A dogwalking client recently bought a cabin in Big Bear, a small mountain town in Southern California, 2 ½ hours from the beach town where I live. They’ve been using it on weekends so they lent it to me for a midweek getaway, my first days off since May 22nd when I returned from East Africa. (Working too much is inevitable when you own your own business and/or love your job.)
Much of the drive to Big Bear is highways and chain stores. But when we entered San Bernadino National Forest and started rising to 7,000 foot elevation, the culture changed with the scenery and it felt like we had gone “away.” This was the land of big trees, some evergreen and some changing into yellows and reds.
The cabin had all modern conveniences, minus a television plus a stocked library. I read the entire memoir of JFK Jr.’s assistant and realized that, while she thought she worked for the most famous man in the world, when he died in 1999 I was in High School in New York City and knew nothing about his legacy or tragedy.
It rained for our first whole day and night so we curled up on the couch to watch a Sherlock episode that we had downloaded to an iPad. We slept for 11 hours because it was quiet and dark and we didn’t set an alarm clock. Big Bear is so close to home that I didn’t have the manic need to get up early and see everything, the way I would if we were waking up in Buenos Aires.
The next night was cold and mostly clear so we stood on the deck with blankets wrapped around our shoulders and looked at the stars through binoculars, the poor man’s telescope.
All visits to Big Bear Village should include the Himalayan restaurant, more specifically their Chicken Tikka Masala. It was the best we’ve ever had, possibly because unlike the Indian version, they use Fenugreek. (There’s a Paneer Tikka Masala for vegetarians.)
Dogs are in every shop, including the Discovery Center that serves as a ranger station with maps and interpretive exhibits. The wide glass door to the Discovery Center had a sign reading, “California State Law prohibits you from leaving your dog in the car. Please bring them inside with you.” Really?! Is that a law? I know plenty of people who stop by the grocery store for a moment on the way home from the dog park. As long as it’s not a hot day, why can’t the dog be alone in the car for a few minutes? This is an extension of our government “nerfing” our world, making everything soft and safe.
The liquor store had a “No Dogs” sign on the door but when I heard a toy squeaking behind the counter I said to the employee, “Is someone cute back there?” He picked up a small black dog and placed her right on the counter next to the lottery scratch-off tickets. So much for the Health Department! We kissed long enough that my husband returned to the car and listened to a few minutes of the podcast that was playing from my pocketed cellphone because I forgot to turn off BlueTooth.
I imagined the Big Bear Alpine Zoo as one of those decrepit roadside zoos you hear about in the Southeastern US, where the lions are in an 8×8 concrete enclosure sleeping on piles of their own feces. But this small zoo (also called the Moonridge Animal Park) is a rescue and rehab center where they release about 90% of all animals that show up on their doorstep. When one keeper was finished cleaning the bear enclosure, he put down three massive piles of food (each pile looked like dog food, 2 eggs and a head of cabbage) and three bears descended upon their own piles. The three-legged bear used his stump and snout to keep his balance. A different keeper cleaned the Timberwolves’ enclosures while they were in there with him. He talked to them like they were friends and they licked his hands like they were dogs. The zoo also offers sanctuary to mountain lions, bobcats, raccoons, eagles, geese, foxes and more.
We went a different way home and went on a few short hikes. On route 38 through the National Forest the views are either mountain or valley, depending on the elevation from which you are looking. Everything is picture-perfect and every few miles is a campground, already closed for the season. I daydreamed about future mid-week summer nights when I’ll stargaze from a camp chair with my bare feet in the pine needles.