For those of you that don’t know me, I’ve been going through a huge transition in my life for the past month or so. After growing up and going to school in Virginia for 22 years, I moved out of Virginia and the East Coast almost 2 months ago and am now living in Northern California, in the Bay Area near San Francisco in hopes of starting a fresh, exciting life. As with any big move, getting to the point where you feel comfortable and in a place that “you can call home” takes time, bravado, and lots of patience. I’ve realized that it’s very easy to take for granted the place you live in and how the knowledge of your environment is one of the best examples of knowledge is power. That’s what compelled me to write about finding your own “Fortress of Solitude” this week (coincidentally, Man of Steel comes out on Blu-ray/DVD this week also), so let me tell you a story.
Where I’m now living in Union City, there are hills EVERYWHERE. Literally, you get on the highway, and less than a mile away are hills and houses on hills bordering your drive. Union City is part of the East Bay area, about 40 miles away from San Francisco. Although getting around is fairly easy, it still takes a lot of time, and so naturally, when I’m looking for things to do or have time to kill, I’ve made it a point to tour and hike every one of these hills that I’ve passed by. Last week, I woke up early one morning and decided to visit Castro Valley, north of Union City, and hike around Chabot Regional Park. And that’s where I found my fortress.
The hike itself started a little unusually. I drove through the winding roads in the hills looking for an access point, and finally parked after already reaching a high altitude. When I walked to the gate, it was locked. I stood there contemplating and fidgeting with the lock to see if it was a mistake or if it was trying to feign inaccessibility. I tried to stay optimistic about the legality of breaching the gate and whether or not I would “get in trouble” if I just hopped over it or climbed under. The whole time, though, I pictured this:
It seemed like it took an hour for me to decide, but finally my daring for adventure took over my obedience for the rules and I climbed over. It wasn’t simple, the gate moved and swung while I tried to hop over and it seemed even more obvious that this gate was not meant to be breached. But moving on.
Hiking the hill gave me the same sense of joy that a bird must feel after being let out of a cage. The sun was glimmering through thin clouds and nearby was a small creek that revealed more and more of itself the higher I climbed. I followed the path up and around the hills, trusting it as I would my own best friend to lead the way. After 20 minutes or so, I reached an abrupt stopping point.
I found a dead end. As you can see above, the path led me all the way to this giant austere circle, with no sign of a path leading out of it around all 360 degrees of its edge. I walked around, stood in the middle of the circle, stomping in random spots as if I had just discovered some secret lair or burial ground. I searched meticulously for hidden signs engraved in the dirt or some sort of pattern that Nathan Drake would come across in his adventures. “Surely this part of the park and trail would lead back to the bottom!” I thought. But nothing, the only things surrounding the circle were heavy forests and what seemed like untouched ground. The opposite side of the circle looked like this:
More untouched ground, with a slight downhill slope as if to signify the end of the climb. I inched my way through the weeds and yet found nothing. No signs, no messages, no hidden doors. Eventually I let go of the possibility that I could be in some Indiana Jones movie and decided to look up and soak in the view.
From the edge, right before I would tumble straight into bushes and trees and certain death, this is what I could see. Nature at its finest. Beauty in its most raw form. For what seemed like hours, I stood there, staring into the distance, looking for answers in the horizon, thinking about everything that I had just experienced. Thoughts about my family, friends, my new home, the frustrations of starting a new life, the joys of starting a new life, the struggles of being a small kid in a big city, my loads of laundry I had to finish, the Redskins’ upcoming game against the Vikings – everything was running around in my mind, and I did my best to resolve and introspect on each issue. I then forced myself to stop; I forced myself to clear my mind and think of nothing (which I probably have never done before in my life). I won’t say that I succeeded, in some sort of euphoric and epiphanic way, but it worked to some extent. For a least a split second, I found myself just staring at trees, soaking in my place in time and my place in the universe. I didn’t feel sad, I didn’t necessarily feel happy, but I felt something. I wanted to cry, I wanted to smile, I wanted to laugh and scream all at the same time. It was perfect, it was something I didn’t realize I needed until I experienced it.
I could have stayed and stood there for days, but eventually it was time to go. Before I left, I was compelled to leave a mark, leave some sort of sign that I had been there as if to thank Mother Nature or remind myself for my next visit. So, I left the ground untouched no more:
It was then that I decided that this place would be my Fortress of Solitude. Sure, it was a public park and I probably should have been locked out, but it seemed fitting to give it that title. I might have my own bedroom or my own office, but those places are almost too private, and serve a much different function. Much like Clark/Superman’s fortress, I had found a place right out in the open, unprotected save for an old, rusty gate with a lock. At the very least, for that morning, it seemed that I was the only one who wanted to jump that gate and climb that hill, and that’s all that mattered. When Superman goes to his Fortress of Solitude, he knows he’ll be safe and alone there, alone to think, ruminate, and introspect. And that’s exactly what I had found, a place that allowed me to experience something that I could barely put into words above. I might not ever go back there, or maybe I’ll go every week, but when I need it, that hill and that dead end will be there. I might even find another hill that will give me the same experience, but now I know how my metaphorical Fortress of Solitude defines itself.
The point is that somewhere, my Fortress of Solitude exists, and so does yours. Maybe yours is on a hill, maybe it’s in a park, maybe it’s near the grave of a loved one, or maybe it’s in a library, but I guarantee you it is somewhere. When the world seems like it’s crashing down, when the weight of everything is about to flatten your entire body, when there seems to be no answer for the questions you keep asking, I dare you to explore. Explore places you’ve been or never been, do something that has a lot of meaning to you, and I guarantee you will find your Fortress of Solitude. Then all your troubles will simply feel like a light breeze. You might find answers, you might think of hundreds of solutions, but you’ll definitely feel free and blissful. For me, hiking and exploring nature has always been meaningful, so it only made sense that I could find my Fortress of Solitude in a hill in California.
For someone like me, it’s really easy to get lost in the day-to-day flow of things and keep your foot on the gas pedal. If it’s been awhile since you’ve slowed down, I encourage you to find your next chunk of free time and search for your own fortress. Rather than go online or sit on the couch, take some alone time and soul search. Even if you don’t think you need it. For me, it gave me a sense of comfortability and belonging that has been scarce since I moved here. Whatever you’re searching for or missing, your Fortress of Solitude will be able to do the same and give it to you.
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