We walk through the empty outdoor amphitheater by memory, the jingling of dog tags spooking any actor ghosts up ahead.
The sun had long set over the Santa Monica mountains and left the salvaged wooden pier planks of the stage in darkness. Jameson the wonderdog, my 3-year-old American Staffy, hurries toward the waterfall still pouring on the rocks, stage left. We can’t see the water, (well, I can’t) but we can hear it, and taste the mist like a forest hookah drawing from the center of the earth. The rain keeps coming — the most in Southern California in a decade — and the parched embankments that encircled our cabin are reborn, rivers rushing toward the ocean as if on borrowed time.
Jameson leaves my side to splash in the rock pool below my boot-stamped foot path in the grass, and I take in the deepest breath. The air is arctic crisp and smells of the natural wood fence posts leaning like outstretched arms. It’s cold by L.A. standards, but I welcome it. So clean in my lungs, I can breathe again because of Topanga.
I breathe it in, knowing we’ll only be back here in our hearts. We came to live deliberately, and like Thoreau before us, we’re walking out of the woods after two years.
I want to remember all of this, frame it like a photograph, but it is wild and changing, and that’s what brought us here and replenished our souls. The chorus of bullfrogs have drowned out the city sounds of bar patrons and traffic. Coyote sightings are etched into my memory, pushing out the sad decay of urban blight. This will be our Los Angeles forever — wild and free.
I can hear Jameson’s splat splat splat in the water below and imagine the smile on his hard-headed mug. Reluctantly, I call him and we head back across the stage with adapted eyes, the theater now defined in the moonlight like exposed film. We’re heading towards the next thing, a new story; the Topanga Canyon chapter now closed.
There’s a power in leaving a place before it runs its inevitable course, before it becomes old and stale and the brilliance that brought you blurs in time. Stay too long in one place and its magic goes poof, like a rabbit pulled from a hat. The act is over and there’s just an empty hat, leaving you to wonder if there was ever really a rabbit in the first place. Those first weeks in the cabin, everything was in technicolor like a blockbuster premier, but like Robert Frost says, nothing stays gold forever.
Part of me wants to hold on to everything I see and smell and feel, hold on like a bridge jumper that’s changed their mind too late. I wonder if I’m doing the right thing, letting go. Why leave someplace you love? I think of Thoreau hearing a different drummer and stepping to the music, “however measured or far away”. We have more lives to live.
At the end of a path I walk each day sits another cabin on a hill. There my beloved lives, having moved there two years ago, independent of me, called to this canyon on her own. Topanga won’t be a memory for us, but a feeling, a sense of renewal, of clouds lifting and beginner’s discovery.
I pat Jameson’s muscled ribs and tell him to remember this night, when we were golden together. Make this your happy place to return to time and again, when life tests your chin. This night, I tell my four-legged compadre, everything is perfect just the way it is; the air cool, the rivers running and the heavens eternal. Time stands still, here and now as we stand in the mud together.
Someday the clouds will trail away and the earth will dry and we will be apart from all this, apart from each other. Nothing gold lasts forever. But clouds give way to stars, we agree. Someday another boy and his dog will fall into the soft and impressable path we’ve worn through these wild gardens together and think they discovered the secrets we already share.
Someday the clouds will trail away and the earth will dry and we will be apart from all this, apart from each other. Nothing gold lasts forever. But clouds give way to stars, we agree.