I have promised myself that this will be the final entry in my journal about Riley’s secret hideaway. Honestly, I had no idea I was such an author. But I couldn’t help myself and wrote my entry as though I were writing a book. Hmmm . . . a book about my life and my adventures. Now, there’s a thought.
Maybe someday when I’m old and gray and have plenty of time to compile my journal entries into a book. But for now . . .
I crawled through the rocky tunnel and stood up, but I was unprepared for what I saw. A few feet away, a cold, gushing spring bubbled up from under the rocks and swiftly flowed toward a glade that seemed surreal.
Truly, the California foothills are anything but lush in the fall. The Golden State is golden because of the yellowish-brown (dead) grass for miles and miles all up and down the Sierras. Only at the higher elevations, where the source of water has not been completely depleted, are the trees tall and cool, and the undergrowth still green.
Not here. Not when it hasn’t rained for weeks and weeks.
This glade didn’t seem to notice the lack of summer rains.
The water emptied into a small pond, which was surrounded by a thick, clover carpet. Wildflowers that I had not seen since last spring grew in bunches near the pond. Aspens and poplars grew thickly.
I heard a “ribbit—ribbit” and the sound caught me off guard. Frogs? In September? Birds of all kinds—probably the only creatures who could easily access this place—flew in and out. Swallows snapped up insects mid-air. The birds looked plump and well fed.
I stood speechless with wonder. I suddenly didn’t care if Riley had been right and I had been wrong. This place was indeed a secret hideaway. My eyes couldn’t drink in the beauty fast enough.
I looked around to get my bearings. The entire glade was surrounded by tall rock “guards.” Just above the eastern edge, the highest peaks of the Sierra peeked out.
Now I know why Cory and I had never found this place. We'd gone around the whole rock formation. I was pretty sure we had stood just on the other side of the eastern formation and never knew what lay so close. But completely impossible to get to.
Until Riley found it.
Riley came up from behind and put his arms around me. “Well, what do you think?”
I turned and looked up into his smiling face. “Oh, Riley. I never dreamed of anything like this. How did you ever find it?”
He pushed back his hat. “By accident. I was after a pesky coyote—”
“Yeah, I’m afraid this hideaway is not perfect. Anyway, I followed it into the rocks and lo and behold, it eventually ducked through the tunnel, and when I came out . . .” He waved his arm. “I saws this. Oh, and I got the coyote, by the way.” He took my hand. “Come on.”
This time I followed gladly. We made our way along the bubbling creek and to the pond. The grass felt like velvet when I sat down. I crawled to the edge of the water. For a wonder, the pond was clear as glass. The sun shone down on the surface, and I saw the Banded Rocks reflected back picture-perfect.
The sun wouldn’t be around for long, though. The entire glade wasn’t very large. Too soon the sun would slip behind the western cliffs and this special hideaway would be cast into shadows.
By the looks of it, we had a couple of hours to enjoy this place. No fish lived in the pond, but plenty of other critters did—water bugs, dragonflies, frogs.
Riley laid a hand on my shoulder and pointed. A rabbit doe with a litter of late-season bunnies hopped into the clover and began munching. I sat perfectly still. The little ones scampered and chased each other, but the mama rabbit looked nervous. Every few seconds she sat high on her haunches and looked around. I’m pretty sure she scented us.
We watched the rabbits for probably ten minutes, when suddenly a large shadow appeared overhead. I knew what it was, and so did the rabbits. A hawk swooped low, and the bunnies scattered.
I held my breath. Please, not the bunnies!
It was silly, I know. Hawks have to eat and feed their babies too, but I couldn’t help letting out a sigh of relief when the hawk's intended targets ducked into a clump of bushes. The bird missed them by a whisker.
The rest of our time there passed in such a way that I will always keep this adventure high on my “best ever” list. Riley and I talked and talked and talked. I can’t remember all the details. There was something about this secret hideaway that made both of us feel lazy and restful. Maybe it was the sound of trickling water, or maybe the smell of something fresh and green and wet in the middle of the usual California fall drought. Whatever it was, I really didn’t want to leave.
Too late I remembered our lunch. I had left it tied to Shasta's saddle horn. Oh, well! Riley and I forgot about the time until the shadow of the rocks cut off the sunshine.
“We’d best get back,” Riley finally said. He too sounded loath to go. “The horses have not had such a nice time as we have had.”
Shasta and Dakota were tied to an old scrub pine in the middle of a rock pile. No, not a nice time at all. But they would be fine. It was cool and shady there and we’d watered them not long before we’d reached the Banded Rocks.
As we retraced our steps—through the tunnel, crisscrossing a number of turns in the rock maze, and finally stumbling out to the sound of welcoming whinnies—I tried to memorize the route.
Riley knew what I was thinking. “I want your promise not to come here alone.”
I furrowed my brow. It wasn’t dangerous, so why—
“Mostly I want this to be our special spot," he explained. "The other one was yours alone. This was mine, but I’m sharing it with you.”
When Riley put it that way, I was in total agreement. Yes, this was our special spot. Nobody else would ever, ever find out about it. Someday we would bring our children here, and wouldn’t they have a jolly time!
I saw in my mind’s eye four or five giggling children, one shouting from Riley’s shoulders. They were building camps and scattering the wildlife from one end of the glade to the other. Drinking gallons of lemonade and eating sandwiches and cookies on a Sunday afternoon outing.
Riley and I would be resting on the blanket, keeping watch so a baby didn’t toddle into the pond.
My heart swelled in expectation. I can’t wait . . .