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A Chilean Immigrant Adopts a Sapling Atop Burbank’s Wildwood Canyon

Jogging along Sunset Canyon Drive in Burbank is great. You have the choice of peeling off into several great mountain trails, or you can just keep running the border line between the rugged Verdugo Mountains and the city of Burbank. From Sunset Canyon drive you are high enough to see to entire San Fernando Valley, as well as a glimpse of the Los Angeles skyline off to the south.

The best time is during sunset, as you see the tall Mexican Fan Palms dancing along the top of the city like a hundred green cotton balls and tumble weeds being whacked around the sky by tall Italian Cypress trees. The sunset brings out exciting colors of the palms, the city, and the rich reds, oranges, and the greens of the Verdugo Mountains. And the softness of the sun brings a warm softness to the community – a period of calm in a sea of dense humanity.

On those occasions when you really want a good workout, and have a burning desire to run the mountains, heading up Harvard Road to the Wildwood Canyon Road is a great place to unload excess energy. In addition, you will take the wonderful views you get on Sunset Canyon, and multiply them 10 fold. However you need to have a real feel for off road running, as the trails soon get steep, and are not that hospitable for the casual runner.

On a recent morning trip up a mountain adjacent to Wildwood Canyon, I spied an old man carrying 2 five gallon jugs of water up one of the steeper trails, which ultimately led to the peak. Overwhelmed with curiosity, and a bit of fatigue, I could not help finishing my trek up the mountain and find out what this old man was doing.

The Old Man of the Mountain

At the crest I caught up with the old man. He was watering a couple small saplings on top of the peak. Striking up a conversation I learned that he was 72 years old, had lived in Burbank since immigrating to the US from Chile following World War 2, and was retired. Thin, bronzed skinned, and in absolutely great shape, he explained that he hauled 10 gallons of water up the hill every morning to feed his saplings.

Why did he plant saplings on top of a mountain, so far away from everything, and visited by just a few people each day?

He exclaimed that at his age there is very little he can do to contribute to his city, neighborhood, or community. But he wanted to continue doing something useful with his life. A couple years ago the area burned during a wildfire (the “Castaway Fire” in late September 2005). Before the fire he enjoyed the beauty of Wildwood Canyon, the mountain trails running throughout the canyon, and the companionship he found with hikers who had nothing to do with him – except a mutual love of nature and the mountains.

As the entire area was burned to the dirt during 2005’s Castaway Fire, including all the trees and brush, he felt great sorrow at the loss suffered by nature, including animals native to the area and companions who drifted away following the fire.

He has no family left, completely on his own. He wanted to give back one small gift to Wildwood Canyon, the people of Burbank, and elsewhere who had given him such joy during his life. He knows fire is a part of nature that is necessary to replenish nutrients and eliminate dead fuel within the mountains and valleys of Southern California. On the other hand, he also believes that until it is time for the fires to come and take back the land, humans should use the land to enjoy their lives and indulge in the gifts of nature provided by his God.

And the old man is so happy. Smiling, laughing, ready to tell a story – he is enjoying his twilight of life.

Since meeting the old man, I have spent a lot more time on the mountain. Every time I climb to the peak, I can see the soil at the base of his saplings is still moist, assuring me not only he is still watering the saplings, but also that he is healthy and strong enough to climb the mountain for his daily chore.

What the Old Man has Taught Me about Watering Saplings

As an animal of routines, I have the need to do accomplish much of my life based on repetition. Now one of my repetitive tasks when in Wildwood Canyon is to carry a small bag, pick up the remains of those who have enjoyed the mountain, but may lack a bit of respect or discipline with their personal debris.

I don’t get angry, and have learned that beauty requires maintenance and effort. Wildwood Canyon will burn, but until the canyon’s time in the burn cycle is reached, there is a lot of fun to be had by all. Children, visitors, residents, anybody who needs to refresh their lives can accomplish their objective with a walk up the mountain. Maybe the old man has found a willing subject to pass the baton of love and responsibility of the canyon and mountain, or maybe I have just learned that a little bit of effort can have a huge impact on others.

Maybe it is not a deep thought, and maybe it has no real meaning in the big picture of life.

I hope everybody can find their own Wildwood Canyon, and maintain it with the love and passion of the old man.

I can’t stop thinking of the old guy, and will continue climbing the mountain in the hopes I will have the chance to meet and listen to him again.

John Savageau, Long Beach

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