Back to Life


Yesterday, I composed a December post in my head as I hiked the Borrego Palm Canyon Trail. The piece felt poetic—and it came out whole. And now I can’t remember the flow of it. Still, I find myself reaching for what I intended to say—something about being glad I could enjoy a weekend in the desert. It was another cancer post. I hiked six miles on the first day, and more than three on the second, frequently patting myself on the back over previous workouts. They were paying off. As I hiked, I was able to chat with a friend and remain energetic. I felt strong enough, almost normal. I didn’t want to be anywhere else. Though the stiffness promised by anastrozole was apparent. Or maybe I would have been stiff without this drug that is supposed to make my body less welcoming to invasive lobular breast cancer.

The first hike was in Plum Canyon. Desert plants were trying to bloom—some were actually blooming. I crushed a pinch of purple lavender between my thumb and index finger. It was fully pungent. We agreed this route, called the California Riding and Hiking Trail, would be worth revisiting during the wildflower season a few months from now.

In our campsite, I read Mary Oliver—Upstream—as I sat by the fire before dusk. It was a right-book-at-the-right-time encounter. I found myself relating to the way Oliver embraces sanity in nature, even when human consciousness seems to be failing our world. I’m not trusting my own kind right now. Mary Oliver writes about foxes. “They have neither mercy nor pity. They have one responsibility—to stay alive, if they can, and be foxes.” Her words felt “deep,” though I knew I was feeling more vulnerable than usual, less armored, less sure of anything. I would read a few sentences, and then idly think about how lucky I was to be able to take comfort in this place. As these thoughts spun in my head, the sky went Van Gogh, displaying swirls of pink and deepening blue. Meanwhile, the sun kept its rays firmly on the mountain range to my right.

No, I can’t bring back what I meant to say as cancer memories moved toward the horizon, and I started to plan my next backpacking trip (maybe in Point Reyes National Seashore). I can only churn out choppy sentiments that no longer fit together. I did see some fast creatures – jackrabbit and roadrunner. I watched for snakes, especially during the longish trek across desert ground, from my tent to the bathroom. This was in the middle of the night. It wasn’t very cold, maybe 50 degrees. I was having hot flashes. At first I tried out the foot vent in my fancy new sleeping bag, but wriggling my bare feet in the night air did not cool me down enough, so all the layers went to the wayside. I found myself on top of the bag in nothing but a pair of underwear. The moon was bright. It was hard to drift off.

Coyotes did howl.

The host at the Borrego Palm Canyon trailhead told us no one had reported any big horn sheep sightings, but we ended up having a fine view of three ewes. They were probably headed to the waterfall near the grove of indigenous palms everyone was hiking the trail to see. The night wind had left the sky perfectly blue against jagged ridges on either side of us. Other hikers were chatty. They marveled at such an oasis.


On the way home, we stopped for pie in Santa Ysabel. I had Dutch apple with a caramel topping. This was a tough decision. I could have paired it with ice cream or cheddar cheese. In the car, my friend asked, “Your hair is darker, isn’t it?

“Darker, grayer, thicker, and curlier,” I said.