Undergraduate Student Blog, Speaking of Princeton

Undergraduate Student Blog

Author: Thomas Ray Garcia ’16

Pharr, Texas • English View Profile

Climbing Sonoma Mountain

With a research grant in my pocket, I hopped on a plane to Sonoma, California, to spend the last week of August at the Jack London State Historic Park. My senior thesis on Jack London had officially begun.

After several days of scholarly endeavors, including interviews that ran longer than marathons, I needed to escape the rut while I could. Every day the looming peaks of Sonoma Mountain stared down at me; they laughed at the whirlwind of worries stressing my speck of a body, and I felt like climbing toward a summit higher than what an Ivory Tower could afford me.

Sonoma Mountain
Sonoma Mountain.

My summer had made me restless. Life had become a never-ending run-on with meetings here, people there, reading and writing and running and rolling from one end of the country to the other, each coast a cost of my time, which is like the constant ticking of a tick tock clock, each tick a flick of my life gone away. Done with that, I listened to nobody and nothing else except a nearby sign that read “GO.”

Now it was climb, climb, climb, the park roaring with silence, all sunshine and crisp California wine-flavored air. One strange path I remember from out of nowhere, boulders ascending the slippery soil overcutting a creek, hardly flowing, called me off the trail and into rocky terrain. Every step drove me farther up the offbeat (not off beaten) route, but I trusted the strength hidden in my sore limbs. Faster yet, I rolled on and on, up and up, until I realized the path would never end; I dug my fingernails into the slope overlooking the pass and climbed out.

Offbeat path
Offbeat path.

I was lost. And in those four minutes I reveled in the wild, yellow sward and forged my own path west, or maybe east. I couldn’t tell which way I was going until two horses with riders appeared in the distance, and keeping low, I watched them trot away down the main trail, aloof to the foreigner in their woods. I trekked back toward the path. The canopy of trees obstructed my view of the summit, but I had found my way.

A mile passed. Then another, full of noise, and then another. The meadows faded to gold. The birdsongs stopped. I approached a sign. It said to go west. But the summit was over the hill in front of me, so I climbed it.

Up the hill I went, only it was on a trail that had been tread before and the thought of sullying the footsteps of previous adventurers unnerved me. What started as a flat surface began to steepen, and I slipped and stumbled despite the simplicity of going up, and I felt as if I might fall and fail. Then it seemed no more than a path, no time for thinking because nature closed in with the overgrown golden weeds tickling my legs and the sun watching me, making the heat more intense, even though I was alone.

During the final steps toward the log that marks Park Summit, I remembered Jack London’s "Call of the Wild" quote, “There is an ecstasy that marks the summit of life, and beyond which life cannot rise…” and in my tiny bubble of experiences I believed I had reached that point.

I sat on the log. The breeze was pleasant. I drank my water and let it drip down my chin. Sonoma County lay below me, only sky above me, and I yawned.

Park Summit
Park Summit.

Thanks, Jack.