On a clear day last November, two of us from Sierra Club ICO stand with a group of 25 youth at Topanga State Park’s Trippet Ranch. We stand here in the heart of the Santa Monica Mountains, feeling the weight of Topanga’s history. We remember the people who made their lives here for so long before the Spanish came in the 1500s – the Gabrielino/Tongva to the East and the Ventureno/Chumash to the West.
Today, the group from Nava Science Academy in South Los Angeles is on its first nature outing since the pandemic began. Their bus ride was long, a ride from one world to another. They are excited to be here, and we welcome them to this beautiful, historical land imbued with the spirit of the Indigenous people. A people who said that their ancestors were brought here by God.
We look around at the plants that provide nourishment and sustenance. The California Bay Laurel with its edible nuts, the Live Oak with its acorns, the fragrant sage and the buckwheat.
We start our hike on the Musch Trail, grateful to be here with our masks, our water bottles and our snacks. The students are talking to each other, pointing out lizards and birds. They exclaim at the signs that warn of rattlesnakes and mountain lions and we tell them that these animals live here, it is their home that we are visiting. These creatures are good hosts and merely watch us from afar.
The students get tired and say it is too hard to walk up so far. How much farther is it? They have been home for more than a year with little exercise. We point out Eagle Rock to them and say it’s much closer than it looks, not too far now. When we turn the corner, we come upon a devastated landscape. The recent fire has left the upper ridges charred and black. We explain that many plants will come back, that here, fire is natural, but is happening too often these days.
At last, we get to Eagle Rock. Victory!! All fatigue is forgotten. Students sit down to eat their lunches. Many scramble with increasing confidence on the rocks, entering the cave at the top. Soon it is time to leave. Everyone is relaxed on the way down, chatting and giggling. They agree that it is a day to remember—this first pandemic hike.