Thinking Back Thursday

Since today is Thursday, and it seems everyone I know on Facebook is posting old (and often embarrassing) photos of themselves for “Throwback Thursday”, I figured I would join the crowd and do a “throw back”.

I don’t have many old pictures of me… especially as a child, so I’m going to throw my thoughts back and share them with you.  Whoever “you” are.

In the post prior to this, I wrote a poem about an oak tree.  I’m not much of a poetry writer, but I felt like I needed to get it out of my system.  So I did.  The poem makes it sound like I am remembering one particular tree, but the tree really stands for all the trees in my favorite childhood place.  I was thinking about that place the other day, and that’s what inspired me.

The place I loved most as a child is Palomar Mountain in San Diego County.  We used to go camping there when I was growing up. It seems we were up there every weekend, but I’m sure that wasn’t really the case.  I was the youngest of five at the time, and I’m sure it was the least crazy-making getaway place my parents could find for the money.

In many ways, I feel like I grew up there, on the mountain.  I say that because it’s the place I remember best.  It’s the place that is behind just about every good memory I have of my childhood.  It was the place where I felt most at home.

I don’t remember anything about the preparations my parents had to endure to get 7 people ready for camping.  I’m sure I was off digging in the dirt or cutting the hair off my Barbie dolls during that process.  I’m also pretty sure my parents were glad I wasn’t underfoot.

What I do remember is the drive there.  We lived in San Diego at the time, so it was a good hour-and-a-half drive to get to the campground.  I vividly remember the roads through Valley Center and the Rincon Indian Reservation.  I remember the drop-offs at the edge of the road that made my brother pale with fear.  I remember that those drop-offs didn’t scare me… and I made sure my brother knew it.

I remember the switch-backs up the mountain and the spectacular views.  I remember the way I would hop out of the station wagon once we arrived at our campsite.  It was only natural that I would disappear among the trees while my parents set up the tents.  I felt “in my element”, although that thought never crossed my mind at such a young age.  All I knew is I belonged.  I was happy.   I was home.

Our camping weekends were all about hiking, fishing, campfires, marshmallows, scary stories, adventure, bugs, and gathering cattails.  In the background, observing all this, were the trees.  I loved the trees, and I am certain they came to love me.  Maybe to the majority of you (all three of you), that sounds sort of wacky.  I don’t mind if you think so.

The trees were what made camping here so perfect.  They spread throughout the campground, along the hiking trails, and bordered the pond where we fished.  They seemed so permanent to me… so old and deeply grounded.

I remember when one of my older sisters, Susan, used a knife to carve her name in a tree along the trail to the pond where we fished. I’m not sure what kind of tree it was.  I know it was not an oak. Anyway, I was probably about six at the time and looked up to my 11 year old sister.  As she carved her name, I noticed the freshly exposed “flesh” seemed to bleed. I cried and told her to stop hurting the tree- that it was bleeding, but she kept carving.  I know now it was the moisture of the tree being drawn out, but to me, the tree was wounded.

About fifteen years later, when I was in my early twenties, I drove up to the mountain with a friend for a day hike.  I looked for the tree with my sister’s name carved into it.  It took a while to find it, but I did.  Susan’s name was still there, except now it was a few feet higher than she would have been able to reach.  It was also spread out, like an old scar that had stretched with the growth of the tree.  I felt sad for the tree.  My sister had moved on with her life- a young life ruined by drugs and crime. I hadn’t seen my sister in about 10 years.  But the tree was still there, in the same spot.  Steady. Constant.  Loyal.  My heart reached out to the tree.  I wondered if it remembered me- the now grown child who once cried for it.

I still look for the tree when I take my boys to the mountain.  So much has changed.  The trail has been redone, the cattails have almost over-taken the pond, and some of the trees are gone.  I can no longer see my scarred tree. Maybe it’s just not where I remember it being… or it’s too far out of the way of the current trail.  I hope it is still there, growing strong.  I hope my sister’s name has long since disappeared with the tree’s growth.

It has now been more than thirty years since I’ve seen Susan.  I have heard that she is doing better.  I’m glad for her.  I hope it’s true, but I will always have some doubt.

As I mentioned, I bring my boys to the mountain now.  I’ve introduced them to the trees.  I hope they love them as much as I do.  The trees are old, many have been there since the Luiseño used the surrounding rocks to grind their food, creating the holes we still see today.  I wish the trees could whisper in my ear, because I know they have so much to tell. I would love to hear their stories.  I want them to tell me how they looked over me when I was a child.  I want them to tell me they are proud of the woman I have become.  I want them to hold my boys close, like grandparents do.

I’m in my early forties now.  I am- by all standards- a grown up.  I still find joy and comfort in my trees. Whenever possible, I still climb them.  I still love they way they feel. They are family to me. They are home.

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