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While perusing through the folders on the desktop of my laptop the other night, I came across a memory of foxes. It is from the month of January, when I lived inside the borders of the Los Padres National Forest. It holds the sentiment I want to share this week with readers throughout the Valley, so now I share this memory with you.

Driving home the other night, we saw two gray foxes. We had been in town for a 4-H potluck, and were winding our way down Paradise Road in the dark, peering through the overhanging branches of the Los Padres National Forest, trying half-heartedly to catch a glimpse of a Mountain Lion. Most of our neighbors had seen one first hand, and most of those lucky folks had been terrified at the time, unable to appreciate their obvious good fortune.

We had seen tracks and had decent proof of a Lion’s jaunt through our back yard (adjacent to our bedroom windows) – but had slept through the chance to view it.

The game that night in the car to “be the first to spot the Mountain Lion” was my husband’s attempt to distract my kids and I from our weariness, impatience to be home and bickering. My son, Caleb, saw the fox first, small as a cat but wilder, with well-rehearsed skills at ducking and dodging car headlights. We followed the pointed ears off the pavement, unto a dirt driveway.

He was watching us while he shifted amongst the shadows of boulders and brush, clearly stalling in his retreat.

We understood why when his mate made her way into our headlights. For a magic moment in time, we got to observe them before they sped out of our sight together.

Even after they had been gone for several minutes, we were still beaming, mesmerized by the beauty and foreign quality of seeing wild, intelligent beings.

It was an experience of shared delight and mystery. It will brighten our conversation for days, then stick, warm and fuzzy, in our memories.

Moments of family unity like this one are priceless to me as I stumble through the often frustrating and confusing exercise of raising young adults.

On their own, each of my kids can entertain, instruct, and amaze me with their creativity, insight and abilities. But put them together for long and they turn into wolf pups asserting their place in the pack, competing for everything with snarls and snaps.

Some days they demand such an immense amount of patience, repetition of boundaries and emotional energy that I have to shut my bedroom door at 8 p.m., or risk turning into a raging monster. At age 10 and 13, they have entered the age of Paradox, where compassion for the world (donations for Haiti and CA Condor habitat) do not translate into compassion for each other.

Their often cruel intolerance for the ways in which they differ, along with their excessive competition for attention of their father and I, empties my stores of patience and consistency, sometimes in minutes.

All parenting competency gone, I find myself reduced to toddler behavior: yelling, glaring, threatening, pleading.

Sometimes I become wise in the midst of my breakdown, and remember what it was like to be between the age of child and adult; how scary and exhilarating that was, all at once.

Then I can see my kids for who they are, and meet them where they need me to meet them. Other times I opt for time out or for a walk with the dog.

Even in my anger and frustration, I know enough to be grateful for the fact that my kids can watch themselves while I am gone, and that in itself is a blessing.

Still, it is a quick individualistic fix to a bigger problem: my kids don’t get along well. More than almost anything, I want my kids to get along.

Seeing foxes on the road is an event that leads to family bonding.

We remember who we are: a family that has been through crazy things, but has not been split apart.

There is magic in the air outside our consumer-driven and convenience-laden lifestyle.

We get grateful for the simple fact that we have come so far into the wild places as to have the opportunity to see and appreciate together the wild, intelligent majesty of the foxes.

This week I want to ponder that sweet memory from winter. My life is piled high right now with obligations. Our overscheduled life is squeezing out the mystery of all that can be seen in evening drives and backyard morning moments.

We need a game like “Be the first to spot the Mountain Lion,” to focus our attention. There is no choice; we have to surf the hectic wave of the school year building up before it crashes into summer.

But we can share our memory of foxes as we read this. You can choose to drive to Paradise; take the time to make sweet memories that will sustain you in the hectic seasons.


Additional info: On my commute to and from work on Paradise Road during the last three weeks, I have seen a coyote and a bobcat.

The wild turkeys often congregate across from Snyder Trailhead (4 miles in), and though the wild boar are hard to spot, they are numerous in the Santa Ynez River Canyon.


Directions:

To get to Paradise Road from the junction of highways 246 and 154, drive 13 miles (toward Santa Barbara). Take the turnoff for Paradise Road on the left, shortly after passing the sign indicating that you have entered the Los Padres National Forest, and immediately after the sign stating, “Santa Ynez Recreation Area, next left.”

You can drive approximately 12 miles on Paradise Road, at which point the road ends in a parking lot at the popular day-use area named Red Rock.

*It is possible that you will receive a “Notice of Non-compliance” with a $5 fine if you do not display an Adventure Pass while parking or camping in this section of the Los Padres National Forest. Passes can be purchased ahead of time online or at various local locations (i.e. Forest Service offices in Goleta and Santa Maria) for $5/day or $30/annually.

Finding Paradise appears weekly in The Santa Ynez Valley Journal. Contact Christie at christietarman@gmail.com with comments, ideas or questions.