September 7, 2015

There’s a gorgeous hiking trail close to here north of Pasadena called the Gabrielino Trail. One of the trail heads is at the foot of the San Gabriel Mountains behind the NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory, and from there, it winds its way back and forth for three or four miles across a stream that trickles through the Arroyo Seco Canyon. The trail, lush with native California oaks and other deciduous trees offers hikers rare shade on hot summer days. When I lived in Pasadena, over 15 years ago now, I hiked the trail regularly with a good friend, Lee, who has since moved East. In recent years, I have rarely been able to carve out the 3 or 4 hours needed to do the trail justice. But, today was Labor Day and our son Theo was off school, so he and I joined forces with his friend Samuel and his mother, Mi Sook, and set off on a morning hike. We started off at 9am when it the sun was still low behind the hills and the temperature was still bearably in the 70s.

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There is a concrete pathway for most of the trail, so although it’s very scenic, it isn’t challenging as far as hikes go. At one point as we were heading crossing over a bridge and making our way into the woods, Samuel said, “This hike is a bit boring.” He is used to going on more challenging hikes with his mother. I had chosen this hike because I knew today would be hot and I opted for shade over rugged terrain and steep slopes. However, when we heard the sound of a stream coming from behind the trees, things quickly became more interesting. When the boys asked if we could look for the water, Mi Sook and I decided to stray from the path with the boys and embark on a river hunt. We spotted a little opening in some bushes and when we crawled through, we found water on the other side. It was only a trickle at first, but when we followed it, it soon grew into a proper stream strewn with mountain rocks and large logs, once trees before they were thrown to the ground in the big windstorm four or five years ago. The boys picked up their pace, jumping onto rocks and logs and ducking under branches as they sought the best ways to cross the stream. We stopped a couple of times along the hike so that the boys could paddle barefoot in the water and throw stones and then try to build a dam. Even though there was little water in the creek, no matter how many logs, rocks and piles of moss and gravel they piled on top of each other, they couldn’t stop its flow. At some point we realized three hours had passed. The temperature had risen and we were all beginning to fade. It was time to go back, so we made out way back the way we had come, this time not stopping to build dams or throw stones. The sun was much higher in the sky now, beating down upon us from directly overhead, and Mi Sook and I had starting moaning to each other about how hot it was and how far away the car was. But behind us, we heard no complaining. Theo and Samuel were chatting away about the world that they were going to build in Minecraft when they got home and back to their devices.

After lunch, Mi Sook left Samuel with us so the boys could have a couple of hours playing video games together. On the hike, they had hatched an elaborate plan to connect Theo’s laptop with another computer in the house so they could build a theme park together in Minecraft. But this proved even more challenging than their attempt at damming the river, and for much of their playdate, Theo struggled to download the software that would supposedly enable them to connect in a particular Minecraft world. As he went back and forth between the computers he was working on, Samuel played on his Kindle tablet, interrupting his game only when I took out my jewelry-making kit to tinker with something. With his slender fingers, he reached into my beads and pulled out a jade pendant, telling me how much he’d love to make a necklace with it. I didn’t want to part with that pendant but I found Samuel another ornate jade bead and suggested he make himself a necklace using that bead and a few others while Theo was working on the computers. (This necklace became an easy, unplanned Giveaway!) After a while, Theo realized that he couldn’t get the game he needed working on the two computers at the same time, and in the last half hour that they had together, the boys sat playing a different version of Minecraft together on their tablets.

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In bed this evening, when I asked Theo how he had enjoyed his day he said, “It was a shame Samuel and I weren’t able to connect on the computers today.” I smiled and replied, “But you connected beautifully in the real world, didn’t you?” For a second he seem puzzled, but when I reminded him of the terrific morning they’d had together, I heard a gentle “Hmmm.”

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