During that dark time where I was fading in and out of consciousness, a few dim memories resurface from time to time. R2 and I had been lamenting the invasion of fire ants in one of our forts. Around this same time, we noticed that the large, black carpenter ants were a natural enemy to our invaders. So we set out to discover whether the carpenter’s size could outclass the smaller red ant’s natural poison, which chemically is not far removed from that of the rattlesnakes we also feared. So we took two of the plastic orange juice containers from school and collected in each a carefully counted total of 20 carpenter and fire ants, one species in each. We then took the two containers, and dumped the contents of one into the other, screwing tight the lid and shaking them into a frenzy just for good measure. There was a shockingly loud roar that erupted from within. When the sound died down, we dumped the contents out and counted the survivors, thus determining the more robust of the species. Despite the fire ant’s painful venom, the larger carpenter ants won out by a survival score of 5:8.
Visible from the kitchen window overlooking the canyon, Goat Mountain became one of my early exploration goals, but it soon became clear that due to being property locked, the fire break was the one and only way to the summit. Being stymied from the start, I turned to other objectives, chief among them was finding the true summit of Ironside. The mountain was a series of bumps dotting a long ridge running east to west, separating the canyon where I lived from the valley communities to the north. The main fire break traversed the wide, lower flank of Ironside. The detritus of granite stones, heavy with oxidization gave rise to the name. It also gave rise to many homes for the local rattlesnake population, a fact never far from my mind. Link had taken me on my first excursions, but we were never able to find the highest point. Whenever we thought we had found it, there was always another place of clearly greater elevation. I started by retracing those earlier paths, finding which was best for reaching the ridge above. What I ended up discovering was a new network of fire breaks hidden behind the roofs of nearby homes. Some of these went nowhere, others cut over the ridge, while still more wended their way toward La Cresta. All of them were covered with garbage. Eventually, I realized that where ever the peak may be, it was beyond my capacity to locate it. Most of the hiking was just scrambling over boulders and listening intently for the telltale buzz of rattlesnake warnings, and so after only a few such adventures, I again turned my attention elsewhere.
Father had started competing in motorcycle races known as enduros. The goal of these competitions was to arrive at checkpoints as close to the prescribed time as feasible. As such, it was possible to be the first person across the finish line and yet still lose the race. Toward the end of the first race season that Father participated in, there was a beginners event, and I was excited to join in the adventure. Most of the first part of the course kept to the wide dirt roads nearer the camping areas of Corral Canyon. I felt as though we hadn’t been riding very long when the markers indicated that we were to follow a road which I knew from experience would lead back to the where the course had begun. Father stopped and put his feet down, so I rode up and stopped next to him. Yelling over the sound of our bikes’ engines, he said “I haven’t seen a marker in a while.” He pointed to a pink arrow affixed to a sage bush and continued “It looks like they want us to turn here, but I’m going to ride down this hill and see if I see any other markers. Wait here.” A moment later, he returned. Looking around he said “Well I guess this is it then. This area has some hard trails, so be careful.” Then we followed the arrow and rode down an embankment, across a dry gulch, and up a rocky hill. The trail quickly narrowed and rose at an increasingly steep rate. Father stopped and pulled his goggles up, looking around again. “There’s a turn off up here. If we don’t see any more markers there, we’re going to have to just ride back to camp.” But what he failed to mention was that the turn off was at the top of a three foot tall ledge. I got off and let Father ride my motorcycle up it for me. Soon we arrived at a split in the trail, littered with pink and orange arrows. Father pointed back down the path, and turned again to the direction we had just come. Riding down the trail was more terrifying than going up it had been. Father was in a hurry though, so I did my best to keep pace. Jumping off that ledge, I didn’t have time or energy to waste on being impressed with myself. Several minutes later, we made it back to the main road we had turned from earlier. Father said “I’m going to miss the start of my race, so I have to go. Just follow this road back to camp. You remember where that is, right?” I nodded enthusiastically, and Father sped away. I followed him at a more casual speed. At the bottom of the hill was a series of large signs reading “Beginners Course” and pointing to follow the way Father had just gone. I immediately wondered how he could have missed them. The last few miles of the race, I rode alone. My time at the final checkpoint was 47 minutes late, but I arrived at camp just moments after Father. I slumped into a lawn chair as he scurried around, preparing for his race. Later, he would tell me that the trail we had turned onto was for the professional racers, but it never occurred to me to be proud of having ridden up and down that challenging course, rather I was embarrassed that I had come in last place on my first and ultimately only enduro.
Living in a small community nestled into a canyon in an area where rural and wilderness lands blurred gently one into the other, summer break was a time filled with both excitement and boredom. As my friends moved away, one after the other, more of my time was spent alone. At first, Mother’s friend Link would take me hiking. He showed me some few hidden trails in the short time we were hiking partners, but then I was on my own. There was a creek that crossed both the dam and the road leading to the quartz mine, the enigmatic true summit of Ironside mountain, and a seemingly unending network of gullies that made their way toward the creek at the canyon bottom. What I would explore first however, were the many hidden firebreaks which cut their way across the hillsides surrounding home. Most were as wide as the street I lived on, but gutted with ruts and littered with aluminum cans, car bodies, and assorted appliances. One such break followed above Mountain View road as it wound it’s way toward La Cresta mountain. Another held to the broad face of Ironside before turning due north, through a saddle and off into the distant rural communities surrounding Lakeside. One circled behind Goat Mountain on its way to the summit of Crazy Man. Still more cut under trees, sagebrush, and sycamore often without any clear destination. From the time R1 and R2 moved away, these roads became my best friends. The time I spent with them was some of the happiest of my childhood. I promised Mother that I would be home in time for dinner, but afore long I found myself increasingly loathe to return, even as the sun threatened to dip behind La Mesa and into the Pacific ocean.
Dah managed the cafeteria for one of the local high schools. In this position, she did regular business with soda companies. Each year, the Coca-Cola representative would give her a stack of tickets to a ball game, and she and Papa would take all the grandkids. The Padres would celebrate their founder’s birthday every year, and that just happened to be close to mine and Cousin-B’s birthdays. I had never been very interested in professional sports, but since I started collecting baseball cards with my friends, I at least knew the player’s names. Somewhere in the back of my mind was a dim hope that they would give out special cards to ticket holders, but such was never to be the case. The Padre’s mascot was a chicken who would run around pranking the other team’s players. Every year, we had a wonderful time, but the memories have blurred together so as that I can’t remember which memory was from which game. The only thing that really stands out for me is that they lost every game we attended… the Pirates, the Orioles, and the Yankees all had their turn beating out home team, but we loved out Padres anyway.