The Artist Date is a dream-child of Julia Cameron. We’ve discussed her book, The Artist’s Way, and highly recommend both the book and the weekly date. It can be life-changing. It can open your creativity like nothing else. This week, we’ll start by heading up the hill.
The trailhead is just out my front door and across the street. I want to go up the hill, so I tie the laces of my Asics trail runners, walk down the six front porch steps and notice, again, the terra cotta pots perched on the second, fourth, and sixth steps. They’re bare, full of nothing but white-specked potting soil. I used to plant annuals every May but haven’t for the past decade or so—they’re too expensive, and the flowers only last a few months. May is two days away.
The trail begins just past the split-rail fence. Someone built the fence and posted the “No Motor Vehicles” sign when ATV owners started four-wheeling up the hill, driving deep ruts in the neighborhood hiking trail and causing erosion. When I get to the ruts, I choose one side or the other. I never go in the ruts.
We learned a little geology from these trailside rocks: metamorphic, sedimentary, igneous. I consider what formed them: pressure and heat, layering, an eruption and then molten magma turned solid.
Before the fire, the scrub-oak leaves would color our hill ablaze every fall. Now their leafless branches wear black, and they will for I don’t know how many more years. Under the scrub oak, slippery ash-mud remains from the rare days of rain we’ve had. I stop at the spot where my son likes to take a picture every month, to see how the scorched hill is recovering. Every month, it looks the same. Whether I look down or look up, I see black.
But I also see the tracks of dog paws and people’s shoes—I wonder if any are Asics, too. I see deer tracks shaped like one big teardrop split in two, as if grief is easier to bear in portions than all at once.
Where the trail opens into a meadow, I wrap my pareu—red with a pattern of white-and-yellow plumerias—over my shorts and take off my shoes and socks, because I came here to dance.
I start with the basic kaholo, side-stepping, arms leading, hands already beginning their story—for the hands and hips tell the story. Right away it hurts, because my soles are tender, and there’s always gravel on the trail. Cactus and yucca line the trail, and I avoid those, too.
I love the intensity of the dance. A good dancer will sway only the hips and legs, keeping the shoulders and upper body still and level. I think of the hummingbird whose wings flutter so fast, they blur—yet the head stays perfectly calm and unmoving, dipping the beak into a flower.
My favorite step is uwehe. The word means “to pry open,” and that’s exactly what it looks like when my knees separate abruptly. Between the openings of uwehe, a foot rises, the hips do a pendulum swing, and the foot lands again to open the knees. I marvel at combining smooth movements with strong, fast ones.
But dancing barefoot on a hill hurts too much. I brush off the gravel embedded in the bottoms of my feet and pull on my socks and shoes. On the way down, three women and two dogs greet me. I don’t see any deer, but there, in the black mud under the oak, I see little green shoots.
My feet are still sore from dancing on the rocks. But as I walk up my porch steps, I consider buying lobelias for the pots.
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