There is Sagebrush, growing on the lining of the trail. It is medicinal in all the ways it plants its healing essence in my mind. The scent of it, smokey and wild, like cedar, rich and smooth but thick with how it clings heavy in the air. When I pluck a branch, the syrup of the broken ends embeds itself into my hands—the smell is warm and almost minty, like menthol. I am invigored.
I am here to forget. Or, more simply, to take a breath in a place that’s always changing, yet strikingly familiar. The native plants, well known to me by now—tall Oaks providing shade, or the color of the Chaparral hills. Wild Mustard in the way the yellow blossoms bloom in patterns of chaos, little specks of vibrancy dancing up against the sky. Foxtails long embedded in the lining of my socks, like milk thistles, their unrelenting presence forces me to rest beside the trail. Undo my boot. Take a moment. Breathe.
Always California Poppies after rains, their orange and almost crimson heads against the pale green pattern of the leaves. Their strange scent. The way they grow determined to the sides of mountains and of freeways. Manzanita, Dessert Mallow, Wild Rye, Buckwheat, Deer Grass. They sink themselves in valleys of the hills, grow alongside dried up creeks, soaking up the aging water in the soil.
Home reflects itself in place. I am from here, from the sheddings of a Pepper Tree, or the wildness of Coyote Brush. In the desert, I lift my hands in praise beside the Joshua Trees. In the mountains, I wrap strong arms around Sequoias. By the seaside, I trade heights with Yuccas, and trace the odd curlings of the Western Bracken Fern.
I know the songs of all the nightbirds in the early hours of dawn. Sometimes I will lie awake, opening the window, and let their chirruped lullabies carry me quietly back into sleep. I know the patterns of the yellow-bellied finches, their chests glowing in stark contrast against the painted black-like navy blue of feathers on the head. How they flit, errantly, about my yard. One fencepost to the next, watched closely by a cat perched in the window.
I know when soil is warm enough for seeds. When earth is soft enough for growing. Where shade is too strong or too weak and the low point in my yard where water runs after a storm. It is grounding. All of me is planted here.
On the trail, my lungs heave for air. I am out-of-practice. The Sagebrush smells strange to me, at first, but familiar. Nostalgic, like something I never realized I was missing. I’ve yearned for this.
With each step, my chest adjusts, evolving to accumulate the new swells of the mountain air. Oddities I come across I pocket—small chunks of rose quartz, or granite with a strange streak down its side. My shelves are growing full of pieces of the outside lands. I wind feathers in my hair. For a single moment, a hawk above me eclipses sun, and I am shrouded in cool shadow. All of here is magic.
I pause for water, then carry on. Tomorrow, I will be rewarded in the tightness of the sinewed flesh that lines my muscles. In the way they stretch, taut, pulling, straining at the bone. I have much healing left to go.