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  • Writer's pictureeschaden

Valley Fever

I got it yesterday, while hiking in the river bottom. That feeling of being in love with a place. All the beauty and wildness about it. I feel so at home when I am there, like there is this part of me that I cannot access anywhere else.

As I wander dusty trails in the fading light of Sunday, I fell in love all over again with the Ojai valley. This magical place that has been my home longer than anywhere else in my life. This place that I have returned to over and over again. Even though, sometimes it is only mentally that I leave.

I am so grateful for this place and that it is my home. I have the valley fever and it is sublime.

I can remember the first time I came here. It was different then than it is now. Better in most ways back then. It was calmer, more staid. Not all the flash we see today. You could find parking on Ojai Avenue on a Saturday afternoon for instance. I remember coming up with my ex-husband and little kids. They were one and three. Now they are fifteen and sixteen. It feels like a completely other life that I was living back then. Because it was. Ojai had not transformed me yet. I was just being charmed...

Within a year and half, I was a full time resident. Finding a house that probably no one else thought was a dream house, but it was to me. I loved that old house and worked tirelessly for years making it into a home for my family.

As it happened, that family dynamic would change which caused us to leave the valley temporarily, but quickly and as soon as I could, I came back. This time with an eight and ten year old and without a husband. That was a hard turn, returning here without Tom. Ojai is a family town and it was weird to come back to a place where I was once a married, stay at home mom and become a divorced, full time working, single mom. It was a rough transition.

But my love for this valley, my infectious fever with it, was pervasive. I had caught the bug and now it appears that I am a lifer. Oh, I say that I am going to move away some day. Beckoned by other magical places such as Mendocino, Maui, Yosemite. But that is just folly. I live here. And I do not really see that changing.

At some point, I would like to travel. To go to places near and far and visit other beautiful places. But I think my heart ad soul blossomed here and so the only treatment I know is to return to this place, its hillsides and riverbeds for treatment. It is the only thing that brings peace to this raging soul of mine.

Wandering around last night in the fading light, most of the people already home and making dinner, or returning to Los Angeles where they belong, I was able to allow the possessiveness I feel to get aired out a bit. Allowing myself to spill all over the trails and not have to keep it all inside me anymore. The pathways being familiar with my emotional shedding and allowing me to unburden myself again.

Last night’s hike was a lonely one. Hiking solo makes me feel acutely alone for some reason. Like it is just me and the dog, alone in the world, hiking trails and taking in the vistas. Almost as if no one else exists. I long for a partner on these hikes. And I am not sure why. Once I am home, I seem to return to my solo state quite happily, but when I am out on the terrain I feel the loneliness of being un-partnered acutely.

I am not sure why. I know that I haven’t been hiking as much lately because of this fact. Happy to go with a friend, but solo is something I have been avoiding if I am honest.

Why would a place that lights me up so well and completely, infects me with this valley fever, be something that I ever avoided?

I think it is because I do not want to admit the conflict that I feel about being solo. I mean, I am happy and content in my life and dating is just not in the cards for me right now for a variety of reasons. But that doesn’t stop the longing for a partner, the connection and communion of two souls. And when I am out wandering the trails, sick with this intense valley fever, I can feel the pull, the desire, the need desperately.

Being a good drunk, I have avoided the trails. Hard feeling? Do everything you can to avoid it! But I realized yesterday that the feeling has only increased with absence...not made it better. It is kind of like seeing that there are dishes to be done, but insisting that someone else you live with will actually do them...delusional thinking.

So yesterday, despite all my unwillingness, I took myself out on the trails and attended to my bout of valley fever. Watched how my soul lit up and temperature increased. I watched also how the ache in my soul inflamed. And I just let it all go. I allowed myself to be consumed by the illness of infectious beauty and melancholy solitude. I just let it happen, I say that as if I could actually stop it...

And as I walked in the dusky twilight, I, aflame and wandering, in a quiet solitude, broken only to greet a fast moving chipmunk and one runner who happened to say hi. I walked alit with fire in my veins, for this place, this valley I call home, in this soul that is sometimes lonely even though it is her choice to live this way. And I allowed myself to be consumed, totally and completely burned up by the roiling fever in my body.

It was one of the best hikes I have ever taken. Full of feelings of loss, loneliness while also feeling connected, grounded and walking every footfall in awe of all the beauty my eyes took in.

I watched my dog, sniffing and alerting to things that I could only guess about...her having a completely other experience. I wondered if she ever felt consumed by the valley fever...did she ever feel so at home and so lost at the same time. From my vantage point, how could she? But then I thought, how could one not? Be it beast or could anyone not fall victim to the gorgeousness, the complete leaving of one’s senses, while hiking the dusty trails of Ojai. Sick with this valley fever that can only be quelled by the sound of my feet hitting the ground one after the other for miles.

Not too bad a treatment after all...hiking along praying that I never, ever recover. That I remain a life long patient, a constant supplicant to the valley’s charm, grace and wisdom. I am not the only lonely soul who wanders the foothills. Not ever the only one.

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