Pinebrook Again

It’s summer again and walking into the lush green of the Pinebrook trails this morning my body fell through to all those other years of summers and trails. I pat a few aspens hello, their bodies friendly like happy, muscular dogs—but more like tall, living bones. Muscular bones with a thousand green jazz hands flipping and flashing in the breeze.

In the shade of the aspens the sides of the trail are dense with Utah bluebells, blue flax, and dotted with the adorably shy ballhead waterleaf. I’ve borrowed a couple of German shepherds for the hike, and they are as happy as I am to be out in the bright morning. They scare a young moose napping in the middle of the trail— he runs in one direction, and we run in the other, backtracking until we find another trail up the mountain. This one is sunnier, and we pass mule’s ears, sage, and pale lavender mountain lupine scattered among the rocks. Then we come around a bend in the trail and the view opens up and to mountain after rolling mountain all the way to the Unitas beyond. In the dawn, the sky between the clouds and valley is spotted with hot air balloons and I am instantly adrift with them, floating back to the June and July my first summer here, walking up the trail at dawn, balloons backlit against the sunrise. Back then the aspens didn’t feel like old friends—nothing about living in the mountains felt familiar. The cold morning air, the snow still not melted on the summit, the smell of sage and pine. Back then all my nostalgia was for California; the dry, oak-covered landscape of my childhood home in the Sacramento Valley, or the briny air of my San Francisco beach neighborhood. It was strange to be in a place so lush green in summer. A place that had sudden, disorienting June snowstorms that confounded me—just freshly arrived from the summer bougainvillea and ocean breezes of San Francisco, and also confounded the hummingbirds, just arrived from Mexico but now sitting on snow-covered feeders.

My first June in Park City, hiking in Pinebrook.

My first June in Park City, hiking in Pinebrook.

For a couple of years I kept the hummingbirds’ migratory schedule, spending my winters in San Francisco for grad school, and returning to Park City in June for the summers. At first living in an environment so different from the environment I grew up in was a pleasurable novelty. But my first full winter in Utah was a shock. The feet and feet of snow covering the house, snow itself, in fact, was alarming to my California system. The first snow came in October, stayed on the ground through April. Snow kept thwarting spring all through May. There was always that one freak snow in June. The initial novelty of living in the mountains shifted into a kind of private battle my body waged against the seasons. The natural rhythms of the mountain seasons felt like a weird cacophony as they clashed against the internal rhythm of the mediterranean climate my body had tuned itself to growing up. When February came and there was still six feet of snow in the yard I felt cagey and aggressive pacing around the house as my internal daffodils came up, then March, and the snow was still there while in my heart the wildflowers were coming out.

There is the rustle and slide of a little snake moving out of our way as the shepherds and I bound up the trail. These trails conditioned my body to stop jumping when I see snakes—I’ve only ever seen the small friendly ones up here. This morning’s a 3-snake hike. Might be my personal record. I’m not sure when in the past dozen years I stated thinking of them as good luck. I’m not sure when in the past dozen years this started feeling like home. There is the kind of time, though, that is tied to place, and the tesseract of hiking in June in Pinebrook makes me feel like I am the Utah bluebell, coming up on this trail just as I do every year at this time. Somehow in the rhythm of these years I’ve started to feel like am of this place.

I pass a garter snake on the way up the trail, and then the same guy on the way back down. He moves further from the trail, then turns around to observe me. I squat down and we’re eye to eye. Flick, flick. His tongue. He’s not a twenty-first century snake. He doesn’t have a culture that stretches behind and before him, he’s a garter snake the same as any garter snake ever.  His time moves in circles—it’s not 2017, it’s early summer, the same as it is every early summer. Flick… and he turns and disappears like a wisp of silk in a river.

My mind thinks of time like a river, a constant rush in one direction, but my body knows this snake time. Hiking these trails year after year patterned me, became part of my body’s expectation for June. June feels richer for my knowing it in this place. Each year feels deeper and wider as I learn more of the plants, the trails, and layer the memories— which feel less like distinct memories and more like an ever deepening experience, a knowing of this place that is rooted in this moment in time, but stretches through years of time, perhaps not unlike how photons are both a point and a line. June is both a point and a line, and a portal to all other Junes on this mountain, and to my animal self who experiences it all independent of my mind, and somehow frees me from 2017, from culture, until I am not a twenty-first century person, I’m just a human, same as any human ever walking up this trail as the Utah bluebells are finally coming up on the side of the mountain and the fresh new aspen leaves are flipping and flashing in the breeze.

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