Take a Picture, Itll Last Longer

What do we want from whats left of Orange Countys open space?

Coming down the hill, circling back toward the big oak tree, the midmorning sun behind me cast my shadow far down into the canyon. It reminded me of the family trips to San Clemente State Park we used to take in the 1960s. The place was so much bigger then. My brothers and I liked to get up early and go for long hikes. We liked to end up standing on the cliffs overlooking the ocean, facing west, the sun behind us casting our shadows far below—laying them across the railroad tracks. Often, we would wait for a train. Sometimes, a train would come. Then we would force ourselves to stand there, trying not to flinch, watching our distant silhouettes lie vulnerably across the tracks until the train tore through them.


Back at the oak tree, I rested, sweating, feeling good and sad, resolute and confused—strangely okay, gurglingly dissatisfied. But then, what did I expect? How should I feel after such a hike through so much natural beauty under such relentless assault? And then it came to me: this is how I am supposed to feel! If the precarious state of our environment didn't distress me, then I would really be in trouble. So my endless questioning and deep anxiety are actually good signs—indications that I care, that I am in search of God's purpose. And in an inkling, that pain became a reason to feel a little bit better. No, my walk through Santiago Oaks Regional Park didn't bring me the bliss that I've somehow come to expect from communing with nature. Instead, it suggested that achieving personal bliss may not be the best measure of a good life. In place of that, it brought me some honesty, through rigorous personal inventory and a bit of self-surrender. My turbulent meditation gave me the opportunity to reflect on what I have and on what I have lost. It gave me the opportunity to commit myself to the work of making things better. It allowed me to see that the process of humbly working for something better —God's will—is what life is all about, anyway. Finally, it proved to me that a walk through nature—even in its compromised, corrupted state—still works as well as it ever did.

Suddenly, a cottontail rabbit dashed across the trail by the big oak tree. Moments later, a couple of joggers appeared. They huffed and puffed past, discussing a football game in gusts of half-sentences they traded every few times they exhaled. Each slap of their shoes on the trail sent up a little tuft of pale dust. Not all of it settled. A small patch of dirt continued to squirm beneath one of the branches. It was a beetle quietly fighting for its life, struggling to escape up a small embankment while two bees took turns attacking. Every time the beetle almost got away, one of the bees would send it tumbling down the hill. Suddenly, a jay swooped in and ended the torture, snatching up the beetle and carrying it away. The bird flew to a high branch of the oak, stopped and swallowed.

As I looked up through the leaves at a patch of sky, I saw a jet bending low through the blue, on approach to John Wayne Airport. I grimaced in disgust but made a note to look for this old oak tree the next time I fly in.

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