(10/28/06) "Hey guys, let's pull up here real quick to see if I can get the permit here" I said as I drove my X5 into the driveway of Alandale firestation 57 near Idyllwild. Making my own makeshift parking spot, I ran out of my car praying that the firestation could issue our hiking permit for today's hike up to San Jacinto peak on the Marion Marion trail. Please, please, please... I thought to myself as I left the others in the car with the engine running.
We we're already an hour behind schedule because of an overturned rig on highway 243 south of Idyllwild. Did we stop with the other cars parked on the road to wait for the road to clear up? No way; the show must go on. Instead of waiting for hours, in my Desperate Hiker's conviction, I drove us back down the mountain and then went all the way around to the north side of San Jacinto and came down from Cabazon.
As I ran up the firestation driveway, I spotted two fireman next to a fire truck inside the garage and approached them with my mission. One of the fireman had blond hair, a burly build, and appeared to be in his forties. The other fireman was a handsome, twenty-something guy with blue eyes, wearing motorcycle leather pants. Suddenly my mouth strangely disattached from my brain as I stumbled out my request for the hiking permit. Motorcycle fireman looked over at me with his blue eyes and smiled as he responded, "Sure, I could do that for you here". As I followed him out of the garage to the adjoining office, I looked over my shoulder to the guys in the car and gave a quick goofy smile.
Inside the neat office, the sunshine filtered through the pine trees and windows leaving gentle shadows on the desk as he filled out the permit for me. He seemed to have a permanent angelic smile as he listened to me describe the overturned truck, and how we navigated all the way around the mountain, dreading having to backtrack all the way to the ranger station, another sixteen mile round trip, to get the hiking permit. As he talked a little about hiking in his calming smiling voice, I immediately calmed down and felt the stress leave my body. I thanked him profusely for his help. Walking back to the guys in the car, I thought, wow, what a really nice guy! He had this amazing calm demeanor of making me feel like my lame request seemed important... that I was important.
When I got back to the car I smiled and thought, it was going to be a great day.
That great day was August 19, 2006. The sun shined brightly that day as we summitted San Jacinto peak.
A couple months later, October 27, 2006, the skies were dark over San Jacinto, as the sun was choked savagely by the arson-started Esperanza fire. As I clicked through the headline stories on the Esperanza fire, my angelic friend appeared on my computer monitor. My heart dropped. Jess died along with Mark (the other guy I saw at the firestation) and four other fire fighters from Alandale firestation 57 while fighting the blaze.
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I've always thought San Jacinto was the most beautiful forest in Southern California. It's not that way by accident. As Thanksgiving Day approaches, let's give special thanks to our fire fighters who bravely risk their lives to protect us and the beautiful world we live in.