Sunday I drove home from checking on my folks' house, in nothing more than sandals, shorts and a T-shirt, and passed by Holbrook Canyon (above), home of Barton Creek, looking fall-worthy as a place could be. Of course, anyone who knows anything understands that it is really Bailey canyon and Brett's creek. I literally grew up here. We lived in a small house that my parents rented for $75 a month. It was the highest house on the hill near this canyon, and you could only access the house via a dirt road and an old stone bridge that crossed this creek. There were no neighbors, just my brothers and me. Mom was courageous enough to let us roam absolutely free, so from the time I was 4 until junior high, almost every waking day found me in this canyon, building dams or forts, throwing rocks, hiking, chasing lizards, fishing, dodging rattle snakes (we never told mom) -- you name it.
Given all that, I couldn't resist an impromptu late-afternoon hike, lack of shoes notwithstanding. Within minutes, magical colors surrounded me and drew me on. I ended up hiking for several hours, higher in the canyon than I had ever been.
The photo above is the spot where I camped the very first time I backpacked -- with my best friend Doug Folsom, at age 12, with nary an adult in sight. I don't know if times were different then or if we are just more paranoid now (thank you, TV news), but between fear of child abductions or the risk of them starting the next great conflagration, it would be hard for me to let a 12 year old son out like that. Which is a shame, because those were very formative experiences and are some of the best memories I carry. We used this same fire-ring to cook tinfoil dinners our mothers had prepared. Amazing it is still there, 35 years later.
The second time we went camping alone (probably the next year) we stayed here. It is a perfect camp spot, with overhanging, protective trees and a soft grass bed. (That fire ring also has at least 35 years of use.)
The technicolor trails were everything you could ask for: quiet but for the sound of the babbling creek; cool, crisp air flowing down the canyon; and a damp earthy smell that I swear exists nowhere else. I smiled ear-to-ear the whole time I was there, and walked with a bounce and exuberance not altogether familiar to these aging legs. As I snapped away, I realized that more than any other place in the world, this was home for me. I was finally home, after a long time away. That is a really good feeling.
I was footsore and blistered by the time I wandered out at dusk, but ever-grateful to have broken routine and explored what was, and still is, my back yard. It rained and blew hard the next day, and I have no doubt many of these leaves did not survive it. Change is omnipresent and merciless. But every so often, for a moment, it can be cheated, with past and present colliding in a happy confluence of memory and beauty that recharges the soul. Those are rare and great days indeed.