I went walking today, in the hills between Rocklin and Lincoln:
I spent hours out there. It’s been a long time since I just made off into the hills like that, to spend a whole afternoon there with no concern about needing to get back for work or some other obligation.
I’m looking for a word.
As a kid, my friends and I spent our afternoons and weekends walking through the hills at the edges of our neighborhood in Cameron Park. We called it “exploring”, but it after the dozenth (or hundredth) time it’s hard to justify that name — since you know all the trails, the rocks, the trees, you’re not really “exploring” anymore. Other words — “hiking”, “adventuring” — also don’t feel right. Hiking implies something more strenuous — a journey, a start and a finish. We weren’t hiking so much as just wandering. We had named the tree groves and boulder formations after the cities from our favorite Nintendo games (Dragon Warrior and Final Fantasy 2), and so we’d just go out there and make-believe ourselves to be the heroes from those stories as we traveled from city to city, fighting the bad guys (which mostly consisted of smashing tree branches with our sticks. The oak trees’ outer branches dry out nicely in the summer, and they shatter in gratifying showers of twigs.)
“Hiking” sounds too outdoorsy, too boy-scouty. Our exploring wasn’t so much about that. It was about building a world, a familiar, comfortable, beautiful, and exotic place to visit. We knew the people and places of that world, and we knew our place in it. It was a place away from school, homework, and chores. What we did wasn’t so much “exploring” as it was “inhabiting” or “annexing”.
If you open up my soul, the image at its heart is the hills around Cameron Park. Those hills are my promised land. My ongoing quest for the green hill is essentially a quest to reclaim the relationship I had with those hills (and more importantly, with the people who explored there with me) in my youth.
In contrast to Abraham and Moses, who each received the disheartening news that they’d be dead before obtaining their promised land, I’m just a forty-five minute drive from Cameron Park. I see those hills every time I drive over to my parents’ house. I go walking in them every couple months. The problem is that I haven’t figured out how to “claim” them.
I’m not talking about purchasing them. Owning that land wouldn’t make any difference in my relationship to it. I don’t want the hills for building on, or whatever else a person does with land he or she owns. I just want to walk through them. At length. Both alone and with friends.
So it’s mostly a time thing. Not just my own time, but the time of the people around me. I want us all to have enough time to enjoy pure recreation together. Not just once a year at the family reunion or annual camping trip or whatever. Often. Daily. Weekly, at least.
Perhaps I’m just nostalgic for the simpler, carefree days of my youth, but I don’t think that’s all there is to it. What I’m looking for is a kind of relationship, a kind of community. I want to take the best parts of my youth and then integrate them into life as an adult. I know I’ll never live my junior-high-school life again, because I’m not in junior high anymore. But I hope I can apply what I loved and learned there to my life now, in a way that benefits not just myself, but all those who want to participate in it.
So I’m still looking for that word. In the meantime, here are a bunch of words from The Little Prince that approximate the word I’m looking for:
It was then that the fox appeared. “Good morning” said the fox.”Good morning” the little prince responded politely…
“Come and play with me,” proposed the little prince, “I’m so unhappy.”
“I can’t play with you,” the fox said, “I’m not tamed.”
“Ah! Please excuse me,”said the little prince. But after some thought, he added: “What does that mean—’tame’?”…
“It’s an act too often neglected,” said the fox. “It means to establish ties…to me, you’re still nothing more than a little boy who’s just like a hundred thousand other little boys. And I have no need of you. And you, on your part, have no need of me. To you I’m nothing more than a fox like a hundred thousand other foxes. But if you tame me, then we shall need each other. To me, you’ll be unique in all the world. To you, I shall be unique in all the world …you see the grain-fields down yonder? I do not eat bread. Wheat is of no use to me. The wheat fields have nothing to say to me. And that is sad. But you have hair that is the color of gold. Think how wonderful that will be when you have tamed me! The grain, which is also golden, will bring me back the thought of you. And I shall love to listen to the wind in the wheat…”
So the little prince tamed the fox. And when the hour of his departure drew near—
“Ah,” said the fox, “I shall cry.”
“It’s your own fault,” said the little prince. “I never wished you any sort of harm; but you wanted me to tame you…”
“Yes that is so”, said the fox.
“But now you’re going to cry!” said the little prince.
“Yes that is so” said the fox.
“Then it has done you no good at all!”
“It has done me good,” said the fox, “because of the color of the wheat fields.”
And then he added: “go and look again at the roses. You’ll understand now that yours is unique in all the world. Then come back to say goodbye to me, and I will make you a present of a secret.”
The little prince went away, to look again at the roses.
“You’re not at all like my rose,” he said. “As yet you are nothing. No one has tamed you, and you have tamed no one. You’re like my fox when I first knew him. He was only a fox like a hundred thousand other foxes. But I have made a friend, and now he’s unique in all the world.”
And the roses were very much embarrassed.
“You’re beautiful, but you’re empty,” he went on. “One could not die for you. To be sure, an ordinary passerby would think that my rose looked just like you–the rose that belongs to me. But in herself alone she’s more important than all the hundreds of you other roses: because it is she that I have watered; because it is she that I have put under the glass globe; because it is for her that I’ve killed the caterpillars (except the two or three we saved to become butterflies); because it is she that I have listened to, when she grumbled, or boasted, or even sometimes when she said nothing. Because she is MY rose.”
And he went back to meet the fox.
“Goodbye” he said.
“Goodbye,” said the fox… “It is the time you have wasted for your rose that makes your rose so important.”