The Simple and Fitting Justice of Being Chased Off a Hilltop By Butterflies, Vultures, and Ants.

Old manzanita with its own stories to tell. Much of it being cut out and killed in California for “fire safety”.

Stranger in a strange land is where I live, preferring isolated little corners. I stuff in a beer and a book of poems, oh you poor nostalgic slob not posting to your Facebook page (don’t have one); instead you walk down the more remote roads, with the dogs, if “remote” even applies in California.

I hope everyone has little places they can go to. If you don’t, find one; nobody needs to know where it is but it’s best if it’s a little hard to get to, maybe on the edge of something, with a view out–of your head that is.

I have a lot of these places I can steal away to, thankfully a few miles from my home. One of them is a dirt road that leads to granite outcrops with a view to the east, towards the Sierras. I walk this road with trepidation, not because I am afraid of anything like mountain lions, but because I can tell the owner is going through that inevitable process all new landowners go through–what to do with the land once you own it because you can’t just LEAVE IT ALONE! You have to CUT SOMETHING DOWN, mow, spray, buy a bright red tractor then drive it around on the land for no good reason but to declare to the world that can’t see you, this is MY land. It ALWAYS goes this way, and I always have to brace myself for it because I know once I find a patch of something pretty and wild, forgotten about, it will be destroyed sooner or later. So it goes with the antsy human primate.

I approach the opening of the manzanita that borders the crude new path with a stone of dread in my gut, prepare myself for the grief…last time it was one older ponderosa pine, cut down for absolutely no reason I could tell, left sprawling in pieces all over the ground, like a dismemberment; then a grove of manzanita, also left in heaps, once living browse for deer, cover for their babies, nectar for bees, butterflies, and ants…I try to spy to see what has been done before we get there so I can prepare myself emotionally. I see two more young pines on the ground, again, as far as I can tell, cut for absolutely no reason except for the sheer “fun” of it (?), because he has to do something with that new chainsaw? We walk through and over the carnage. I am relieved to see he has not yet made it to the top of the outcrop where one can see out to the snow-capped Sierras. It’s nothing spectacular (which is why nobody has found it yet); it’s only about 2800 feet up, but for now anyway, it’s ours.

The dogs and I settle down on an outcrop surrounded by wise old manzanita and shrubby oaks. Lupine blooms on the edges and I can smell the native ceanothus but I can’t see it. Towhees “tweet” and retreat. The outcrop is covered in wash from raptors and vultures, particularly from the vultures that soar at eye level whenever I am there. I get up to check out the wildflowers in bloom and within seconds, a riot (literally) of butterflies is in my face, around my body. They’re hill-topping meaning the males are fighting for territory/females on top of this outcrop and I am in the way, annoying them, threatening their very important and essential ritual. Skippers, swallowtails, lady’s, and buckeyes are fighting it out, flying furiously. They land in a sunny spot to open and close their wings, then they’re off again. I am in the way so I go back to my original spot where the dogs are tethered but then a turkey vulture buzzes the top of my head so close, I am sure he/she is going to graze my hair. Another languidly passes over from the other direction. I notice there is a lot more wash than the last time I was here. Maybe they are breeding. I look up and see two more launch from Douglas firs and son of a bitch if the first one doesn’t seem to be coming back around, and lower. I duck just in time. Shit, I say to the dogs. It is becoming obvious we are not particularly wanted up here right now.

We move to a lower spot on the outcrop, a ledge. I finish my beer and take out some peanuts. The dogs settle in next to me but after a few minutes the littlest one, a fearless pom mix, starts to freak out, trying to bite his own belly while the beagle abruptly stands up and snaps at his back. Soon, I am smacking my back and lifting my sock where a red and black ant has just sunk his mandibles into my ankle. I flick him off and notice my backpack is covered with his buddies…the smell of formic acid fills the air around us–the ants be pissed. The dogs plead with their eyes, “Can we please go now?”

I laugh. Antsy human primate indeed! We are definitely not wanted here, and how glorious! I pack up and we head back down the dirt path. Oh to be driven off in this way, from this yet to be destroyed place! They will not go without a fight! How I love them for this. What joy, what perfect justice, what hope! My heart is light.

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