|Pine forests were giving way to live oak, purple sage and sumac as the first people found their way over these mountains. The basalt, quartzite and shale provided raw materials for their tools; and black bear, bluebirds, lizards and coyotes were here to greet them.
Each creature on two legs or four traced a shallow path across the stone and silt; as did the winged creatures and stars across the sky; as did the rain, sun and cold across the days.
Men and women learned the rhythms of this place and eased into them; learned when the walnut and acorn would ripen, and when the mule deer had nursed and could be spared for meat.
They learned to amend the rhythms here in acceptable, measured paces; and how to hasten a harvest, or increase its yield. They learned to pass over these mountains, to pass through this place and its time, in ways which did not disturb its tranquility.
Two hundred years back Spanish priests already called Santa Susana's name while climbing from Mission San Fernando and across these rocks to the Chumash villages in the western valley, or on to Mission San Buenaventura in the north.
If the taxing climb was less tiring on horseback, it could also be more perilous; Indian laborers cut steps in the rock to proffer horses hope of better footing.
The stagecoach struggled here, too; its rear wheels chained to prevent back-sliding or horse-crushing. With passengers debarked and on foot, vaqueros were roped in to drag the coaches uphill, as horses negotiated the uneasy terms of survival.
The comings and goings of man have grown in number and intensity over the past hundred fifty years. Here and to the east, the Southern Pacific brought in Chinese graders and stone masons to attack the hills, arduously boring through the massive rock to create tunnels for its trains.
As the century dawned and automobiles were born, new and wider paths were designed, then amplified, then discarded and replaced. Impatient with the mountains' pace, men now have cut a broad swath through the rock and earth.
There may well pass no moment when man does not pass through here; no moment now when the only two-legged creatures here are still: rather, all is fury of movement and flight.
The gravel, silt and sand that pass for soil have tossed about in the wind for some twenty thousand years; the shale and volcanic rock have lain exposed five hundred times as long; and the great sandstone ramparts and bedrock date back further still: more than fifty million years.
Whether it was the priests, or the settlers, or these mountains themselves who chose the name, they were right.
The sandstone boulders push themselves up from the earth's crust and onto the siltstone surface to watch over the plains like millennial sentries, gazing unfazed at our comings and goings.
Santa Susana, self-possessed, unmoved, disdains the advances of men.
- by J. Michael Walker