Old Road

I drive across the Santa Cruz Mountains again at dawn today for the umpteenth time. I’ve done so many back-and-forths, so many windy, twisty turns from the village to the summit, summit to the village, and home to the forest. When I’m no longer required to get out of bed early, the drive will be the thing I will mostly miss. Right at the 4-way light and out one arm of the village, up the hill, beyond the school, flicking fast by Aunt Drucilla’s grave as her stone stares east, a small neighborhood of homes to my left, then off into the farmlands and mountains for ten or fifteen miles. You would think I would know exactly how many miles after doing this for so many years, but I have never measured, not even once.

I measure the travel in geological time: the flat land that was once potato farms, the old Casalegno store at the Y of two streams, where Sal once sat out in his wooden wheel chair and waved as I’d go by; the orchards where I must watch for deer crossing to the creek after an apple munching; suddenly the road plummets into a creek canyon with narrow, steep, sandstone cliffs looming over my head. Here it is that I always expect falling rocks, but have never seen one of any consequence fall. In winter when the mountains take a big bath a few irregular-shaped chunks of sandstone rip out of the side of the mountain. They always seem to land safely on the side. The road ministry might come out and don the minor slide with a blinking light and a couple of orange witch’s hats.

Then the road dispsy doodles some beside Soquel Creek, never close enough to where I’m permitted to view the water. A few of wealth have implanted large homely homes in one expansive, oak-studded meadow that backs up to redwood forest. Geez I’ve been driving this road a long time. I remember the beauty of the empty meadow. I remember how shocked I was when these homes were installed without my say-so, without my permission. It was my view they were so happy to destroy. Oh well, I suppose nobody ever cared much about what I liked to look at–trees, creeks, birds–but loved the money they could make by building these over-sized monstrosities, then fencing off the deer and other indigenous native souls.

Fortunately for now, the road soon carries me away from civilization as it follows the Soquel Creek watershed for several miles through dense redwood forest. I need to watch the road. I can’t watch the blinking stripes of shade and morning light as I pass along this stretch of deep, treed, canyon rim where guard rails are not about to catch any casual drifter. A high school buddy, Larry, dropped his truck off one of these ledges and burned to death in the creek in an upside-down truck. Nobody can pass anybody on this road without precipitating a near-death experience for all that are close at hand. The curves are too tight, the way too narrow, so one must follow behind.

The mornings are a prayer, a meditation for me, when I own this road for a spell. Cell phones and radio waves avoid this place, so it’s either very quiet or my active mind fills with many quieting thoughts. My uncle John was the first county road commissioner, and responsible for the construction of this back-country route. His wife’s headstone is parked near the beginning, overseeing passersby like me. I take her sullen presence into consideration when I start the journey to San Jose. I think every piece of bad road should have a cemetery at the beginning to sort of mark the immanent path for careless drivers.

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