A Shift in Perspective

Stephen and I decided to go on a hike last weekend. After quite a bit of discussion—over water or land views—we settled on Briones Regional Park, an inland expanse that I recalled as full of rolling hills, which at this time of year would be soft and green. It had been a long time since I’d traveled to Briones, so I brought up directions to the park on my mobile phone, and we set out.

Not long into the 20-minute drive, I felt a tingle of worry. Although it had been years, this route seemed to be heading in a very different direction than I recalled. But as we sped along on Highway 24, I kept my worries to myself. My recollection of the park was vague, my memory no longer as sharp as it once was, I reasoned.

As we continued to follow the directions on my screen, exiting the freeway in the midst of shopping malls, I became more and more certain that this was not going to be the Briones that I knew. And sure enough, it wasn’t. But it was indeed Briones Regional Park, as a sign at the entrance indicated.

“This isn’t the Briones I know,” I told Stephen. “It’s nothing like I remember. I remember it as far from any commercial activity.”

“But we’re here,” he said, “so let’s make the best of it!”

I agreed.

When we entered the nearly full parking lot, I saw ahead of us a path leading up a very steep hill, with people—lots of people–climbing upward, many with their dogs in tow. And there were bicycles, a lot of them.

“Yuck,” look at all the people!” I complained. “And the hill is so steep. I’m not sure I can make it. This isn’t the Briones I know.”

Stephen thought that after the first leg, we might be able to escape the crowd and find a more gentle way up. I took another look at the ribbon of bodies climbing up the hill, and was just about to suggest hightailing it out of there, when Frank, our rescue Terrier mix, began whining to get out of the car. “Well,” I relented, “I’ll give it a try.”

The climb wasn’t easy. And there weren’t any alternative routes, so we continued the upward trudge. Once the parking lot was behind us, we were surrounded by the vibrant emerald green of the hills, interrupted now and then by sinuous bare-limbed oaks, their limbs casting black shadows on the lush green hills.

As we climbed, my disappointment faded and I felt energized by the intense green surrounding me. Up, up we went, under a bright sky filled with story-book, fluffy white clouds. Midway, and a bit off the path, we came upon an abandoned barn, where I discovered dozens of photo ops: worn, bleached wood, rusted posts, warped, peeling window sills.

And a bit further up, we came upon the foundation of another barn, with enough of its wall remaining to take a seat and soak up the sun and the views for a moment or two. Though not more than 20 yards away, the stream of couples and families hiking their way to the top continued, I found myself perceiving them differently now. I was no longer annoyed. No longer disappointed that this wasn’t the Briones I had wanted to visit.

Instead, I found myself thinking how wonderful it was that during Covid, when our activities are so limited, all these people had found something to do. Like Stephen and me, they had come here to enjoy the beauty and to exercise, two essential ingredients for surviving this pandemic.

We are indeed survivors, I thought. And we know how to find pleasure, even in such difficult circumstances.

Abandoned Building in Briones Park

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