On the Edge of the Wilderness

Well, it's not the wilderness, actually - but it would certainly look so to someone more used to living in the city. No streetlights, and the houses are set back from the roads - which are unpaved - and so a possessing good stock of flashlights and fresh batteries are something that every household out here needs, especially if planning to go somewhere and return after dark. I had to work the combination to the front gate by the light of my cell phone last week, so no - I won't forget a flashlight again. There may be starlight and moonlight on occasion, but underneath the trees, it's as black as the inside of a cow.

Which some of the neighbors have, by the way. A cow. And some goats. At least half of them have horses, too, all winter-shaggy and bored, mooching around in their corrals, next to the road. At once place, the horses have managed to chew away a lot of the three-rail wooden fence. The previous owners used to keep it all in good repair and painstakingly painted white. The new owner doesn't seem to care quite so much. Everyone has dogs in their yards. One can track a pedestrian around the neighborhood by following the sounds of sequential dogs barking. There are also coyotes on the prowl, especially at night. This does not make it healthy for outdoor cats; my parents and most of their neighbors have lost cats to coyotes and other predators, in spite of taking every care. It seems that the only way to keep cats entirely safe is to keep them indoors.

There was a lot of heavy rain over Christmas - which of course did a number on the dirt roads. For some strange, atavistic reason, my parents have always loved living on a dirt road, out in the hills. Possibly this cuts down the numbers of door-to-door evangelists and vacuum cleaner salespeople, but it's heck on automobile suspensions ... especially when a heavy rain has gouged huge gullies across the roadway, and what would have been the gutters on either side have become canyons capable of swallowing up Mini-Coopers.

Or they would, if anyone was demented enough to drive a Mini-Cooper along some of these roads. A couple of neighbors are contractors, with small businesses and earth-moving equipment. They have a lot of fun playing around, re-grading the road, although one of them has not helped much, by trying to fill the ruts with adobe, scraped up from his property. Alas, wet adobe turns into slippery mud; in the next heavy rain, one particular spot will be a kind of automobile slip-n-slide for an unwary driver traveling at more than 20 miles an hour. The water and power authorities offer more useful assistance by dumping concrete and asphalt rubble into the deepest of the gullies.

The rain has made everything most beautifully green, though. The big fire seven years ago cleared away a lot of undergrowth, and of course, the various fire departments since then have cleared even more. The familiar mark of an old brush-fire is evident everywhere: the parti-colored dead branches of a tree or a shrub, bleached white in some places, soot-blackened in others, sticking up out of the middle of a lush thicket of new green growth.

Birds are everywhere - humming-birds squeaking like rusty hinges, and quail rustling through the undergrowth. I see rabbits in the morning, when I walk down the hill for the newspapers: tan-colored, with a little white-cotton powderpuff for a tail. They lollop lazily out of the way, as if humans didn't frighten them very much at all. Probably they don't: dogs and coyotes must be more of a real danger to the rabbits.

And that's what it's like, back in the hills. Given a choice, I'd have my own country retreat ... but I think I'd skip the unpaved road part of it. Asphalt paving is a wondrous invention.