This post comes from an opening for another of my personal chapters for A Place of Her Own, a segment describing Wildcat Canyon, a remarkable cleft on the mountain. The chapter title was “The Death of Dreams.” The scene leads into a discussion of divorce, some of which was retained in an Interlude. But most of this was cut. Clip…..
On our walk through Wildcat Canyon, my son-in-law, Robin Loznak, captured a stunning image of this exquisite mushroom goblet, as it drank up the rain.
The canyon, November 2010. A canyon could close in on you, give you a sense of entrapment. It could be a place of danger, haunted by cougars and rattlesnakes and unnamed fears. As I walked through Wildcat Canyon, the deepest cleft on the property, I felt a mix of unease and adventure. I was here. I accepted the challenge. A bristling sensation crossed my flesh, as if alerting me to every element around me.
Drips of rain filtered through the canopy of trees, the thick evergreen boughs offering some cover against the shower that surprised us. Lured out on this November morning by a feeble sun after days of rain, my son-in-law and I had decided to take this walk today. A light drizzle started before we even reached the Tree Farm Road up to the west hills pasture, and by the time we approached the mouth of the canyon, rain had begun to fall in earnest. We were glad for the tree cover and hoped the shower would soon pass.
Our two dogs hurried ahead, oblivious to the weather. I had asked Robin to go with me into the canyon, believing it one place Martha would surely want to explore. Her sons would, as Robin and my grandson Alex did when they learned of the place soon after they moved here. With recent cougar sightings in the area, I wasn’t comfortable going alone. The dogs would help scare off big predators, but another person would help too. Robin was happy to come along. He brought his big camera, ready to get some good nature photos.
We tramped uphill along the old logging road that cut through the canyon, not much more than a trail now, overgrown with grass and brambles, fungi scattered over the spongy ground. Unusual mushrooms, like orange goblets, lifted their heads as if to gather nectar pouring from branches above.
Towering Douglas firs helped dim the scattered light reaching this narrow gash in the earth. A high rock wall loomed on our left, just beyond the deepest cut below the road. I tipped my head back to see the top of the wall, up to the twisted trees lining the upper edge. The yawning mouth of a small cave opened deep in the rock near the top. Jagged ledges and holes marked the entire cliff face. Places for predators to hide? Ferns draped from the rock wall and covered the canyon floor, where moss carpeted rocks, tree trunks, stumps.
We scrambled down to the base, nearer the cliff. Should we? We found game trails. Cougar? Or just deer, the cougar’s favorite food? Would we surprise something we wouldn’t want to stir? No cougar would be unaware of our presence as we stomped through brush, snapping twigs, the dogs dashing from one curiosity to the next.
The overhead boughs could no longer hold back the rain that began to pour steadily, drenching us and everything around us. I pressed through the waist-high ferns, clinging to their giant wet fronds to keep from falling on the steep slope strewn with fallen branches, logs and rocks. A thick mulch covered the earth, the debris of ages. I couldn’t see a game trail anymore. As I plowed forward, I tried to imagine traipsing through this in long skirts.
Brambles tripped me. How like life. I could feel Martha’s sense of entrapment, her desperation, as she plunged through her own canyon of challenge. Divorce. It had seemed a foreign word to me. Something other people did. Yet how much worse for Martha in her day. Although not unknown in 1860, especially in the West, divorce was still rare. How could she do it? But how could she not?
I had asked myself the same questions. Shaking my head, I walked on, thinking about her. Why did she stay with him as long as she did?