C and I went camping at Mt. Diablo over the weekend.  I had never been there before, so I didn’t know what to expect.   It’s not Pt. Reyes, but given that it’s so close to civilization, and drive-in, it’s not bad.  There are some excellent views of the entire Bay Area (if it’s not too hazy) to be found towards the top, and many people drive up for just that purpose.  If you go, don’t stay at Juniper, the highest campsite (RV central), or Live Oak, towards the base (too tame for my tastes); opt for Junction, which we only shared with one other family, our second night (although they attempted to make up for it with the amount of equipment they brought).  Aside from the pseudo-Hawaiiwan drum-circle/chanting going on at some nearby group site (really?  I mean, really?!?) it was peaceful enough.

Every time I go camping, I always think, “I don’t do this enough,” even though I seem to do it more than most people who live around here.  I’ve found that spending just a modicum of time in a (relatively) wild environment quickly transforms one’s perspective.  Being severed from modernity and the sea of inputs that often cloud existence, the mind begins to adapt to a different pace.  I begin to remember how rich the world we inhabit truly is, beyond the limitations of human society, despite its complexity.

The absence of human-generated noise in a forest or on a mountain always hits me like an Ignatzian brick.  At first I simply sit, enmeshed in silence, a wonderful and peaceful feeling.  Upon dusk, an entirely different, dense, soundscape emerges: millions of creatures are waking up.

Gradually, ears and eyes become more attuned to the ever present, multivarious activity.  The strange, sonar-like call of the quail.  The way some birds bounce around the trunks and branches of trees, indifferent to gravity, while others prefer to weave in and out of the air, and then come to a dead stop, surveying.  Large dragonflies of varying shades of blue, and occasionally, a deep orange-red, whiz by like hovering spacecraft.

Ants, those ecologically inextinguishable creatures, can be seen carrying eggs, flowers, corpses, and whatever else they deem worthy between nests, and provide an endless source of study.  There is always another lizard behind a bush, and I nearly stepped on a giant tarantula coming out of its hole.  I spotted two coyotes, and many more awakened us with piercing howls too early on the second morning.  (An interesting artifact of domestication that the largest dogs are not so dissimilar from wolves, yet the difference between a house-cat and a lion or tiger is almost comical).

The ascent from Junction campground itself was not unpleasant, but rather hot and dry for my tastes; I had nearly used up all the food and water I brought with me by the time  I reached the Devil’s Elbow, just below the summit.  The trail was not heavily used, but occasionally bisected by the main road, which was strange.

I sometimes think back to the pre-orientation backpacking trip I took right before entering Harvey Mudd, along with a number of other incoming freshmen.  The trip, which was a 5-day trek through Kings Canyon, in the Sierra Nevadas, had ill portents from the start.  One of our two leaders got altitude sickness the first day, and had to descend.  Several days later, one of our members came down with flu-like symptoms.  A reoccurring feature of our campsites was the sound of a switchblade ricocheting off of the ground, the target practice of a chain-smoking Russian I never spoke to for the next four years.  My backpack, a loan from my dad, was an external frame relic around 30 years old, and I never got it to fit comfortably.  When we met up with another group at Pear Lake, my future suite-mate dubbed me “the anti-hiker,” after I spit out my un-environmentally sound toothpaste.

Upon reaching the first convenience store in five days, I bought a pint of Ben and Jerry’s and ate the whole thing.  I was relieved and looking forward to the beginning of my new life, which I knew little of, other than that it was going to include spending a lot of time around people that I could relate to for the first time in my life.  By the end of the next six weeks I had spent more time socializing than in the previous six years of my life, rarely gone to sleep before 2 AM, been moved to near-tears by force diagrams of pigs sliding down convex surfaces, and embarked on two successive romances, first with a polygamous senior who already knew all about me from reading my Livejournal, followed by an alternatively pleasant and terrible relationship with an eclectic and erratic junior who taught me my earliest lessons in heartbreak.  My first night in my new home, the shower ran black from the accumulated grime.

A lot has happened since then.  Somewhere along the way, I started taking trips up nearby Mt. Baldy, on which one can find snow in September, and look down at the thick layer of smog blanketing the San Gabriel Valley.  Once, I saw a former Computer Science professor who had recently been fired for mysterious reasons, and whom I had mentally labelled as one of the most humanistic on the entire campus.  As I recall, she was working on artificial intelligence in the capacity of music-learning and improvisation, and was a talented violinist herself.  I saw her face while passing a group of hikers and was surprised to see her.  When I asked her what happened, she made a half-grimace, half-smile, and said, “it’s all a bunch of B.S., I don’t want to talk about it,” and bid me farewell.  I haven’t seen her since then, but she’s sounding good.