ZUBIN
MATHAI
author of the oarsman
The Vessel
November 20, 2016

On Friday I decided to wake up early and hike up to Nordhoff peak. It had been a few months since I made that trek, and the weather now seemed cool enough for such a long hike. I was at the parking lot by 9:30AM and there were already a few cars there.

People were on the lower trails, and as is usual in Ojai, everyone is friendly, nodding or saying hello with a smile. Even the walked dogs are friendly, often coming over for a pat on the head or a playmate for a second or two.

Once I got past the turn-off to Nordhoff, I didn’t see another person for the rest of the hike. I was feeling particularly energetic and, knowing that my fastest time to the peak was about 90 minutes, I tried to best it. I began walking faster and faster, relishing the uphill parts, and soon my attention began dancing with the pounding in my chest and my rapid breathing.

What a marvel of engineering the human body is.

As shade and sun took turns hanging out, and as birds chirped complaints before flying away, I began reminiscing. Like a lottery pick, once you set foot on these magical trails you never know what you will draw; some days it is silence, other days it is precious memories that bubble up.

I remembered how this body was in my teens and twenties. I was a hundred pounds overweight, wore extra-large shirts and pants, and the circumference of my waist was only a few inches shorter than my height. Back then, in any of those years, I would never have been able to climb this hill, let alone do it with such a quickened pace.

A thought flashed through, that I will be 50 in less than a year, and I thanked the body for being healthier now than it ever was. My legs churned, my breathing begged for a wide-open mouth, and yet I craved the sandy, uphill turns that made me gasp even harder. What a marvel of engineering this body is.

When I got to the top I ate a snack and tried another lottery draw. This time silence came, a precious blanket of boundless stillness, as I spun around to take in the view of mountains rippling off to the distance in all directions.

When I looked up at the abandoned fire tower, and its rusty, rickety stairs, I chickened out this time at climbing to the top. Just looking up at its height made my legs unsteady, and instead I thanked this vessel for housing a splinter of me, and thanked the mountain for housing the rest.