There are moments when I gaze at the wonders of the natural world, pause and breathe, stand still and just be, and know that there must be a higher being, and that that being loves me. Me. Mechelle N. Best. MechBest. Stinka. Missy. StinkaMissy. Flawed as I am, with my sometimes bad ways and idiosyncrasies. Me, who is Best by name but not always by nature. Me, a blip on the earth. An average, regular human being.
That sense of a higher power is strong when I listen to Whitney sing my childhood song: “Jesus loves me, this I know, for the Bible tells me so.” Or when my heart or soul hurts and I turn to Yolanda: “alone in a room, it’s just me and you, I feel so lost, I don’t know what to do.” It’s especially strong when I’m literally brought to tears by Aretha singing: “amazing grace, how sweet the song, that saved a wretch like me.” But that sense is strongest when I’m immersed in nature. In those moments, I am convinced there is a higher being. How could it be otherwise?
Although I grew up in church – first Pentecostal and then Anglican – I am not a religious person. I was confirmed at nine years old, taught Sunday school as a teenager, followed my sister and cousin to servers’ practice but never became one myself. I was an active member of the youth group, participated in vacation Bible school, ‘sang’ with the Bart Chorale, and joined in all kinds of other church activities over the years. Now, I’m ‘churched out’.
While I still attend church services and events periodically, I don’t think I’ll ever be an avid church-goer or member of a church again. As I said, I believe there is some being, some entity that is more than I am, than we are, but I have great difficulty reconciling religion with all of the injustices, hypocrisy, intolerance, and prejudice that pervade religion based or adjacent societies around the world. Case in point, I’m writing this at a time when George Floyd’s murderer is on trial and the witnesses to that crime express much anguish while the murderer appears remorseless.
I have no regrets about having spent the first 24 or so years of my life as a member of my church. The person that I am – my morals, integrity, values – and the lifelong friendships I made, are in part because church was a major component of the environment in which I was raised. To this day (Easter weekend included) I still travel with my Bible. I seldom open it on a trip but just having it gives me peace. Similarly, I pray daily; on some days, hourly. I continue to nourish the spiritual part of me, my soul if you will, but I choose to do so in ways that give meaning to my life and hopefully improve the lives of others. I choose to do good and walk good rather than talk about how being good will set me up for life in the hereafter.
In Caribbean societies that are bounded by Christian religions it’s hard to be unaware of special days on the Christian calendar, especially when those days are ‘bank holidays’. At home, both Good Friday and the Monday after Easter are bank holidays. In American society in which I currently live, it’s easy to miss some days, particularly those that aren’t commercialized. Easter is commercialized like Christmas but stores don’t promote Maundy Thursday (which just happened to fall on the first day of Earth month this year 😊) or Good Friday. Just like the Christmas season seems to end on Christmas day rather than on January 6 – the Epiphany. All of that to say, if I don’t actively mark Ash Wednesday and Good Friday in my calendar they may pass just like any other working day.
What brought on this bit of reflection? I ended up doing a trifecta this Easter weekend. That I would serendipitously spend three days during the Easter weekend worshiping in the outdoor temple, may be a sign all of its own. I even started one of my hikes at a place called Mission Creek Preserve. Maybe there are meanings behind these signs. What do you think?
With plans to hike out of town last Saturday and Sunday I chose to take vacation Friday and Monday, so I ended up with the same 4-day break I would’ve had if I was still living at home. This trip was twice postponed from last spring because of the COVID-19 pandemic and with the rescheduling just happened to fall on Easter weekend. It was planned as a camping trip but when I finally decided that I would still go, there were no campsites left and I took the hotel route instead. I opted to drive in from Friday night so that I could wake up at 6 am instead of 4:30 am for Saturday’s hike. Really, I don’t know how much better 6 am was because it still hurt, but at least I got to sleep for a few hours Friday night.
Since I was going to be driving around 350 miles during the weekend, I felt the sensible thing would be to get my long overdue car service before I left. This meant getting it done on Friday morning. I knew it would take at least two hours, so I figured I should make the best of it and get in an urban hike. That’s how I ended up doing a 7-miler and kicking off an unplanned solo-ish trifecta on a glorious Easter weekend.
Friday’s hike was one of my favorite ‘backyard’ trails. I left the car to get worked on and headed to San Francisquito Creek Trail. This time I started at the opposite end of where I would normally and kept wondering if it was really on the right trail. It’s interesting how a spot you seen many times looks different when you approach it from another direction.
By the time I finished, my car was done so I went home, grabbed my gear and hit the road for the Palm Desert area, where we would be hiking in the Sand to Snow National Monument for the weekend. President Obama declared Sand to Snow as a national monument in February 2016 (using the 1906 Antiquities Act). It is an area of some 154,000 acres jointly managed by the US Forest Service and the Bureau of Land Management. Approximately 2,500 years ago, the first Native people arrived in the area. Native people associated with this area include: the Serrano, Cahuilla, and Luiseño and the San Gorgonio Pass was a significant trade route from the California coast to Arizona.
Along with its historic importance as a sacred place for various Native American tribes, Sand to Snow is critically important for its natural assets. The monument’s outstanding attributes are too many to detail here, but the diversity of ecosystems (from freshwater marshes to deserts); swathes of intact habitat; habitat for over 240 species of birds (native and migratory species); and important wildlife corridors, are some of them. Additionally, the presidential proclamation notes that the monument “knit[s] together a mosaic of spectacular landscapes stretching over 200 miles.” Notably, the historic Henry Washington Survey Marker on San Bernardino Peak is the meridian for land surveying in Southern California (I added this peak to my hiking bucket list on Saturday 😊).
Around two thirds of Sand to Snow’s acreage is wilderness, therefore only limited activities are allowed. Fortunately, hiking is one of them. We hiked in two distinct locations in Sand to Snow: the Whitewater Preserve, managed by The Wildlands Conservancy and Big Morongo Canyon Preserve, managed by the Bureau of Land Management with support from Friends of Big Morongo Canyon Preserve.
Mission Creek Preserve (from Stone House) to Whitewater Preserve (Visitor Center)
Thanks to my friend Jihadda I now know several more plant species and a lot more about the Sand to Snow National Monument 😊. I love how this trail is marked with stones, bits of branches, and driftwood.
March Trail, Desert Willow Trail & Others in Big Morongo
One of our friends in SCOBA who is a manager with Sand to Snow, planned these hikes for us and led the hike along the Marsh Trail in Big Morongo Canyon Preserve on Sunday. It was excellent! The Marsh Trail combination we did was just around 2 miles, so I stayed after the group left and explored a bit more on my own. I wandered along parts of Mesquite Trail and Yucca Ridge Trail and then ended up doing the full Desert Willow Trail. A point to note – Big Morongo is world renowned for birding.
So that was my solo-ish trifecta. Friday was a solo urban hike, but on Saturday and Sunday I was with my group. How could I have done solo hikes while with a group? That’s why I say ‘solo-ish’. I intentionally carve out a solo experience while hiking with others. Here’s how: I hear the chatter without listening to it; I’m the sweeper at the end of the group; I create space with my camera; I imagine a buffer zone around me. I’ve tested these strategies time and again. They work 😉.
It’s nearing the end of Easter Monday, the last day of my mini-break. This afternoon I wanted to go to the Theodore Payne Foundation for Wild Flowers & Native Plants, another of my favorite places ‘right in my backyard’, but they are closed on Mondays. So I went to another local nursery instead. It was my first visit and I’m likely to return. I restrained myself and selected just 4 plants 😁.
My plan was to come home and do some planting, but I had to work on my group’s t-shirt project instead, so playing in the dirt will have to wait for another day. So too will sitting on the patio with a glass of wine enjoying the last rays of today’s sun. Nonetheless, I enjoyed a quick trip around the yard to check on the plants. As I did that, I thought again about the weekend. The sounds of nature: the birds, the sound of running water in the creeks, chattering people. The colours of the flowers and plants. The vibrant green trees; the dead and dormant trees. The silence. The peace. The native people in whose footsteps I walked; in whose original backyards I meandered. In those moments I was convinced. And I am grateful.