There is a stretch of about three miles on the 57 freeway where the city drops away and there is only a set of rolling hills straddling either side of the freeway that cuts through them. Someone has decided to pasture cows on the west side of the rushing cars. You can see them up there on the hills like a small train display; clumped in groups under the scraggly trees, chewing their cud. They are there in all weathers, and they mostly look as though they like it. But maybe that is my own projection. I often think I’d rather be somewhere under a tree in a grassy field than stuck in the gridlock of my commute.
What is remarkable about this stretch is that it seems so incongruous with what comes before and after. Coming out of the pass to the south is a grand display of concrete; urban suburbanism. There is even a mall tucked beside the rushing lanes of freeway in an island of macadam parking lot. To the north, above the beige retaining wall, is a row of housing tract roofs. It is possible to go from being in the middle of everywhere to being in the middle of nowhere in just a curve of the road. This stretch of the 57 is proof of that. It is probably why I’m in love with those hills.
I’m used to tracking the seasons by this stretch of the road. Right now it is spring and they are all vibrant with green grass. In just a few months, they will turn golden in the summer scorch. The gold deepens into brown in the fall. In winter, when darkness comes early, they become a black silhouette on the inky sky. And then we spring forward and they emerge from the darkness to become green from the winter rains.
A fire swept through the pass one of my first years at Disney. I couldn’t get home the regular way that night, and that was before everyone had a smart phone. I called Brian and had him bring up Google maps on the home computer and direct me back. It was only mildly successful. I got there eventually. They allowed cars through the next morning. The cow pasture had been saved, but the east side of the hills was black to the concrete barrier where the freeway began. You can still see black soil under the new growth that is there if you are looking for it, but mostly it is grown over with ever longer blades of grass.
I used to finish my shift at midnight when I worked the Electrical Parade, and I would drive home in that blackness feeling like the hills belonged to me. Back then, the whole night belonged to me and I to it. I pressed my foot on the drive pedal and sped home under the stars, alone on the broad concrete road except for the pinpoints of a few headlights far behind me. My muscles ached from swinging around those heavy costumes, and I was a girl who had worked hard and was going home to her sleeping husband. In that moment, I was a perfect thing.
Scripps College is within biking distance from my small apartment. I’m so looking forward to speeding though the leafy streets of my New England-ish home town to work every morning. Still, I will miss many things about my old life. Those hills will be one of them. I’ll come and visit. But we won’t track the seasons side by side as we have for seven years now. The cows will enjoy themselves without my supervision.
It feels like the end of an era.