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01/12/2009: "Horizon All Around"
Far off in the distance, the flat blue Pacific Ocean lay under a thin haze. Near at hand, just below the rumpled green sandstone hills and their fur of chaparral, lay the multitudinous streets and buildings of Los Angeles, an endless jumble of pale tiny cubes merging into the distance. Streets lay like tattered ribbons among them, and trees raised dark round heads among them, while palms reached above the dusty clutter of concrete like fenceposts with no fence. Far to the south, a long low hill marked the Palos Verdes peninsula, and out at sea lay the blurry stain that was Catalina Island. At intervals, rows of skyscrapers rose up, dark blue in the distance, huddled together as if fearful, except for the somewhat martial ranks of the landmark buildings downtown.

Halfway down the hill from my feet lay the three copper-green domes of the Griffith Observatory, where my bicycle waited, locked to a grill next to a bored parking lot attendant who sat reading a textbook under a small canvas pavilion.

I'd left home late for a Sunday, just before ten, and before I even began the hard climb up Ferndell Canyon to the Observatory, I'd had to stop and take off my outer T-shirt, though it is January.

It was worth it; it's always worth it. Once I'd got past East Hollywood (the ride there duplicates my last commute, when the end of the ride marked the death of pleasure, for I worked for an ignorant, pompous, and most unpleasant fellow at that time), the hills immediately rose up. It's a good bit of work on a fixed-gear but is far from impossible, and there's joy in the firm working of the body even at my age. Also, the ride is beautiful: it begins in a well-watered canyon, leafy with sycamores, oaks, and eucalyptus trees that shade dozens of picnic tables by an artificial stream.

Once past the picnic grounds, you are suddenly in California as it was before the European invasions (except for the road and the occasional sign, of course): short, fragrant, spiny plants, glossy-leaved and discreet, made for weeks of hundred-degree weather; sharp perfumes, the smell of clean dust; the chatter of invisible birds.

This continues till you near the Observatory, where the American obsession with cars makes itself suddenly felt: the crowds who had driven up the shorter road that passes by the Greek Theater are parking on the last quarter-mile of the western road, directed away from the overflowing Observatory parking lot by the fellow who was sleepily watching my bike while I hiked. I passed by the cars as they rumbled and bumbled along, nose to tail, and found my parking attendant and my opportunity.

It required, oddly, quite a bureaucratic battle to have bike parking racks installed at the Observatory, though the city installs them free in front of businesses on request. That the powers-that-be begrudged LA those racks shows in their placement: hidden behind a restroom building, where a thief could work at ease and unobserved should he venture to steal bikes on such a stunning day as Sunday was. With the bike locked to a heavy grill, and the attendant no more than ten feet away in his chair, I felt unburdened by care as I began the short hike to Mt. Hollywood.

There was plenty of traffic on the trail, but since everyone had had perforce to leave their cars behind, it was quiet, and the mix of people--young and old (and even positively ancient), men and women, every race, and all sorts of costumes--all gave the day a festive air. Of course the warm sun, clean air, and halfway-to-eternity views put everyone in a good mood. I wound along the sandstone trails till I came to the top of Mt. Hollywood, with its views not only of Los Angeles and the Pacific Ocean to the southwest, but Burbank and the foothills of the San Gabriel mountains to the north, and the long valley leading to the San Gabriels themselves, with their 10,000 foot peaks, to the east.

And everywhere the clutter of little white and brown cubes that close up, contain so much passion and pain, but from far away are only texture. Here and there the narrow lacuna of a freeway, insignificant beside the long-fingered ridges rising out of thin gray mists in the east.

All of it beneath my feet now, as I stood with a scatter of other walkers. A pair of shoes, a bicycle, and a willingness to sweat a bit, and I can see the world from the realm of eagles, and even, while I'm riding, feel a little bit the surge of flight. No metal box or noise of motors hems me in; I am free to become the poem that is this day.

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