Mae Wagner

Call of the Canyon

Early morning sun transforms the telephone wires into golden ribbons looping along the edge of the winding road of San Timoteo Canyon, making each morning’s commute a new present just waiting to be unwrapped.

My daughter tells me she wishes I would find a job in Redlands so I wouldn’t have to drive to Moreno Valley each day. No way. If I were to do so, I would lose two of my most magical times of the day—the drive to work and the drive home.

It’s the canyon, you see. Although I love to drive through both of the canyons linking Riverside and San Bernardino Counties, it is San Timoteo and not Reche Canyon that I travel almost every day.

And the drive does something to me—especially in the morning—something that borders on magical. It gives me a time to sort and collect my thoughts, a time to pull it all together for the day that lies ahead, a time to ponder the beauty around me. Some mornings are glorious sparkling blue sky and puffy cloud mornings and others are misty moisty gray mornings.

If my timing isn’t just right on the road leading out of Redlands, I am on the wrong side of the railroad tracks and must wait for a train to cross. Usually, the trains are very long and very slow—but the wait can be a time of peaceful meditation. As I watch the powerful engines pulling the long line of cars with names like Maersk and Evergreen and Uniglory, I wonder…who is waiting for them? Will they be hitched to a big truck heading for Texas or Arizona or will they sit on a dock somewhere until loaded onto a ship, sailing to some distant shore? I ponder oh so many things as I watch them rumble past, loaded with mystery cargoes and adorned with graffitied messages. Some messages are artistic and some are an assault on the senses—but they, too, give me pause. Where did the messages begin and where will they go? Perhaps the “artist” cannot escape whatever environment puts him near the tracks while only the rolling rails and distant destinies of the train limit his “art”.

Waiting for the train also gives me time to contemplate the orange grove intersected by the railroad crossing. It marks the seasons as they come and go. First comes the season of blooming when the air is filled with the fragrance of orange blossoms. Soon, the blossoms are replaced by little green globes that grow larger and turn orange. At harvest time, ladders bob up and down among the trees and I know that, for each ladder, there is a worker moving it from tree to tree as the oranges are harvested by skilled, work-hardened hands belonging to someone who must follow the crops as surely as the train must follow the tracks. And I wonder, will this harvest end up on a train going to some distant place while the oranges I sometimes buy come from Australia?

I cross the tracks and turn left onto San Timoteo Canyon. I love the drive for giving me a respite from the clutter and clang of urban life. Although I am on the actual Canyon road for only a short time, I know it rolls and dips for miles in front of me and miles behind me. Gigantic steel monsters march across the ridges of hills with their cargo of electricity. Lines of telephone poles, some tall and tilted, some stumpy and askew, lurch along the road like a drunken chain gang. Eucalyptus and pepper trees line the roadside where bright yellow sunflowers undulate and beckon.

When my eyes lift beyond the telephone poles and tumbleweeds, they are treated to incredible panoramas of gentle rolling hills dotted with oaks. In my rearview mirror, I see the mountains, magnificent in the play of sunshine and shadow, shadows that create folds of color—shades of gray and velvet brown, highlighted by hues of purple and violet. Sometimes, in unique California fashion, palm trees are silhouetted against distant snow-covered mountains. Some mornings, clouds hang misty over the land and the ever-changing mountains appear to rise out of them like distant, magical castles and kingdoms.

And, as if he commanded his own kingdom, I once saw a hawk perched on the last crag of hill before I dropped down into civilization as Moreno Valley suddenly sprawled before me. Now, I see these birds of prey less and less.

I am left to not only mourn the disappearing hawks but the changes that are happening in the Canyon. Traffic is heavy. A cross marks the spot where one person’s impatience cost another his life. Lines of commuters just like me snake along at a crawl behind trucks loaded with gravel and lumber as they rumble to construction sites. Development will soon transform it into more clutter and clang. What will future generations do? Where will they find the respite I have found?

In the meantime, life goes on. The daily commute is my own time machine, marking the seasons of the year as surely as they mark the seasons of my life. Large rounded green thistles turn into brown tumbleweeds, loosed from their moorings and transported by the winds. Fields are plowed, planted, come to life, are harvested and plowed again. The smoggy haze of summer lifts from the mountains to reveal another season of dazzling snowy peaks.

And if there is such a thing as reincarnation, I know I have been incarnated from a place of rolling hills where hawks soar and dip above, where streams cut through the land, where orange trees blossom and oaks are framed dark against the morning light.

Today is a gift waiting to be unwrapped.

–originally published in “Slouching Towards Mt. Rubidoux Manor,”, issue #1, 2008.

* * *

Mae Wagner is firmly rooted in the Inland Empire area and sees Inlandia stories everywhere just waiting to be told. She says, “writing has always been a passion, but largely relegated to the back burner while I focused on raising a family, earning a living and going to school.” Over the years, as a longtime Inland Empire resident, she has written for a public relations firm, the Riverside Chamber of Commerce; The Chino Champion newspaper, and had several columns published in the Op-Ed page of the Press-Enterprise when it was locally owned, including a noted investigate journalism series focused on a landmark environmental case involving the Stringfellow acid pits in Glen Avon, just west of Riverside. She currently writes a column for her home town paper in Hettinger, North Dakota and is enjoying being a member of the Riverside Inlandia writers workshop, which she has attended since its opening session in the summer of 2008.

Mae graduated from the old Poly High School in Riverside when it was across the street from Riverside City College and is grateful for the educational opportunities that were available both at RCC and Cal State San Bernardino when she became a re-entry student many years later. Thanks to that education, she became a teacher after the age of 50 at a school for at-risk high school students; this was her niche. Her proudest accomplishment is having raised three good people and now has seven grandchildren and two great-grandchildren. After suffering an identity crisis due to one last name too many, she has returned to her maiden name for all of her writing. She currently lives in Redlands with her husband, Alex, and her dog, Sophie.

One thought on “Mae Wagner

  1. When I want a shorter way of connecting to the 60 from Yucaipa, I sometimes take the Canyon road, and altho I’ve enjoyed the winding road, I thought of it as simply a link to something else.

    Now, after reading your beautiful tribute, I’ll see it from different eyes. Appreciative eyes. Thank you.

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