Up and Down the Hill

by Adell Cookson

Cardiac Hill, as the name implies, is not for the faint of heart. It’s a steep mountain trail about 2/12 miles roundtrip that leads down to a remote and naturally wild section of the American River. There seems to be endless switchbacks and the trail is often unforgiving. A steady foot is necessary and you have to be on the lookout always, for both danger and wonderful surprises. Rattlesnakes were common in the summer, and I was never present but I remember hearing stories of mountain lion encounters which both frightened and excited me. The children in my family were taught about both the danger and the beauty of any mountains we hiked.
We would hike all throughout the year and each season our hill would have something special to share with us and in return we would always filled the mountain air with laughter, love, songs and tall tales. In the spring time there would be so many beautiful flowers and an abundant offering of edible plants which my father loved to teach us about. Also, a favorite of mine was the salamanders that would live in the creek that leads up to the trail head. In the summer we would float down the river in inner tubes and kayaks and snorkeled and loved warming up on the hot rocks to dry after a day of playing in the crisply cold river. My father taught me how to fish, catch crawdads, collect pine nuts and edible plants, pick blackberries, identify and avoid poison oak, escape rattlesnakes and loved showing off to all how he could catch fish by hand. In the fall the colors would change and it’s so beautiful. It would be cooled down enough that we wouldn’t get in the water so instead we would skip rocks and explore all the while being on the lookout for any and all wildlife. In the winter we would brave the rain and I loved seeing how much the river would grow and be in awe of its power. Thunderstorms where amazing I remember one afternoon in particular it felt like the whole mountain was shaking. It doesn’t matter what time of the year, this mountain is always full of life, it has such a powerful presence and I very much respect it.

My father and I hiked this hill together for nearly 20 years and he had already been his hiking here for years. A big part of my childhood was spent here and I learned so many life lessons from this mountain and also formed an everlasting bond and love for nature and all things wild. I would have hiked this hill with my father many more years, however he became ill. It was a very sad day for him when he could no longer make the hike. I continued to go often and we enjoyed talking about what I saw and any details of the trip. My favorite story I got to share with him was the time my good friend and I saw a bear at the bottom of the trail, taking a bath in the American River. We were only a few hundred feet away which was close enough for a good view and I was also grateful for the river between us creating a bit of a barrier. For as long as I could remember we were always on “bear patrol” hoping to get a good glimpse of one. My dad always loved to pretend he would see bears way off in the hills, and sometimes I would maybe even agree, but his was the first time I’d ever unmistakably saw a bear in its own true element unaware of our blissful observation. It was a beautiful day.

My father fought a good fight, but we all have our time here on earth, and unfortunately his was up. After his memorial service, we took a trip up to the hill. We had a large group of family and friends and this time the mountain felt a bit different, more powerful and loving than ever before. I have many places I can go to remember and visit him, but this is my favorite. Everything along the trail like the trees, and rocks, and water and plants and bushes, and critters all hold memories and lessons learned. I love our beautiful state of California, and I have so many special places, I feel so blessed to have been born and raised here. I have also been lucky to have visited many beautiful places in faraway lands. For about the last 9 months I have been blessed to be living in the magical Hawaiian Islands. And I love it there, so many wonders and adventures. But I’ve learned that there is a certain feeling that home makes you feel, and I feel it most when I’m amongst the forests we have here on the mainland. This is where I was raised. I share a bond with these mountains and asked where my “one true place” is? Without a doubt it’s our special family mountain. Every time I go it makes me feel like I can conquer anything. I can climb to the top of any of life’s monutains. It is my sanctuary. I know the trees and rocks and landmarks just like I know the cabinets in my kitchen. Once I step foot on this mountain, I know I’m home.

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