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(Originally published in On The Natural back in January of 2008 )

I grew up in rural central Indiana in the middle of fields that were planted with corn, peas and soybeans. After my brother and I left home, my parents decided to move for a variety of reasons. Not the least of which was the fact that it took a lot of work to keep the three acres of land where we lived in good shape.

They relocated to a housing development closer to town. Now when I go home for Christmas it’s to a much larger house on streets lined with young, weather-beaten saplings. I like to go out walking in the cold air when I’m there. It’s gray, wet and chilly — a pleasant break from the sunshine of Los Angeles, where I’ve lived for the last decade.

The area around their housing development is mostly under construction: Farmland and forest that is being turned into tidy neighborhoods with names forcing awkward connotations of the rustic idyll that they are replacing, e.g Brittany Chase, Hunter’s Glen, Cobblestone Lakes, Corduroy Farms. My walk this year took me past mud fields, drainage ponds inhabited by muskrats and herons; solitary lampposts, dormant construction sites and half-built houses. Some of these will no doubt be completed, while some of the prefabricated mini-mansions will sit empty for years (just waiting for a family of upwardly-mobile exurban squatters, perhaps) as the housing market in central Indiana is not immune to the economic shifts in the larger US real-estate market. These are some of the pictures that I took on my walk on the day after Christmas, learning to use the lovely camera that my mom and dad gave me.

Thanks, as always, to my parents for hosting me over the holidays.

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If you’re into good times in the great outdoors, the place to be in Southern California is the Cleveland National Forest. I did not know this until a couple weekends ago, when a bunch of us Arthur folks — that’d be me, Jay and Eden — headed out to the Santa Ana Mountains that mark the border of Orange and Riverside counties for one of the Los Angeles Mycological Society‘s mushroom forays.

Soon after our arrival (it’s about an hour drive from Los Angeles) we met the dreadlock soldier pictured above, who’s showing off a dried up little morsel of fungus — I forget the actual classification, you’ll have to forgive me — that he unearthed from under an oak tree.

Eden and I turned up this tiny little pleated fellow by rustling around in some damp leaves, not far from where I was goofing around taking pictures of some lichens.

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The first time I walked up Mt. Islip — an 8,000 foot peak in the San Gabriel Mountains, about 50 miles from my house in Northeast Los Angeles — I came down by moonlight sort of by accident. I tend to get a late start on a lot of my hikes, mostly because I enjoy weekend mornings zoning out on my porch listening to Francoise Hardy, drinking a cherry-walnut smoothie and watching my cat Spider run around in the yard.

The trail is an easy three or four miles one way, and I arrived at the top just as the sun was starting to set, barely making out the towers of downtown Los Angels through the orange haze. I hung around on the peak — bald rock with four chunks of cinder block, the foundation of a long-gone fire watchtower from the 1930s — until the light was mostly gone. It wasn’t until I was making my way down in the dusk when it occurred to me that the woods were still crawling with hunters. It was the heart of deer season, November 5, 2006, and the Islip Saddle parking lot had been full of pickup trucks and camo-sporting Latino dudes hanging out with their freshly-killed deer carcasses rather than the usual crowd of white granola-types and their Subaru Outbacks.
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The moon came up over the mountains about an hour after dark, illuminating every crooked branch of the trees on the fire-scarred ridgeline above me. It glowed and sparkled silver on the rock that sloped up from the fire road I was walking, and it shined in the arc of pee that I sent running down the closed, two-lane blacktop highway that I’d followed to the trailhead. (The Angeles Crest Highway has been closed with a heavy gate at mile 64.1 for months now, I think because of some rockslides further east.) I was singing a jolly country song about a guy who killed a woman in Tennessee and was now running for the Mexico border when I realized that two hunters, sitting by the side of the road, had been watching me from a distance as I ambled along, dancing and urinating gratuitously in the middle of the road. Yeesh. “Buenas noches, cazadores,” I said, remembering the word for “hunters” from a tequila bottle. “Uh-huh,” they replied, understandably unimpressed. They asked me if I’d seen their friend, who was long overdue at the parking lot. I told them I hadn’t seen anyone, and walked on.

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