There is joy in running in the chaparral, in the dark. There is pleasure in running in moonlight - the lumens sufficient to show the monochrome path, but not the intense flood of emotion, in a "It hurts as much as it is worth" kind of way - the joy - that comes from being guided along the track by the scratch of chamise or the stiff fingered corrections of black sage. This early fourth day of Christmas morning, when the full moon was sometimes shadowed by mountain or bush, and before the eastern horizon lightened, I experienced both kinds of synaptic response.

O.K., I was primed by reading Zadie Smith's essay in the New York Review of Books, January 10, 2013, which begins, "It might be useful to distinguish between pleasure and joy...." moments before I started out. I tried. I think I succeeded. As she points out, these two emotions do not live on the same spectrum: the one is not a more extreme version of the other. They belong to different orders of things. There are daily pleasures of living with the chaparral: now, I am noticing goose foot, soap plant, wild cucumber, peonies and blue-eyed grass emerge (their leaf forms stenciled grey in moonlight).

The joys are rarer. This morning I was transported by the close thrum of a startled bird's wing as it took flight (it sounded like a quail). At other times when the frantic rustle of some small mammal is right beneath my feet; or once, in Will Roger's State park, in the dark, in the rain, when I brushed against the flank of deer before it sprang away; or, along a single-track bordered by dense chaparral on one side and and a sharp drop off on the other, when a young bobcat scampered along a bank alongside of me, having few directional choices, (I marveled that this animal was close enough to touch while being vaguely aware that its vision of me was doubtless much sharper than mine of it), Joy has entered my consciousness. It is in this almost haptic connectivity, in a shared world of no-light, that, most often, this magic happens. But a momentary whiff of sage with laurel sumac top-notes can also distill this universal essence (strangely akin to love); again, this seems to occur more often when one's visual faculty is impaired.

By contrast, as Smith points out, children are not a daily pleasure, but often an all-suffusing, heart-aching joy. Years ago, we composed a photograph of young William, not yet two, with a red baseball cap askew, sitting on the black vinyl tile floor by an open refrigerator door from which had tumbled, in our conceit, a can of reddi-whip cream. Cream besmirched his cherubic face and on the floor, apparently by his hand, were squirted the letters J-O-Y. This snap was enclosed in our Christmas card that year. It seemed cute at the time, but in a way not then realized it now seems prescient. In his nearly three decades, joy has hovered, but in the daily grind of parenting and then of fretfully watching an independent life unfold, pleasure is a less frequent presence.

Over a holiday marked by several parties, celebratory meals, the annual orgy of gifting and this year the attendance of our three children and a wife, girlfriend and dog, I have tried to keep the pleasures of the chaparral in my life. Early morning runs are a part of it, but for the third year now we brought in a dead yucca whipplei which reaches up into our living room by about ten feet and its seed head top, mimicking the shape of a Christmas tree, is decorated with clear and silver glass balls which glow from a 50 watt MR-16 down-light in the sloped ceiling above. A mess of christmas lights is entwined in its spiky, spiny base. As a self confessed merriment minimalist (Christmas Sage), that would have done it for me. But I bowed (gracefully) to family pressure and twinned it with a seven foot spruce Christmas tree on the other side of the room - the two dead plants co-exist in a sort of ecumenical borderland, perhaps in the Buddhist state of bardo. In my mind they look well together, the wayward gravitas of the yucca compensating for its restrained decoration while the spruce keeps alive the Dickensian, nineteenth century invention of the modern Christmas while still echoing the truly ancient tree cults of the Egyptians and the Celts (amongst countless others unknown to me).

This ecumenical spirit carried over to the Topanga wedding we attended a few days after Christmas. It was held at a friend's house built about twenty years ago on Henry Ridge Road. At that time, it was largely isolated, surrounded by the craggy tops and vertiginous slopes of the Santa Monica mountains, with the ocean glimpsed through the cleft of Topanga canyon. Further south, the houses above the Getty Villa were the closest visible development. Now, ten and twelve thousand foot neo-classical houses are sprinkled through the chaparral and smaller suburban abominations are scattered along the ridge-tops. Nevertheless, the site retains much of its majesty and the house has settled into its rustic setting. A recent fire claimed the free-standing garage and four steel pipe columns and two badly charred beams have created a vestigial carport.

The service for Lucas and Bane was conducted by Murshida Tasnim Hermila Fernandez, a trained semazen (whirling dervish) in the Mevlevi Sufi tradition. She was, according to her web site, awakened to the inner life of spirit in her late teens and,

"Over the years, her journey of inquiry and discovery led her to study and participate in Hermetics, Alchemy, Vedanta, Kundalini Yoga, Judaism, Tibetan Buddhism, Huichol Shamanism, Mystical Christianity, Hinduism, Islam, Jungian psychology and what has become a lifelong immersion in the sacred literature of the world religions and mystical traditions. All of this exposure to the variety of forms taken on by Holy Wisdom only helped to deepen her committment and appreciation of the universal message of Sufism as brought to The West by Hazrat Inayat Khan".

A century ago, she would have embraced Theosophy, Ojai's founding faith. This day she quoted from Hindu, Judaic, Christian and Islamic sacred texts and did a little wailing and rattle shaking in the syncretic native American tradition, thanking, along the way, the Great Spirit for holding off on the rain during the outdoor ceremony. As your Reporter on the Occult, I was in my element, although somewhat disappointed that there were no manifestations. A clap of thunder, or a beam of sunlight directed at the happy couple was not, I think, too much to ask and the lack thereof was, I hope, reflected in her fee. Also, it was damned cold. The bride, in diaphanous lace gown, her four month baby bump mischievously prominent, was visibly chilled.

Let's put it this way: Tasnim is no Helena P. Blavatsky, upon whose two volume treatise, Isis Unveiled, A Master-Key to the Mysteries of Ancient and Modern, New York, 1877, I have just embarked: but, sanctioned by the great State of California, she got the job done. Helena B was a dab hand at manifesting bunches of roses (according to many, unimpeachable sources) and this occult party trick (the practice of which Balvatsky despised) was echoed at this Topanga wedding by the throwing of rose petals (almost certainly sourced in Chile) held in clenched hands during the long wait for the ceremony to commence and thus bruised and bedraggled by the time they were finally unleashed upon their target. Nice thought, but arguably executed in the wrong dimension.

Bane (pronounced Bahn) is of Lebanese heritage, and her father is a prominent Beirut architect; her mother now lives in Paris. The bride's party was notable for it's sophisticated dress, great shoes and disdain for Topanga mud. I regret that they have now left Los Angeles unaware that Bane was married amidst one of the world's most distinctive ecosystems and that, with a few subtle gestures, this setting could have been fully embraced rather than treated as an impediment to civilization, OK at a distance, but let's grow rosemary, bougainvillea and hybrid sages in the courtyard.

As Pete Seeger wrote, "When will they ever learn?". Here was truly the potential for great joy in the Chaparral.