Sunday, March 13, 2005
I came to Bridgeport today to see the wildflowers. The poppies, lupine, and other flowers that I can’t name due to ignorance of their nomenclature, are blooming in full force. The day is brilliantly warm and sunny, the hills a lush green that we can only experience for a few brief months of the year and illuminated by vibrant spots of orange, purple, yellow and blue flowers. And, yes, the butterflies are out. Bridgeport is all wildflowers and butterflies these days.
I began my day’s journey on a well-groomed trail heading upstream. The trail veered up. I wanted to be down by the river, so I dropped down a little side trail leading down the steep hillside. It began to traverse the hill as the other trail had done, but it seemed to lead me closer to where I wanted to go.
My chosen trail soon turned into a foots-width deer trail that led me to a rock out-cropping. I stopped and studied my obstacle. The hillside below the rocks was definitely venturing close to ‘cliff grade.’ The short rock climb was very doable, especially with my rock climbing background, although my heyday in that was about a decade ago. I began placing my feet deliberately and confidently picking my handholds. About midpoint in my traverse I suddenly seized up with fear. This was not expected. With legs splayed and hands above my head, my body tensed, fingers gripping unnecessarily hard onto the rock. This visceral reaction was not a welcome one. Then I made my fatal mistake and looked down. Visions of falling hundreds of feet to my death sprang into my head with graphic depictions of my head cracking. All the scrambling over rocks I’ve done recently involved kayaking so my head was always encases in my Kevlar helmet. I felt utterly naked without it and a rope.
Frozen and gripped with fear, I debated my choices: continuing forward to where I could see my deer trail begin once again not very far in front of me or down climbing which I never feel comfortable doing. For some unknown reason, my brain insisted on backing down the way I had come.
Back on my familiar deer trail, I felt foolish and tried to push my phobia aside to try again. My mind refused to comply and looked for plan B. Plan B turned out to be a higher version of my current deer trail though a healthy looking clump of poison oak. Going up and around my obstacle seemed like the most sensible way to get around it. I attempted to gingerly slink around all of the evil green leaves that I am so susceptible to. Finally through that, I continued up and over and then, much to my disappointment, to a higher version of my former rock foe. Take two on rock versus Leah. I am not pleased to report the exact same outcome. This worried me. If this rather low-grade climb has thwarted my progress, how can I expect to descend into the rugged canyons further upstream? I realized I’ve been sitting on my butt in boats for so many years that I have forgotten how to balance on my legs. This will have to change.
In defiance, I ventured all the way down to the river thinking my way would be easier going on the granite. It was for a small amount of time. Then the rocks became impassible. I could have gone around them in the water, but I was neither dressed for it, nor did I have any waterproof casing with me for my camera. I pined away for my boats. I sat on the granite for awhile to figure out plan D. A woman came down with apparently a similar idea as mine, saw me sitting at the terminus of passable rock and turned back around.
I decided to hike back up. The same woman was on my former deer trail about to reach the rocks. I confessed my phobia. She shared it. I continued straight up the hillside without a deer trail, through gobs of poison oak. Scrambling up I reached the well-maintained trail where countless strollers meandered to and fro to admire the river and flowers. I joined them, taking out my camera to immortalize select poppies and lupine. While doing this, my fellow rock-phobic trail companion appeared once again. She had avoided the poison oak on her upward scramble to the trail and was dubbed ‘mountain goat’ by same trail walkers. We chatted for a while. As I talked I noticed a neat trail complete with stone steps leading down to the river where I had been trying to reach in my deer trail, rock-scrambling mishaps. How ridiculously simple! We introduced ourselves, Allegra is her name, then trudged down the stairs together to the river.
Immediately upon reaching the river I took out my camera. Allegra was gone from my sight when by the time I looked up. I moved through shallow water and up over rocks slowly, looking for potential images. I found her tennis shoes and socks placed side by side on the granite, but still saw no sign of her. Eventually I saw her stretched out on the sun-warmed dark rocks by the water.
I returned to where I had dumped my daypack on the granite to eat my sandwich. Allegra joined me as the sun started disappearing behind the ridge. She lives in San Francisco very close to where I had once lived, but comes to Nevada City often to visit her boyfriend. We had an enthusiastic talk about city planning and maximizing green spaces. Instead of paraphrasing her words, I hope she eventually will supply her own for these pages.
We departed as the sun went down and the air became cold. I left feeling very satisfied with my day’s experiences at Bridgeport, not because of the terrifying rocks, but because those same rocks allowed me to serendipitously meet an interesting like-minded woman whom I hope will gradually increase my knowledge of the integration of water and cities from her own personal point of view.