By Ray Ford

Noozhawk Columnist

“I want you to get MAD! I don’t want you to protest. I don’t want you to riot. I don’t want you to write to your congressman, because I wouldn’t know what to tell you to write. … You’ve gotta get mad! … You’ve got to say, ‘I’m as mad as hell, and I’m not gonna take this anymore!’”Howard Beale, “Network,” 1976

The push up the Cold Spring Trail is getting harder every year. I’m more or less keeping in the tradition of Ann Van Tyne, one of the early founders of the Santa Barbara Chapter of the Sierra Club, who would mark her birthday by climbing to the top of La Cumbre Peak.

I’m almost up to the saddle that separates Montecito Peak from the Santa Ynez Mountain range, still a mile from the crest. My legs are getting wobbly. The sweat’s running into my eyes. I need a break. I’m obviously not as tough as Ann was when she made her final climb up the mountain wall on her 85th birthday.

Sitting with my back against the hillside, I wonder: How many more birthdays do I have left before, like Ann, I’ll need to pack it in?

Need to get out

I’m finding the need to get out more, to get farther out more, to get far enough away — if only for an hour or two — from the COVID-19 world that is wreaking havoc on our community.

Based on the number of cars at the trailheads and the people I’ve seen on the trails, I’m not the only one trying to escape the horror of the virus and the emotional toll that it has taken on us.

Rather than heading to the crest today, I scramble up to the top of Montecito Peak, following a gully filled with loose rock. The view from the top is breathtaking. As my heartbeat quiets down, the sounds begin to emerge: the quiet breeze, the bird chatter, the rustle of the chaparral.

What an absolutely beautiful place the top of this peak is. I’ve promised myself for decades that someday I would spend the night here, perhaps a full moon night, but I’ve yet to make that happen. Perhaps next trip.

It is easy to relax up here. On another day, this might have been just another adventure. From my perch, the world seems endless. When the wind blows and the sky clears, the views are forever. I close my eyes and savor the memories of the years I’ve spent exploring this country and the hidden places I’ve been so lucky to experience.

Niggling little thoughts

But despite the height, the distance, the effort I’ve made to get up here, I can’t seem to escape what I’ve left behind. The niggling little thoughts begin to creep back into my mind. About the meaning of freedom in a COVID-19 world. The personal responsibility we have to ourselves and to others. The limits to personal rights. The responsibilities we have to our fellow Americans.

This virus seems not to be killing us so much as is the decisions we make in dealing with it.

I think of my dad, just fresh out of college in the early 1940s, joining the war effort without a thought to his personal safety. Our greatest generation. Seeing a larger vision of who we are and what defines us as a nation.

I’m thinking of the contrast to this version of the “me” generation that seems determined to do whatever they can to protect their precious rights at the expense of their nation.

I’m thinking of the way they speak of their rights, as if the proud way they pronounce to us that we cannot make them wear a mask somehow marks them as the real patriots.

Every man (and woman) needs a place

I remember a quote from Ed Abbey, a favorite author of mine who introduced me to the beauty of the desert and the wild places they contain: “Every man needs a place where he can go to go crazy in peace.”

For now, the top of this mountain appears to be mine. “Crazy?” I think. “Or just mad as hell?”

How, I wonder, do you define a culture or the individuals within it that would destroy a country to preserve the right not to wear a mask? Or to party whenever they want?

Hidden tensions

Memories of a trip I made many, many years ago down to the Camarillo State Mental Hospital come back to me. It was the late 1960s. Gov. Ronald Reagan had declared war on the hospitals and was determined to strip them of their funding.

I’d met a caseworker who worked at the hospital at a party one weekend. John ended up inviting me to visit the hospital to have a firsthand look at what the impact of closing the hospital would mean to the residents there. I invited fellow Dos Pueblos High teachers Dick Blair and Pete Van Duinwyk to join me.

As we visited different parts of the hospital, the most disturbing part of the hospital was the area that housed the children. Many were victims of drug overdose, some catatonic; others suffered from a variety of mental problems.

On the way, John motioned us over to a large open space area perhaps a hundred yards from the wing housing the kids.

“We bring one of the young teen boys over here most every day,” he says. “This is where he does his therapy.”

I wondered, why so far away and so far out in the open?

“When he first got here, he was almost catatonic, but he’d make these humming sounds. It was something like he was mouthing ‘fu-fu-fu-fu-fu-fu’ over and over so fast that it sounded like he was humming.

“After a few weeks, I realized he was mouthing words but so fast that it sounded like one long string. So I decided to bring him out here and encourage him to shout it out.

“At first he kept sounding out the fu-fu-fu-fu-fu-fu like a mantra, but then one morning, he shouted it out: ‘F…. You F…. You F…. You F…. You F…. You F…. You’ till his voice seemed to give out. Finally he was able to get the rage inside himself out in the open.”

After that, John and the young teen came back every morning at 7.

“Day by day, I could see the tension go away,” he added, “and eventually it dissipated to the point that therapy could begin.”

I’m mad as hell

I’m thinking that I may need some of that therapy and that perhaps a whole lot more of us do as well.

So I stand up on the top of my tiny peak, and I shout it out:

“I’m as mad as hell, and I’m not gonna take this anymore! I’m as mad as hell, and I’m not gonna take this anymore!”

Then I turn about toward the mountains and yell it out again. The sound echoes across the canyons, and then the silence envelops once again.

Heading home

As I make my way down the rocky path, I’m thinking that perhaps we all need to do a little shock therapy. To relieve all that tension. To strengthen our determination.

Let’s get mad. Let’s make sure we do everything we can to make sure the world hears us loudly and clearly.

“I’m as mad as hell, and I’m not gonna take this anymore! I’m as mad as hell, and I’m not gonna take this anymore!”

November can’t come soon enough.

Noozhawk outdoors writer Ray Ford can be reached at