November 24, 2011

Hiking Zuma Canyon

Today is Thanksgiving Day in the United States, an official holiday to remember all the blessings we have and to give thanks. There will be parades, football, and family gatherings. We will feast on turkey, mashed potatoes, and pumpkin pie.

And then we will realize that all the blessings we have aren't enough, and we will rush to the stores to start shopping for Christmas. (There's a sermon there for sure, but you can be thankful that I'll save it for another day.)

Being thankful is an act rooted in the present. Living in the present can be a challenge. Our minds are filled with memories and regrets of the past, as well as hopes and anxieties for the future.

This is a challenge for me just as it is for most people. One of the best ways I know to overcome this challenge is to go for a walk, preferably in nature.

Last Saturday my friend David and I went hiking in Zuma Canyon, near Malibu. Turning inland at Zuma Beach, we quickly arrived at the trailhead parking lot. Surprisingly, it was almost empty.

The trail we followed was a sinuous loop, meandering clockwise (more or less), in and out like the outline of an amoeba or an oak leaf. As a crow flies, we didn't go very far, and only at the end did we rise above the canyon floor to reach a low ridge. This was fine with me, as I have learned to appreciate the beauty of a riparian woodland, and have outgrown the need to climb to the top of a mountain just so that I can say I made it to the top. I still hike to the tops of mountains once in a while, but for me it's the journey that matters more than the destination.

Hiking through Zuma Canyon, I am at times nearly overwhelmed by the abundance around me. (Zuma is a Chumash word that means "abundance.") My thoughts remain in the present as I notice the sounds of crickets, birds, and the soft whisper of the gentle breeze. I see green grass and green leaves, new growth now appearing as the vegetation revives following its summer dormancy. I feel the soft leaves of various types of sage, velvety smooth, then smell their wonderful aroma. It's the best smell in the world. I could live off that smell.

At times, in sycamore groves, yellow and brown leaves rain down on us. Unlike the scrub plants at the edges of the canyon, sycamore roots go deep to a year-round water source, and they lose their leaves in fall/winter. And at the "end of the trail," (so designated by a trail sign), there is even a trickle of water flowing over the rocks and sand.

At the trailhead there are picnic tables nestled in a grove of towering sycamores, diffused and dappled sunlight giving the area an open, friendly feel. Sitting here at the end of the hike provides the perfect opportunity to give thanks for the present moment and its blessings.

Thanks to ADKinLA whose trip to Zuma Canyon a week earlier inspired my own visit. More info about Zuma Canyon can be found here.

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