Yesterday, shortly before 3 p.m., B. and I escaped the confines of the house and headed for the mountain. We made our way up 35th Avenue, then Redwood Road, over the ridge called Skyline, and down the other side. We passed the stables, then more stables. We passed the turnoff to Moraga. We continued on.
B. said, “Did we miss it? I don’t remember it being this far.”
I said, “No, I always think that too. It’s farther than you think.”
We passed two or three different entrances to Anthony Chabot Regional Park, including the park’s campground. We passed the collection of candles, ribbons, photos, cards, and flowers that comprise the homemade memorial against the oak tree that I always mean to stop at and honor.
Finally we found ourselves at EBMud’s Valle Vista Staging Area, from where we struck out for the afternoon’s destination: Dinosaur Peak. (A permit is required to use these trails, which means they are blessedly free of the masses of people that have discovered the joy of hiking during the pandemic. Permits are $10 per year and can be bought online. Print it out on your printer, as the trails are patrolled, and you’ll be fined without it.)
The ascent was steep, punishingly so in places, and the trail wider than I generally like. When we started, winding our way around the Christmas Tree lot at the beginning, I felt tired, lackluster, almost as though I couldn’t do it. Luckily, I’m familiar with the inner trickster that pollutes my blood with inertia and know that sufficient time and steady progress melts the resistance away like the defenseless ice cube in my Old-Fashioned. I go through that valley within myself and emerge victorious: calm, steady, coursed through with feelings of peace and well-being, buoyed by a sense of possibility, curiosity, and excitement.
On a particularly steep section of the ascent, B. turned around and summarily slipped, right onto his behind, his feet knocked out from under him by rolling gravel.
A man surrounded by his family suddenly appeared ahead of us. He wore a fabric-covered top knot—a joora covered by a rumāl—as did the woman and the three kids he had in tow. The youths’ rumāls were gaily colored —pink, green, and red. The man called jovially, “You all right there, man?”
B. said later he was too embarrassed to reply, but we both greeted the happy party as they revolved past us on the descent. They all chirped hellos, and the impression I had was that a juggernaut of joy had just passed us. In the span of an instant, I saw and felt vigor and vitality, and a deep, abiding happiness. A purity.
These folks did not hold back. They could not. Their sense of belonging to one another and to the world burbled forth from them, flooding me with respect and wonder. I turned and watched them go, fast, unstoppable, bouncing down the steep slope among dried dirt clods and cow dung like a procession of pinwheels.
We trudged on. Shortly before the final ascent, we found ourselves on a wide, grassy path profuse with tiny white flowers marked by black centers. The air was quiet, pregnant with spring and possibility, until a helicopter broke the peace with a sudden clattering over the trees. It passed low right over our heads and was quickly gone, allowing the silence to settle again.
The final ascent to Dinosaur Peak was again quite steep. I zig-zagged diagonally, fitting my feet carefully into toeholds and tiny plateaus where I could get some purchase.
Our efforts were rewarded. We made it to the top and turned around to catch an extraordinary view of the hills and valleys, the ridge separating Alameda from Contra Costa Counties, the flatlands of Oakland running down to the bay, San Francisco rising like faraway Oz from the ocean, and Mount Tamalpais, resting her long, lithe profile on the horizon. On the other side, behind us, Contra Costa County’s bedroom communities undulated between the folds of hills made uncharacteristically green by recent rains.
But, the best part of all was the dinosaur ridge itself. For it is not a peak as much as a very distinctive—unmistakable in fact—stegosaurus spine snaking, vertebra-by-vertebra, across the peak. Utterly charmed, I stepped closer to examine these fascinating, unexpected stones standing nearly upright like a mini-Stonehenge, beautiful, and just as mysterious.
Rounded at the top just as a stegosaurus’ plates are, the stones held an even greater mystery. As I stepped closer, I saw with delight and wonder that they were entirely comprised of fossilized sea shells and sea worms and sea creatures, petrified organic matter from the seabed of yore. It was breathtaking.
B. settled himself against one particularly friendly stone (or plate, if you will) and promptly fell asleep. I lay in the grass a little way off with my arms and legs splayed starfish-style and enjoyed the delicious relaxation that rises after serious exertion (or sex). Just like a post-coital moment, feelings of well-being and contentment coursed through me.
Like B., I napped a little. When I opened my eyes, I saw in the sky above me a contrail marking the passage of a tiny, diminishing jet. My grandfather used to tell me these were sky-scrapers, which was obvious. There they were, scraping the sky, clear as day. It seemed to be a message for me. It tried to discern its meaning, but could only admire its shape, like a double helix spiraling in and out of itself, like the vertebrae of a dancer, gracefully twisting in spectacular beauty. Or, as it began to disperse into oblong rectangular shapes, like the plates ridging a stegosaurus’ back.