We wake up early and dress quickly, stopping for something to eat before heading north on the PCH towards Malibu. The night before I’d googled hikes in LA and picked this one for its payoff: the ruins of Tropical Terrace, a mansion that burned down in Solstice Canyon in 1982. Now it’s preserved as a park and part of a 3-mile circuit through the canyon. When you get high enough, you can see another set of ruins in the hillside: a lone fireplace still standing among acres of trees. And there’s another, smaller house—the Keller House—that burned in 2007. Fires in Solstice Canyon are frequent but that hasn’t stopped people from building their homes here.
There isn’t much privacy at the house itself, but it’s set back so far in the canyon you can’t help feeling swallowed up by the plant life. Fellow hikers disappear into the background. There’s a small waterfall around the back of the property and we watch a water snake slither around while we catch our breaths.
Snakes are beautiful, I say.
Snakes are creepy, he says.
Snakes are beautiful and creepy, I amend.
Just a half hour earlier I’d wished we could see a rattlesnake. I even mapped out the path I wanted it to take—It could just come out here, a few feet ahead of us, and then slither across the path. It wouldn’t have to be that close. Just enough for me to take a picture.
This wasn’t a rattlesnake, but it felt sent to me, anyway. It felt purposeful. Here—you’ve survived your first month in California. Have this snake.
The way back from the ruins, we pick a different path. This one curves up steeply to the top of the canyon. A full mile upward and we pop up at the top, the Pacific stretching out in front of us. We take pictures of it even though it’s cloudy, and the water blends in with the smudgy grey of the sky. You almost can’t tell it’s an ocean.
We see a hummingbird. S adopts a funny accent. We pass a few more hikers. We start our descent.
photographs taken in Malibu, California, with a Canon 60D