The Trail Companion
Comings and Goings
by Christopher Woods
On any trail, there is always someone ahead or
behind. I thought about this as we hiked in Point
Lobos State Reserve, outside Carmel, California. As
we followed the North Shore Trail, we would
occasionally encounter other hikers. Some came up
from behind us, while others came to meet us.
The day was perfect.
The sun was out, undeterred by the infrequent banks
of fog drifting over us. The fog vanished quickly
into the rocks and foliage.
Already we had come
face to face with two deer. They stood on a large
boulder and watched us with as much curiosity as we
did them. There was no trace of fear in their dark,
We soon saw a couple
walking toward us. It was a woman and a young man we
soon learned was her son. Friendly, they stopped to
talk. My wife and I stood bunched together with them
on the narrow trail, on the lookout for poison oak on
either side. The woman was out of breath. She quickly
announced that she had emphysema, but she was
surprised that she could walk so well on the park
trails. Better than walking in the city, she
declared. No exhaust here, I said. She nodded in
agreement, and then patted her shirt pocket. I have
my trusty inhaler if I need it, she told us.
We went our separate
ways. My wife and I chose to follow the Sea Lion
Point Trail. Through the trees, the barks of seals
seemed to float on the air. But before we got to the
place where we might see the seals, suddenly a woman
came up from behind us. I'm truly lost, she said, but
there was a smile on her face. I think we understood.
If one could choose a place to be lost, this might as
well be it. After comparing maps for a few moments,
the woman took off in the opposite direction.
Watching her disappear into the landscape of flowers
and trees and rocks, I wondered how it would be to
walk these trails alone. I mean, there is the peace
of solitude, and then there is the loneliness. Given
her smile, my guess is that she was enjoying the
peace. Who knows what she encountered in the months
and years leading up to this trail, over highways and
relationships. I decided this walk was a good one for
An hour or so later,
we found ourselves on Moss Cove Trail. Two years
before, we had come to this same spot. There is a
kind of serenity, and even sacredness, about this
place. We stayed a good while looking out over Moss
Cove. I could stay here forever, my wife said. I
agreed. Maybe, when the time came, we could scatter
our ashes here. One would do this for the other. Or,
perhaps a young relative could bring us both here in
due course. Who could know when? But it would be a
way of staying.
Walking away from Moss
Cove was like leaving a shrine or a very special
ceremony. We walked with a new kind of exhilaration.
We did not want to leave, but for now it was time to
go. Later, maybe later.
As we walked back on
Granite Point Trail, I could see a couple coming our
way. They wore backpacks with easels strapped across
them. I was not surprised when we all paused in our
tracks. Is there anything to paint over there, the
man asked? He was pointing over our shoulders in the
direction of Moss Cove. His wife looked at us
You'll find a lot to
paint, my wife said. Well, the man said, I do
landscapes, but my wife is looking for a house or
building to paint. Then she won't be disappointed, I
told him. I explained that, while the husband painted
the land and water, his wife could paint the
Carmelite Monastery, easily seen from Moss
Seeming pleased, they
walked on. And we walked away. But we hoped we would
be back, for a short visit, or for always. On any
trail, there is always someone ahead or behind.
Perhaps some trails just go on and on. It all depends
on memory and time.
Christopher Woods is a native
Texan who lives in Houston. He writes fiction,
nonfiction, poetry and plays. This essay originally
appeared in the Houston Chronicle on Feb.
13, 2000. Reprinted by permission.
Monte Bello - Devavani Chatterjea-Matthes
After a Measured Cup of Warming Brandy - Tim
Trail Center. All rights reserved.
Please contact the Web
Manager for corrections or comments.