing.

Steve Malley said...

Wow, talk about a hike and a half!

Michele said...

Wow, what beautiful pix of the fireworks. Sounds like a wonderful time...And quite a hike! Glad you made it down safely.

Sphinx Ink said...

What beautiful prose, and wonderful pix. Thanks, Shauna. And congrats on the interview, etc. I'll pop right over to Benston Blogs to read it.

Barrie said...

What fantastic photos!

And congrats on your good news.

Lisa said...

What a beautiful, beautiful post!

And -- my copy of BARREN WORLDS arrived yesterday :)

I'll hop over and read your interview...congratulations!

Rae Ann Parker said...

What an adventure, Shauna. Beautiful photos of the fireworks. It must have been amazing to see them from the top of a mountain.

Shauna Roberts said...

CHARLES and STEVE, you're sure right about the exercise! My endorphins were really churning out. I keep bugging Dave to get some hiking boots so that we can take regular hikes in the mountains around us.

CHARLES, glad you enjoyed the pictures and interview.

Thanks, MICHELE. I wondered a couple times whether we'd have to sleep up there!

SPHINX INK and LISA, thanks for stopping by. Glad you liked my post. Thanks also, LISA, for buying Barren Worlds. Hope you find some stories you enjoy.

BARRIE, thanks, and thanks again for handling Travis' My Town Monday this week.

RAE ANN, it really was amazing, the sort of thing one remembers forever . . . unless we do it every year on the Fourth and it becomes ho-hum normal.

Lana Gramlich said...

Reminds me of a time years ago in Canada...My (carless) friend asked me to drive her & her kids to an area close to a planned fireworks display. Other people showed up there, too. After we all waited around for a couple of hours we realized nothing was going to happen that night. I found out the next day that the fireworks show had been the previous night! *L*

WH said...

Wonderful post--and great pics. btw, I featured you and BARREN WORLDS in my latest blog post.

Shauna Roberts said...

LANA, sounds as if it would have been a great night . . . if only they had had fireworks. I've showed up on the wrong day for things before, too. It's a silly feeling, isn't it.

BILLY, wow! Thanks! I'm heading right over to see it.

Travis Erwin said...

Great post, and what a view!

Carleen Brice said...

What a lovely account. Congrats on your signing!

Shauna Roberts said...

Thanks, TRAVIS. We are lucky to have mountain views from every room in our house and to have hiking opportunities so close.

CARLEEN, double thanks! Will I see you at my booksigning, since I came to yours? ;-)

Therese Fowler said...

Magnificent fireworks is right!

And congrats on having your story published!

Shauna said...


What beautiful photos!! You really found a charm up there on the hill...hopefully I can be in your town soon and we can catch up!! Lunch maybe?

Congrats again on another wonderful part of your life. Just like your hike, which seemed symbolic of your are only on the way UP!!

The Other Shauna :-)

Bernita said...

Upward effort and then the world spreads out before you...

Shauna Roberts said...

Thanks, THERESE.

SHAUNA, lunch would be great! Let me know when you'll be around.

Leave it to you, BERNITA, to take my little anecdote and turn it into a beautiful metaphor for life. Thanks.