Same Place. Different World.

San Diego County is a tall place. It starts at precisely sea level then rises to 6,000 feet if you drive about an hour and a half into the county’s eastern pine forests. But I learned this week the higher elevations aren’t all pine trees. There are oaks.


Climbing on the wood spider at Palomar Mt. State Park.

California oaks with rough bark, a broad reach and little acorns that littered the ground nearly everywhere in the vicinity of our campsite. Their leaves are the size of half your thumb.

When you drive east you leave the city and its endless din of traffic. I sat on a stump the next morning on Palomar Mountain and I heard our mumbling fire, birdsong and the occasional gusts of wind in the trees. Composer John Cage believed there is no music, only sound. Don’t know about that, but he also said there is no silence. And that’s true.

When the city’s noise pollution goes away you hear the wind and the birds, sometimes the screams of predators or prey. Even in the dead of night you hear the noise of your own breathing. The stars are so bright it’s strange they don’t make a sound.

I will never get used to living in a coastal desert, and maybe that’s why the mountains are refreshing. When San Diego gets two inches of rain in the winter Mt. Palomar gets nine inches, unless it’s cold enough to snow. The green of the tree canopy and the grass of the meadows (still green in April) make it look alive.

The birds in the mountains are ones I never see by the coast. One was blue with a brown throat and became brilliant blue when I approached and it spread its wings to flee. I’ll have to look that bird up. The mule deer look stoic when they gaze at you, in still life, with their erect broad ears. They are ready to sprint and high-jump.

My kids play on a fallen tree they call the wood spider. Stripped of bark by the elements, it is a white skeleton in the deep colors of the forest. Another huge fallen tree is up the path, propped for years by a live tree then it rotted and split in half, the upper half lying on the ground below.

I look up at the lower half that is now propped but prone and it looks like a human freak with many arms rotating out of its naked body.

Nature lovers want to enjoy virgin land but there is no such thing. Palomar Mountain State Park has potable water and flush toilets. We’ll come back in June and try to get campsites 26 & 27. See you then.

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