I trudged up the steep dirt trail, my legs burning from the effort. It was the first week of autumn and a mild breeze blew occasionally across the path, drying my sweat.
Garcia Trail is a jagged course of switchbacks that ascends a mile skyward to a point overlooking my small California town and its surrounding communities. On a clear day, you can see all the way to Pasadena almost 13 miles to the west. The last time I’d tackled this trail was with my wife. Today I was alone, except for a few hikers who passed me on their way back down. We nodded our hellos and continued on our separate paths.
After about 45 minutes, I finally reached the top of the trail and sat down to catch my breath. Nearby, two crude wooden beams stood nailed together in the shape of a cross, towering ten feet toward the sky. Students from nearby Azusa Pacific University had planted the cross here years ago. At its base was a metal box with a lid that swung open to reveal a weathered green spiral-bound notebook. Climbers could jot down their names, proving they were here, and scribble prayer requests for others who might find the notebook after them.
I walked over to the cross and pulled a trowel from my Camelback. Then I knelt down and slammed the spade into the hard earth. I dug through the dirt and rocks, scooping out a hole. Then I reached in my pocket and withdrew my wedding ring.
I’d heard a range of opinions on what to do with my ring after my divorce. Some said I should pawn it for cash. Others suggested dropping it in a church’s offertory box as a gift. I imagined going to Malibu, where my ex and I made out on the beach one night, and hurling the ring into the surf. But somehow none of these options seemed right.
Despite the fact that it had collapsed, I still saw my marriage as sacred and this bright little band represented it. So I decided to leave it up here at the Garcia Trail summit, at the foot of the cross, a place of death, but also new life.
I set the ring in the ground and covered it with dirt, patted down the loose soil, then stood to my feet next to the cross. I gazed out at the valley below.
The clutter of towns glimmered in the distance, the places where my marriage had lived and died. Eight years ago, my ex and I had met in hope and excitement. Now here I was, burying my wedding band in the dirt.
I thought of how sad it is that things which start with such joy and promise can end so disastrously. I realized that this day, two years after my marriage fractured, I still had no solid answers for why things ended up the way they did. Answers would come, emerging as they do in bits and pieces from the crush of years ahead.
But at this point, I was sure of one thing: I had survived. Though I would still have bad days and tears left to shed, the worst was over. I was going to make it.
All these thoughts swirled in my head as the breeze swept around me. It was peaceful up here. Tranquil. The wind smelled of dirt and sage. I had done what I came to do. I had buried the dead. I took one last look at the patchwork of towns below, then I turned around and made my way down the trail, back into the land of the living.