I’ll make it up to you with photos

On a sunny day in 1910, having recently divorced his wife, a man named Herman Hethke strolled into a canyon near Calabasas, California. Halfway down the canyon, he carved a tiny house from several boulders, and there he stayed, earning a reputation as a hermit. Sometime between 1920 and 1930, he walked back out of the woods and remarried, thereby providing a valuable life lesson: sometimes you just need a break from things, a chance to get some perspective before diving back in.

My father and I didn’t speak for about six years. After he moved to Europe, we slowly got back in touch. Mostly by e-mail. After a few years, he came to town to visit other family, and we had dinner. A year later, we met for another dinner. Ten days ago, he arrived for a lengthier visit.

They have been ten days of nightmares, of anxiety, of long venting phone calls to my mother. Ten days for which Husband should probably be sainted, as I have maybe been a little cranky at him for no good reason.

Some good has come of this visit, though. There’s comfort to be found in the knowledge that something is broken beyond fixing; you can finally stop trying so hard to make it right, and just accept that it will never work the way it should. It will clunk and grind along as best it can, unless or until it stops altogether, but there’s nothing you can do about it. And that is liberating.

Yesterday was our last day together. We went hiking. My father had been appalled, earlier in the week, to find out that I walk the world unarmed, sans weaponry. As we stepped onto the trail, he pressed a hunting knife into my hand, with instructions to carry it on me at all times. In his own very weird way, this was a tender gesture.

So off we walked, well-armed, into the wilderness, to visit the home of hermit Herman Hethke.

view over mountains 2
The Santa Monica Mountains.

up a creek
Cold Creek.

One of 18,562 lizards on the trail.

rusty truck
Herman’s truck?

hermit herman hethke's house
Home of Herman Hethke: Hermit.


12 Responses so far »

  1. 1

    Andree said,

    Your father gave you a knife like that?


  2. 2

    Pam said,

    Please tell me where this trail is because it looks amazing and fun.
    That hunting knife is hardcore.
    I’m glad you survived your dad’s visit and seem to have come out the better for it even. Goldstar/cookies/hugs.

  3. 3

    uccellina said,

    Pam – it’s Cold Creek Canyon Preserve, and it is extraordinary.

  4. 4

    sweetxsardonic said,

    Good on you for your emotional survival skills.

  5. 5

    liz said,

    Sounds like it was a real learning experience.

  6. 6

    Laurie Ann said,

    I understand family drama, but I have to say, the hunting knife gesture made me go “aww.”

    I love that you saw a lizard up close and personal. If I weren’t so allergic to nature, I’d be there.

  7. 7

    Writer2 said,

    I think the most amazing part of this family saga — obviously part of a much larger one — is the disparity between your father’s apparent intention and your intepretation. He seems to be the embattled one who needs to be armed and defended against the world, and he subsumes his closest relationship within that weirdly combative universe. For you to interpret the gift as a perverse but well-intentioned act of love on his part says an enormous amount about your ability to empathize and see into him — far more, I suspect, than anything he is capable of, or even capable of acknowledging. Seems to me the daughter has far outgrown the father. You and your husband are the lucky and loving ones.

  8. 9

    Celeste said,

    Holy cow.

    I think you are gifted and talented emotionally.

  9. 10

    uccellina said,

    Okay, not to ruin the sentimental value of what I said above, but it later occurred to me what he had mentioned earlier in the week: “I usually pack my knife in my checked luggage, but I didn’t check any luggage this time, so I had to buy one after I got off the plane.” So, realistically, this may well have been a method of disposal rather than the meaningful gift I initially understood it to be. Ah, well. 🙂

  10. 11

    I hope someday my father pulls his head out of his ass long enough to call me, never mind visit.

    Beautiful post.

  11. 12

    Beautiful writing…. about a hard thing. I am musing over whether or not to invite my birthmother to my wedding (me lesbian, him straight man). I think that all hell will break loose with my adoptive mother…. but I want to invite my birth mother because she is such an important part of who I am. And so there is the potential for drama, my fear of the drama, and the actual drama to consider. Also my adoptive mother’s feelings– though she doesn’t often consider mine.

    Thanks for this thought provoking post.

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