To B's chagrin, I propose a 6:00 a.m. start time to our Grass Mountain loop. The last time I did this hike we got a very late start on a blisteringly hot day. I am not eager to repeat that experience.
As we set out, the mountain shimmers - distant, dreamlike - in the early morning light. We follow the stream for a while before climbing up through the grassy potreros to the first ridge line.
Far to our right, Grass Mountain warms in the rising sun.
We are too late in the year for poppies - but the grasses, verdant and cool, slip sensuously through my fingertips as we climb up, up, up.
We pause for a snack (homemade butterscotch bars) on a rocky outcropping. Far below us, young turkey vultures lazily ride the rising currents of warm air.
Engaged in conversation, we somehow miss the connection to the Zaca Lake trail and have to retrace our steps - bushwacking through thick stands of scrub oak. Clouds of golden pollen rise, drifting, swirling - then settle ever so gently along bare, scratched forearms.
Then along the connecting ridge to the face of Grass Mountain, over the precipitous edge and down the chalky, loose trail we descend. It's hellishly steep - and I've done this loop both ways. A quad-busting climb up the face, or a slip/slide down the face.
Near the bottom, we encounter a man and his dog hiking up. He is vaguely Sikh-like in appearance: hair screwed into a topknot, extremely thin, nearly naked. (The large Bowie knife he clutches in one hand strikes an off-note, however.) As his dog seeks the shade, panting heavily, he begins a discourse on the continuity of life. We listen politely for a while, then excuse ourselves.
Looking back over my shoulder, I see him slowly making his way up the steep trail, heat waves rising from the baked earth.