The Catskill Mountains made me who I am. Rural and beautiful, the forests where I spent my adolescence were big and wild and constantly green. Even in the depths of winter a quiet, muted evergreen peeked out from beneath heavy snow in the form of fir and pine boughs. Pale sage lichens spread across their trunks and the rocks nearby. The color was calm, steadfast even, like a grandmother who’s seen it all.
Those woods, a fountain of adventure just beyond my house is where I learned to explore. One day my sister and I found the remnants of a makeshift treehouse, little more than a large piece of plywood balanced in the crook of two tree branches. We seized this lucky find, furnishing it with the things we found buried under years worth of decaying leaves or wedged under heavy rocks: ancient coke bottles, pieces of porcelain dinnerware, a rusted out metal vice. We could even pass trinkets up and down via a bright blue bucket on a yellow rope that was looped over another branch.
When I got older I spent hours walking and laying under the stars, trying to figure out our role in the universe and how we could be so infinitesimally small. I had my first kiss in the middle of a freezing night, out on a dock that stuck out over a not-yet-frozen lake. That boy later turned out to have violent episodes; I mistook for passion what turned out to be undiagnosed bipolar disorder. Before it got scary I used to sneak out of my house (down the creaky stairs in socks) and walk the mile and a half to that dock, over a rickety bridge with a flashlight.
As close as I was to those woods, I was also no stranger to weather. One of my earliest memories was the blizzard of 1996, where the snow towered over the roof of my house. I remember driving too fast on icy roads and ending in a ditch. I remember sneaking into my high school’s prom in a deluge of rain.
Those mountains and lakes shaped me. As a cyclist, I’ve been lucky to get to know the intricacies of the cities I’ve lived in since then, in that way anyone who rides a bike will understand. In Los Angeles, my home for the past two years, that knowledge has taken place in the many neighborhoods that some people don’t even know exist. The mountains, too, of LA are idiosyncratic. I know the grade changes of Highway 2 and the backside of Griffith like the back of my hand. But the land has not exerted its presence on me in the same way. Parched from the longest and driest drought in California history, the land felt more populated by overlapping freeway ramps than any kind of life.
Until recently, when the rains began to pour in Los Angles. For weeks, it rained. Hills I had never noticed before seemed to scream at the sky in vivid green. Grasses bursting up from the brown landscape, thousands of tiny fingers clamoring. The entire city became bathed in this electric green, a mad green, drunk on its own vibrancy. This green is different than the one I’d known as a kid. It burns with an intensity I can only imagine comes from its own urgency. Springing up out of nothing when just finally grasping that long awaited drink, as if it say to itself Live! Live now brightly because we don’t know how long this will last. And it’s true, this new, green city may die tomorrow. This hill might go back to same dull stretch of tan under an overpass you would never otherwise notice. But I think I’ll still see it this way, the way it was for a few weeks in the winter of 2017. When all the world was sad and falling apart but these hills were so purely happy.