Over The Hill And Faraway

Yesterday afternoon, instead of taking Fergie and Jake on our usual three-mile hike up the dirt road that winds up to the Top of The World (yup, it’s called that), I decided on the “other” hill, the one paralleling Laguna Canyon Road.  Haven’t been there for awhile.  With all the rain, the meadow on the left of the steep tarred road glows with a spring-like green.  A single house halfway up, perches above the canyon.

The end of the road flattens on the left into a spot that looks like a helicopter landing pad, but is actually the remains of a foundation of a house that burned down; a white slat-backed bench and two Adirondack chairs arranged just so sit under a tree complete with rope swing.  There’s a lot of history here, evidenced by the words “1947, Don” carved into a low cement wall.  The property is now owned by someone who, unable to get permits to build on it—access problems—gave it to his dad to maintain as a kind of little park for those who discover it, or so I hear.  I’m grateful for this.

At this point, I usually let the dogs charge around while I admire the view, one of Catalina Island on a clear day, and part of Laguna’s main beach; from this angle and height, the breaking waves look like white brushstrokes.

But then I realized that the hills around me had lost their thick summer shag, revealing that path that leads up to Bermuda Hills Drive.  I’ve taken it a couple of times.  Today, I’m going left.  There’s no path.  I do love an adventure.  Though, with those giant houses peering down from the hills above I’m not exactly in unchartered territory.  It’s the feeling I’m after, the feeling that I found a new path to try.

Jake and Fergie soon take the lead; it’s grabbing-onto-bushes kind of steep.  I pass what looks like a mini acacia, Africa’s umbrella thorn tree.  Trying not to slip as I angle across the incline, I find myself thinking about the time I was nine, looking for gold in the hills around Barberton, South Africa, where my dad made bricks for a short stint.  This is an area that contains some of the oldest sedimentary rock formations in the world, site of a gold rush in the 1880s.  I didn’t find any gold.  Instead, I discovered an abandoned mine shaft filled with vines and a couple of parrots swooping in and out.

I didn’t find anything like that today, not even close, unless you count the acacia look-alike.  Still, I enjoyed an invigorating hike until I came to a gully, newly formed by the looks of it with Jake and Fergie perched on the edge looking back at me.  There’s a way around but it’s getting dark.  Another time.  I turned back, satisfied.

The Magic Faraway Tree

An unpublished Enid Blyton book has just been discovered: Mr. Tumpy and His Caravan. It’s about an anthropomorphic caravan that befriends a dog, develops wanderlust and goes off on an adventure involving a dragon. Lovely stuff. Who’s Enid Blyton you might ask? A prolific British author who died in 1968. And still selling.

As a kid, I devoured everything I could find of hers in our dinky library in the copper mining town of Nkana, Zambia. This was a room half the size of the “Men-Only” bar on the other end of the T-shaped Mine Club, social center of the mining community. As you can imagine my choice was limited, but with holiday trips down to South Africa to visit the relatives, I managed to get my hands on enough of her books to satisfy my addiction.

I loved Ms. Blyton’s The Famous Five and The Adventurous Four series: kids embarking on adventures and solving mysteries. But my favorite was the Magic Faraway Tree in the Enchanted Wood where the trees, “a darker green than usual,” whisper their secrets: “Wish-wisha-wisha.” This wonderful tree, laden with fruit of all kinds from acorns to lemons was inhabited by colorful characters like Moon-Face, Mister Watzisname, Silky, and the Saucepan Man, draped with all kinds of saucepans. Its topmost branches led to ever-changing magical lands above the swirling clouds. All this took place in the lovely English countryside, so regular and so civilized.

We had our own version of The Adventurous Four, only our adventures took place in the jungle which wasn’t so civilized, all kinds of snakes, notably, the deadly black mamba, and crocodiles, along with lions that lived in the bush at the bottom of town. The “foofie” slide we built across the croc-infested Kafue River featured in our adventures. This was a purloined mine cable strung between two trees across the river, a homemade metal cylinder the size of a toilet paper roll providing the ride down the cable. Wearing your cozzie (bathing suit), you climbed the tree on one side of the river, wrapped your hands around the roll, leapt into the void and zoomed fifty yards across the swiftly running water to land on the other side. Hopefully you made it. Fun. Belly button tingling, pants pissing fun. I don’t remember anyone not making it.

But the thing is I also wanted Enid Blyton’s world, filled with high teas, hedgerows, badgers, Peter Rabbit, Winnie the Pooh and fairies, where magic was part of its history. A Magic Faraway Tree could only exist in the lush verdant English countryside; a black mamba would make short work of all those fairy folk in their buttercup dresses and foxglove caps. I’m grateful to Ms. Blyton for instilling in me the love of ceremony and magic. It showed up in my first book, Monkey’s Wedding, featuring English fairies along with the African equivalent, tokoloshi. I can’t wait to buy Mr. Tumpy and His Caravan, so I can read some of the passages over the phone to my two grown sons (one in South Africa, the other up north in Davis, California) and see if they connect to the characters from the days I read the old Enid Blyton books to them.