The stages in my little sister’s life have become measures in my own. I was already 20 when our family moved to San Ramon, but Isabella was 9. She grew a lot in our time there.
Last weekend I drove the hour back, all the way through the ranches to the trails at Las Trampas. Walking with George up my favorite hill, we came across that old oak that stoops over, forming two knobby benches. By then, she would have been panting, her feet dangling. That was four years ago.
I’d forgotten what a quiet place was like: the clear dropping of footsteps, the echoless rustle of quail across the valley, the steady rhythm of two people walking.
I said to George that I’d never been more intimate with a landscape. I could tell with my eyes closed what season it was, when it last rained (and, therefore, the color of the grass), if the cows were here or away. In the time after college, with no friends nearby, no job, it was just me and the hills. My feet felt the dirt change from brittle hard-pack in the summer to loamy in the wet winter. The wind in the grass was the wind in my hair.
A good path has rhythm, I said. Think of Big Sur, opening with a bang, closing into a forest, spreading into the wide view all the way to Lucia. George liked that. He’s a DJ. He speaks in short, clear sentences. We talk in few words, but nothing is left unsaid.
We stopped to admire the view. The sun lit up a triangle of bay showing through the hills, and it hovered over the scene. Rays shot down like eyelashes through the oaked silhouette of the hillside. I squinted at it, looking directly into the light.
Still, there was more beauty, George said, here, motioning in a circle; in the treading, the rhythm of steps mixing with the rhythm of the conversation, the beauty of process and the rolling continuous movement of life. He likes to be here, in the music. I nodded and glanced back at the view.
We kept walking past the cattle gate, where the path widens. Out of the woods, it tears brutally through the hillside, dragged as if by a giant heel, clumping on the edges. It was Springtime when I was last here, around Isabella’s birthday, when tiny green buds start shooting through the path, protected by errant rocks or subtle divots. This time, it was just dirt.
I lifted my gaze to the simple layers of blue, yellow, and dark green. There were no sounds but our steps, not even wind.