Recently I did some hiking in Big Basin State Park, an 18,000 acre enclave of old growth redwoods tucked into the Santa Cruz Mountains. As one might expect from mountainous terrain, I encountered hills. Steep hills, long hills, hills that never stopped climbing. The sun beat down, bathing me in sweat. The scenery was gorgeous but my quads and gluts ached, my feet hurt and I was out of breath.
I stopped finally after an hour and looked around. Gold sandstone hills, scrubby pines and chapparal had replaced the redwoods. The sky was a pitiless blue, no rain in months, potentially no rain for months. Not a gentle terrain, this. I hunkered down in what shade I could find (read: none) and reached into my pack for water. To my dismay, my snack, a baggie full of grapes, came out too. I grabbed at the bag as it was falling, half-catching it, and watched a quarter of the contents tumble out. Red grapes everywhere. Firm, luscious, plump ones in the prime of their grape lives. I exclaimed in displeasure but it was already too late. They were dusty, they were history. Deciding there was no point in trying to retrieve the rolling grapes, I watched them instead.
The grapes had come alive. They were like kids released from school, pouring out the doors the moment the bell rang. Being on a steep hill, there was only direction for them to go. Grapes, being grape-shaped, sort of wobble as they roll. Those on a right-side axis strayed off to the right. Others, on the opposite axis, wobbled uncertainly to the left before stopping. But a few grapes were perfectly situated to roll smoothly, in a straight line, down that hill. They would only stop, it appeared, when the hill stopped.
The end of the hill was a long way down.
They rolled and rolled. They raced. They danced. Soon, only three contenders remained. One rolling grape slowed, took a pothole and bounced to the side. The other two were still going strong. It was mesmerizing to watch. They became like tiny animals, slowing down occasionally to sniff at a pebble, a dead leaf, before continuing along their merry way.
Thirty seconds passed. Sixty. They became smaller and smaller, these two grapes, impossible to discern, at this distance, from live creatures. They looked like dung beetles, or tiny black field mice. One finally gave its last roll and settled into a crack in the dry dirt. The other moved on, on. My fatigue, my irritation, was forgotten. I was reveling in the freedom of this little renegade grape, until it, too, lurched to the right and took its final resting place by the side of the path.
I’m back home now, mulling over things. It was a great hike and Big Basin is a great park. But the image that rests in my mind now is not the walking, the natural beauty surrounding me. It’s the memory of those grapes. The freedom of their movement, the impulsive, unplanned joy (you’re going to tell me grapes don’t experience joy, and you’d be right. But I’ll tell you what. Those were some joyfully moving grapes).
I hope the next time I’m dancing I can incorporate that same feeling. Or at least the feeling I got, watching them. Immersed in enjoying and experiencing the art of movement. However life hands it to you.