Chicano in the Wilderness
By Xico González
The 2013-2014 academic year is around the corner–twelve weeks of summer are coming to an end. In these past twelve weeks, I discovered a new passion, hiking. I went on four hikes: Lake Berryessa, Pfeiffer Big Sur State Park, and twice to Hidden Falls Regional Park in Auburn, California. In one of those trips I wrote #chicanosinthewilderness on an Instagram post as a term to define my adventures outside of the urban environment that surround me and sometimes suffocates me.
The first hiking trip of the summer was to Lake Berryessa with my great friend and fellow educator Erácleo Guevara. I decided on Lake Berryessa after seeing a Facebook picture post by one of my former UCD students hiking there. She looked so happy and proud after finishing a five-mile hike, and this inspired me to select that location for my first summer hike. Erácleo and I set out on a Thursday morning towards Napa County in my Revoltoso Subaru chatting and listening to Banda music ready to conquered the wild. The only thing was that I just knew that we were going to Lake Berryessa not knowing where the hiking trails were or anything like that. ¡Nos fuimos a la brava! This is a very Chicano thing to do, but we trusted that we were going to get there and that we were going to hike. There was no doubt about that! When we got to Lake Berryessa, I saw a lookout point, and decided to stop there to admire the lake, which looked beautiful down below from the montaña, where we parked. I of course, being an urban Chicano, took my iPhone and snapped an Instagram picture to ‘memer the trip. Down below were a few boats with people relaxing, sun bathing, and fishing. We looked at each other, and thought “miralos, tirando hueva nomás.” It’s funny that we think that way, because as maestros and educated Chicanos we were also tirando hueva by going into the outdoors to engage in physical activity. I guess that we can’t help to feel guilty because we know that our gente is working hard en los files, and here we are “tirando hueva.” Enough with the guilt tripping. After the lookout point, we drove and I couldn’t see a hiking trail or a park. I was getting nervous, but then we saw the Lake Berryessa Field Office and decided to stop and get information about hiking trails.
The Park Ranger on duty was a friendly pregnant woman that provided us with brochures and information about the hiking trails. We drove about 10 minutes to a parking lot where we found the start of the Smittle Creek Trail. We put on our backpacks and headed to the hiking trail. Once we got a glimpse of the trail right next to the lake, we were in awe. I told Erácleo, “¡qué chingón!” He agreed on how beautiful that panorama looked. The water in the lake was clear, and the mountains looked beautiful against the deep blue sky. We talked about the contrast of the inner city and the beautiful outdoors. We lamented not getting out to the outdoors sooner. We both agreed that being in the outdoors gave us a sense of freedom, a sense of oneness with la madre tierra.
We hiked on the trail for a few miles, and decided to get off the trail to hike right next to the lake. We made our own trail by walking amidst the rocks and the beautiful native plants. Not only were we admiring nature, but also bonding through conversation. We talked about our families, profession, and everyday lives. Being in the outdoors with great compas is a plus, because to me hikes are also about bonding and spending quality time with close friends. As we hiked along the lake’s side, we were fortunate to see a small fox, and two deer. It was great to see these creatures in their natural habitat. After about three miles, we came upon an abandoned parking lot with an area for drop boats on the lake. That’s where we decided to stop and eat lunch: sangüiches, trail mix, and fruit. We sat there like kids during recreo. We ate, admired the lake, and talked. After we ate our lonche, we decided to hike the same way we came, because the lake went on and on in the horizon. We hiked back amongst the rocks and native plants, and all of the sudden we came upon a very sad sight; there was a deer that had drowned on the swampy lakeshore possibly while trying to drink water. There was nothing that we could do; the deer was submerged about three-fourths in the swamp. We decided that we would let the pregnant Park Ranger know about the deer once we were on our way out of the park. We continued hiking and talked about how fragile life is, and how a life can easily be extinguished. Soon enough, we were at the Smittle Creek Trail. Soon after, we found ourselves drinking cold water and Gatorades that Erácleo had brought and left in a cooler with ice in the car. Those drinks tasted so good after the six-mile hike!
On our way out, we stopped by the Lake Berryessa Field Office to tell the Park Ranger about the pobre deer. The ranger told us that she was going to take care of it, and thanked us for letting her know. After that, we left Lake Berryessa with a sense of accomplishment, and a feeling of oneness with nature. We agreed then and there that we were going to go out again and explore the wilderness once more. To be continued…
Xico González is a teacher in Sacras (Sacramento, CA). He is an artist, poet, Xicano, and community activist. You can see some of his work on his Tumblr site and other places online.