Monday, February 27, 2023



    CHAPTER 36

Nearly a year before, with Sarah’s passing, Hank Rolland’s world had gone terribly wrong. Now, for the last two weeks he had stumbled from one place to another, engrossed in what he was calling a pilgrimage....looking for something that was right. For that long he had been consumed by questions he could scarcely put into words, seeking answers he was not sure he would recognize if he ever found them.

From San Francisco to San Jose, from Half Moon Bay to Marin County, he had rambled aimlessly, hoping to find an enabling reality. With long oceanside walks, more Napa Valley wine than he needed, and a series of one-sided dialogues with an always silent Sarah he had prepared himself to receive the truth. Yet, after nearly two weeks on the road his hopeful efforts had produced only renewed frustration.

Sarah’s ‘moving on’ instructions had remained an unsolved mystery until, in the dark quiet of his pine tree Sanctuary, Hank awoke from a brief nap knowing that he had come face to face with what he now assumed to be the elusive truth. 

It had begun with his own ‘change’ advice to Mark off-hand observation, little more than the germ of an idea. Yet, by the time Hank roused himself from his drowsy meditation that ‘change’ seed had taken root in his own receptive mind. It suddenly made sense. Sarah’s “moving on” reminder had been about change. But what kind of change? That answer was yet to be revealed.

The next afternoon, as he hurried up the interstate towards Tanner, Hank was still wondering if that cryptic insight had arrived as part of a random dream. Or had it been Sarah’s subtle way of revealing what she wanted him to know? Perhaps it was both. By then, none of that seemed to matter. With every mile he was more convinced than ever that he had found the way to his future.


From Mendocino to Tanner was something more than five hundred miles, the first part of it over the winding Pacific Coast Highway. As a young man Hank would have driven straight through....a twelve or thirteen hour marathon he could have managed in those days. But times had changed. This time his return would be a two day drive, with an overnight stop in southern Oregon. 

By late Monday afternoon he was home. After a shower, shave, and change of clothes he was prepared to go calling. Though he could have called ahead to alert Grace, and Sarah, that he was in town, he decided against that. He would show up unannounced at Grace’s door step, springing his surprise.

And in truth they were surprised. At least Grace was. For a few seconds she was too startled to say anything. Then finally, gathering her composure she stepped forward to greet him with an impulsive hug, before backing away to look him over from head to toe.

“You look the same,” she said. “It’s hard to see any difference.”

“Hey. I was only gone a couple weeks.”

“For some reason or another I expected to see a new you. I thought that was the idea. Anyway, if you had called ahead I would have put the coffee on. Come on in.” She led them through the living room and across the hall to the less-formal family room.

“Have a seat.” She motioned him to the quilt-patterned sofa. “I’ll get Sarah, so she can join us.”

“Please.” Hank raised his hand to stop her. “Could we make it just the two of us for now? There’ll be time for her to join us later.”

“I just thought.....” Her words trailed off, lost in a puzzled frown. “Am I missing something here?”

“I’m not sure. It seems like we have some things to talk about. Or maybe it’s just me. Either way, it would be easier with just the two of us.”


Grace settled into a dark leather armchair, wondering what came next. While she waited Hank sat on the edge of the sofa, fussing with the crease of his slacks.

Their awkward pause dragged on until finally Grace spoke up. “You said you wanted to talk, but you’re not. Is something wrong?”

“Nothing’s wrong,” he said softly. “I just didn’t expect this to be so scary. I thought it would be easier.”

“’Scary’? What are you scared of? I don’t understand.”

“How could you? I’m not so sure I do either. In any case, I know it’s bound to sound absolutely crazy. I’ll be surprised if you don’t laugh out loud.”

Grace leaned forward, scowling as she demanded, “Will you stop it, all this talking in riddles. Just say what you came to say.”

Seconds later Hank was on his feet, off and pacing, from one end of the room to the other. He did not slow down as he responded. “I left town to figure things out. Remember? But it didn’t exactly turn out that way. In the end, all my looking didn’t accomplish a thing.”

“So you came back empty handed. Is that it? Why would that scare you? You already knew how that felt.”

“That’s not how it was.” He stopped and sat down on the arm of the sofa. “I didn’t come back ‘empty handed.’ But that wasn’t because I found anything. What I brought back was something that found me. I was just setting there and bang, there it was.”

“There you go again, with more of your riddles,” she said. “Can’t you just tell me what it is?”

“Of course I can. Except.....I’m not exactly sure myself what it was. As near as I can tell it was a dream.”

“Was that the dream you told me about the other day?”

“That’s the one.” With eyes closed Hank revisited those pleasant recollections. “It was at the coast,” he said. “Down by Mendocino. I was sitting under a big old pine tree, and........”

“A tree?” Grace interrupted. “Hank Rolland, will you get serious. I want to hear about your dream, not some silly tree.”

“Okay,” he laughed, unwilling to put her off any longer. “Here’s the deal, exactly as I remember it. I’d dozed off for a while, under my tree. The next thing I knew I was awake and my dream was right there in my head, every single detail. I told you that before, at least the part about your dress.”

“Oh yes. My ‘greenish’ dress, you said.”

“Anyway, I can’t remember the last time I woke up remembering a dream like that.”

“Hank.” Grace was sputtering now, wondering what would it take to move him past his maddening introduction. “Will you get on with the dream? What was it about?”

“That’s exactly what I’m doing. The dream I remembered happened at church. It was in the Fellowship Hall, after a Sunday Service. I was just sitting there, chatting with folks, like we do. The next thing I knew there was a whole bunch of ladies standing around my table. They had me surrounded. It was really spooky. Angie was there, and Marybeth, and lots of others I see all the time at church.

“They were all talking at once, like they sometimes do. Some of them were pointing at me, in a not-too-friendly way. But I didn’t hear a thing they were saying. I just sat there as calm as could be, ignoring them all and grinning at the lady sitting next to me. I reached over and patted her hand, and she looked back at me with the biggest smile.”

Hank paused, perhaps wondering how to complete his story. Before he could say a thing Grace was expressing her own uneasiness.

“I’m not sure what you’re saying,” she said. “What does a dream like that mean? Or does it mean anything? After all, it was just a dream?”

“Yeah, it meant something," he nodded. "It meant a lot. You see, about then that dream of mine got even more crazy.” He had reached the point of no return. “The thing is, that lady sitting there with me, the one person who could help me make sense out of all that craziness....was you.

“I remember that part as clear as anything. Except by the time I’d replayed that whole scenario a few more times I wasn’t sure if it had been a dream or not. 

"I was thinking it might have been Sarah making her point. I think she works that way sometimes. But no matter what it was or where it came from, the answer was the same. I woke up knowing that after all my false starts, Sarah was telling me what it would take to make me whole again. About then it felt like a light had come on.”

Grace’s questioning grin had turned to a wary frown. Seconds later her puzzled wondering had become a question. “What does that mean?”

“I think Sarah was telling me I’d been looking in the wrong places. That there was only one person who cared what I was going through. And that person was the one I needed to be talking to.”

He stood and took a few steps across the room toward her. “I’d been asking those questions for so long. When Sarah finally answered it was like she was pointing her finger right at you. She was saying ‘There’s the one.’ That’s how it felt.”

“You’d better be careful, Mr. Rolland.” By then Grace was on her feet, edging closer to him. “Don’t you be talking just to make noise.”

For the very first time Hank reached for her hand, first one, then other. “Look,” he said. “I realize this is kind of sudden, and probably kind of scary for you too. 

"It’s called ‘change.’ That was something else I learned about under my tree. And ‘change’ can be a frightening thing. It takes us to new places, where we don’t know what’s coming next. In fact, that’s what makes it ‘change.’

“Anyway, it’s a long drive from Mendocino to Tanner and I spent most of that time thinking about change....for  me and for us. you and I. I wasn’t sure what it would look like. I still don’t know, or if I can even make it happen. I suppose the bigger question is whether you want it to happen....whether it’s right for you. That’s what I hope you’ll be able to answer in time.”

Leaning closer, Gladys’ anxious smile seemed to match his. “So now I’m the one with questions to answer," she replied. "Is that it? Those questions of yours are something for me to be thinking about?”

“Yeah, I guess that’s it. But I don’t want to hurry you. I want us to take our time. Now that it finally feels like I’m on the right track I want to be sure we get it right.”

“We have all the time in the world, don’t we?”

“Yes we do. So why don’t we start with a nice uptown dinner. Then I need to make a run to Portland.”

“Is that something else that came up in California?”

“I suppose it is, in a round about way,” Hank said. “I need to talk to the kids, especially Kelly. She was there when her mother told me to ‘move on.’ I want her, and Eric too, to know that I’m ready to do that.”

Grace had no reply. In fact, for the next minute she seemed to have checked out. Though Hank was perhaps slow to pick up on her sudden reluctance, in a matter of seconds he understood. 

“I made it sound like it’s a done deal, didn’t I?,” he asked. “Like you’d already agreed to everything I said. That you’re as excited about it as I am. I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to do that. I don’t want to take anything for granted.

“But even if you’re not sure that it works for you, I want you to know I won’t be giving up on the idea. I can be pretty tenacious. You need to know that. And that’s what I’ll be telling Kelly and Eric.”

Leaning forward Hank kissed her forehead, then stepped back to ask, “Could I interest you in dinner?”

Saturday, February 25, 2023


   Where do we find the Peace we seek?  

It can be unsettling, the way our recollections of long-ago events, seemingly insignificant  at the time, can make their way back to the front of our mind, years after the fact.

For instance....what was it that prompted the “out-of-body” experience I remember so vividly? That was seven years ago….yet the memories remain as clear and real as the day they were made.


My sleep was restless….dozing in fits and starts. The snug restraining straps, pulled tight across my stomach, left me unable to shift to a more comfortable position. It would be days before “comfortable” was a part of the equation.

My thin hospital gown, wet with feverish perspiration, was sticky and limiting. For an instant I was vaguely aware of the night nurse standing beside the bed, scanning the narrow printout from the dimly-lit monitor. 

As she moved closer her touch on my shoulder had me jerking away, a movement that triggered the protesting pain of a newly reset broken arm, a broken clavicle, a few broken ribs, and a collapsed lung….reminders of my not-so-gentle tumble from a falling ladder.

Actually, it hurt to be awake. That much I understood. Yet before I could cast those disjointed sensations into a meaningful whole, my thoughts had retreated to the inviting comfort of another, more welcoming reality. I reached for the morphine pump clipped to my gown.....pressed the button once, then again. 

For a few seconds I felt myself stranded in the real world….between sleep and medication. Then finally a fresh wave of narcotic relief wrapped me in a blanket of well-being, and I settled back against the raised bed, once again beyond the reach of pain…. into a state I can best describe as "Peace.".

Of course I had read fanciful stories of ghostly, disconnected souls floating effortlessly above their own body, watching as the doctors worked to bring them back. Invariably those remembered accounts spoke of a long tunnel that led toward a bright, white light. 

Though I don’t recall wondering what might lay beyond the tunnel, most of those stories hinted at some matter of unearthly delight. Yet, try as I might, I would never have expected to find something as welcoming as La Paz….Spanish for “The Peace.” 

That’s right. I had made my escape from the stifling constraints of the ICU. I had been transported through a morphine-induced haze to the inviting afternoon warmth of Baja California. 

There, in welcoming, small-town La Paz, I was sitting alone at a sidewalk table outside the not-so-busy Los Arcos Cantina when the smiling, dark-skinned waitress returned with my second, or perhaps it was the third, cool Cervaza Corona. Across the wide Malecon, where locals strolled along the waterfront, the soft waves of the inner bay made lapping sounds on the shoreline.

Without knowing how I got there, I sensed myself in the midst of that 1960’s scene, a time when The Baja Road….the primitive highway that led to La Paz….had exerted a hard-to-explain hold on me. 

The original Baja Road was eight hundred miles of bad road…...washboard sand, jagged boulders, and mile after mile of cactus….the absolute epitome of backroad travel. At that time, in my young mind, La Paz was the oasis at the southern end of the road….a pleasant respite from the dusty highway.

That was a time before the glory years of Baja tourism….a time when Cabo San Lucas was still a scruffy fishing village, and Todos Santos was populated by peasant farmers. In my Oregon mind the entire southern end of the Baja peninsula had an "old worldly" feel. 

Truth to tell that was also a time when I was on more or less intimate terms with the infamous Baja Road, having ridden the length of it in 1962 on a Honda 50 trail bike, and driven it again in 1967 with Roma and our sons, Adam and Marc, in a four-wheel drive Ford pickup. 

By then I had been captured by the wild, unspoiled spirit of that time and place. Indeed, there was a time when I was so attached to the romance of Baja that it felt as though it was calling me home…. permanently.

The initial attraction, the memories that kept drawing me back to that end-of-the-world locale, were products of the honeymoon week Roma and I spent at Los Cocos, La Paz' swankiest resort in those not-so-swanky days. 

Though we had no way of knowing it at the time, we were at the forefront of what would become a full-fledged tourist invasion ….which would in time overwhelm, and then eradicate the slow-paced, old-world charm that made pre-invasion La Paz so appealing.

Looking back I can still sense those first timid steps in my search for an authentic home….a place where Roma and I could create the life and the family we wanted. We would revisit the Baja and La Paz several times in the years that followed…. with our own family and once with my parents.

Each return seemed to reinforce the unspoken knowing that I had found what was meant to be my place in the world. 

How serious was my enthusiasm? During our last visit my Dad and I spent several days researching available properties in and around La Paz, looking for land where we could build and operate a modest resort hotel.

By then the notion of La Paz as home had taken hold. In hindsight I can see that it was an inherited tendency….one that father and son were pursuing together, each of us feeding the other’s dreams. 

And all the while, as Dad and I chased our hopeful, if impractical vision, Roma and my mother stood quietly aside, hoping we would not commit to something that could not be undone. They too had dreams….none of which included La Paz.

I suppose it is fair to say that my La Paz infatuation died a natural death. When Adam and Marc started school, and Amy, then Terry joined our ranks winter travel, the best time of the year to visit that arid southland, became harder to accommodate.

In time the original sand and rock road, where we once averaged nine miles an hour over five days of travel, was paved….making way for recreational vehicles and spendy tourist stops. By then the primitive allure of the Baja outback was fading.

The things we remembered most of all were growing more distant….picking wildflowers after a rare spring rain, looking for sea shells along a deserted Pacific beach, being followed around the town plaza in San Ignacio as young Mexican girls crept up behind our tow-headed sons, Adam and Marc, reaching out to touch the first blonde hair they had ever seen…. wondering if it was real.

They were incredibly seductive, those fifty year-old recollections…..the ones that once had me believing that Baja could be our home….the ones that must have drawn me through the long operating-room tunnel into the brilliant white light of Baja sunshine, complete with a cold cervaza waiting for me in sunny La Paz. 

I must have been replaying my acceptance of that reality when the cold stethoscope the nurse pressed against my chest jolted me awake. 

Though at that moment I had no recollection of a long tunnel or bright lights in the course of my morphine-induced travels, I can clearly recall my awareness of the unfamiliar cast on my arm, and still-fresh thoughts of peaceful La Paz in the front of my mind….as though I was waking from a well-dreamed dream. 

That must have been a "long-tunnel" experience. Right? What else could have made it so real?


Friday, February 24, 2023



It had been a long day....a scenic drive over the Cascades, through the pine forests of Central Oregon and the barren high desert of the state’s southeast corner. As the miles flew by there were times when Gladys felt almost hypnotized by the sparse, unpopulated landscape. The sighting of an occasional deer or slinking coyote helped break the monotony, but could never quite explain Jimmy’s excitement at returning to what he called “The Outback.”

By four o’clock they had made their way up the rocky switch-back road leading to the high plateau and its promised hot springs. There, twenty miles from the nearest pavement, they pulled into the State maintained High Mountain Springs Campground. It was a rudimentary affair....a dozen campsites, served only by clean restrooms, cold running water, and concrete fire pits.

Jimmy chose a space near the road, perhaps a city block from the main hot springs enclosure. They were not far from the restrooms, yet removed from their only neighbor....a white travel trailer parked on the far side of the campground.

After a few minutes spent leveling the camper and turning on one of the propane tanks they were ready to settle in. For the next two days their modest home would operate on a minimal level of battery power, freshly charged by the long drive, along with heating and cooking capabilities provided by the on-board propane tanks.

Dusk was engulfing the campground by the time Jimmy began preparing their evening meal. His culinary offering of tomato soup, Rice-a-Roni, and toast was a quick and warming stove-top meal. Though Gladys made it known she was willing to help, the meager eighteen-inch wide floor space would not accommodate both of them. There was not room in their wilderness home for a team approach to meal preparation, so she was left sitting at the side-wall dining table.

After dinner, on their second cup of coffee, they were side by side on the narrow bench seat when Gladys observed, “This is absolutely the smallest space I’ve ever lived in. Why would anyone settle for this? It makes no sense.”

Having watched her hesitant adaptation to their constricted living conditions, Jimmy was hardly surprised by her dour critique. Yet, though she was struggling to accept the camper as home, at least she seemed willing to try.

“We do it because it lets us come to places like this,” he answered. “You can see how beautiful it is. It’s rugged and out of the way. Except for that trailer down the road there’s no one else around. We’re in the middle of the prettiest country I know, and just a two minute walk from the neatest hot springs you’ve ever seen. Unless you want to live in a tent and sleep on the ground, it takes a camper or a trailer to make all this possible. We had to bring our home with us.”

Grace had turned to look out the side window. Beyond the campground clearing tall pines stood silhouetted against the darkening sky. “It is nice,” she nodded. “In an outdoorsy sort of way. It’s just so different. I suppose it takes some getting used to.”

“I’m hoping you’ll be able to do that. There are so many great places to see, places like this that don’t come with hotels and restaurants. They don’t have the kind of accommodations you and Lester were used to. That means bringing along our own hotel. I hope you’ll think that’s okay, because I’d like to see those places with you.”

Resting her hand on his knee, as hard as Gladys tried her brave little smile could not hide her apprehension. 

“You want the truth, don’t you?” she asked. Jimmy was nodding his ascent. “I think I can learn to deal with living in a camper. But right now it’s the walk through the woods, in the dark, to the restroom that has me concerned. I don’t know what might be out there. I’m not sure I want to know.”

Pushing his plastic dish to the side, Jimmy scooted closer to pull her into an embrace and a very nice after-dinner kiss. “Don’t you fret about that,” he said. “We have a big ole flashlight, and we’ll take that walk together whenever you want. For now I need to clean things up a bit, so we can pay our first visit to the hot springs.”

Minutes later, flashlight in hand, after a side trip to the restrooms, Jimmy and Gladys were walking hand in hand to the main hot springs. Outfitted in bathing suits, old sneakers, and heavy bathrobes to ward off the evening cold, they carried their bath towels to the rustically improved main springs.

By the light of Jimmy’s flashlight they made their way through the opening in the plywood fence that encircled the concrete-walled pool. Inside, clouds of steam rolled off the watery ten-by-twenty-foot surface. The flashlight’s sharp beam penetrated no more than a few inches into the deep, murky water, so there was no seeing the bottom of the pool or the large boulders he had spoke of....the ones they would have to stand on. Even in the dark of night it was an unappealing sight.

“I wanted you to see this first. We’ll check it out in the morning, in the daylight. Like I said before, we have to stand on big rocks. If you fall off your rock it’s deep, over your head. So it works best during the day, when you can see the rocks. But day or night, I guarantee you’ll like the second pool better.”

Gladys was not inclined to argue the point. If first impressions mattered at all, she was already out of a hot-springs mood. “Seems like anything would be better that this. It’s creepy.”

“I promise that you’ll like the other one.”

For the next three or four minutes, trudging single file down a narrow dusty path, she followed Jimmy and his flashlight beam through the deep sagebrush and cold night air toward a second, smaller plume of steam that seemed to rise from the surrounding scrub grass.

“You’ll see,” he said over his shoulder. “This is a lot better. I just hope the folks from the trailer don’t show up. It’s just right for two people. With any more it gets kind of crowded.”

Moments later they were standing in the sandy clearing that surrounded the nearly circular pond. Jimmy aimed his light beam through the wispy steam to the far side of the pool. There, a foot or two from the edge, the tiny spring was marked by a steady stream of thermal bubbles gurgling to the surface, sending tiny ripples across the water. To their right, on the downhill side of the pool, a narrow runoff channel funneled the overflow off into the thirsty desert sand.

“Put your robe and towel over there on the grass,” Jimmy said. “Then just walk right in. The bottom is sandy. There’s not a rock anywhere. It’s only three foot or so at the deepest, so find a place on the side that gets your shoulders under water. That’s all there is to it.”

By then Jimmy’s robe had been set aside. Still holding the flashlight he reached for her hand. “Come on,” he urged. “It’s freezing out here. We have to get in the water.”

Still Gladys hesitated. “Are you sure?” she asked, unable to mask her apprehension.

“I’m sure. But you have to hurry, before we turn into icicles.”

Slipping the robe off her shoulders, she laid it on top of his. Standing there, shivering in her thoroughly modest one-piece bathing suit she eyed the dark pool once more. A second later Jimmy was pulling her into the warm wetness.

“It’ll feel hot at first,” he cautioned. “Just sit down and in a few seconds it’ll feel just right.”

From shivering cold, to shocking hot, to comfortably warm. Just as he had suggested, it took only seconds. When at last she allowed herself to relax, Gladys was instantly aware of the therapeutic warmth he had promised. Sitting comfortably on the sandy bottom, she let the water lap over her shoulders, washing away the icy cold .

“This is so nice,” she gushed. The flashlight was off and their eyes were growing accustomed to the darkness. Above, a bright full moon was rising over the tree line, casting a subtle, calming light over their steaming pool. “I’m not sure you could have described how good this is. You have to feel it, don’t you?”

“You’re right. You have to sit here and soak it up to know how great it feels.” His soft laugh had her wondering, until he explained. “Then, after fifteen or twenty minutes, when we start looking like prunes, we’ll get another shock. We’ll get out of the warm water into the freezing cold, dry off, and hurry back to the camper. By the time we get there we’ll be so cold we’ll be wondering if sitting here in the springs was worth it.”

Twenty minutes later, true to Jimmy’s graphic description, the two of them shivered their way back to the camper. Once there, in the warmth of the tiny propane furnace, Gladys retreated to the twenty-four inch high sleeping space. Pulling the curtain closed behind her, she managed the gymnastic feat of changing clothes while laying on her back. Below, in the more spacious living area, Jimmy changed into a dry outfit.

By the time Gladys emerged to stretch her legs and adjust her ill-fitting wardrobe, Jimmy had water heating on the stove for a welcome cup of hot chocolate. Over their warming drinks they recounted her first hot springs outing and discussed the virtues of camper living. Then, warmed and a bit drowsy, they settled back as best they could on the narrow bench seat to enjoy the books he had insisted they bring.

Was it the weariness of a long day’s drive, the invigorating excitement of their hot springs visit, or the close and cozy ambiance of their camper accommodations? Whatever the reason, by the time they finished a second cup of hot chocolate yawns were replacing conversation. By nine o’clock, amid awkward wisecracks and embarrassed giggles the pair had adjourned to their ‘upstairs’ sleeping space, each in a separate sleeping bag.

There, Gladys replayed her introductions to Jimmy’s outdoor world. “It’s been quite a day,” she said. “It makes me realize how inexperienced I am at being an adventurer.”

“Hey, you’re doing great. How many prim and proper grandmothers would traipse through the freezing dark to sit in a pool of hot water?” He scooted his sleeping bag closer to hers. “Just wait until tomorrow. When it warms up we’ll take a nice long walk. If we’re lucky we’ll see some antelope, maybe a deer or two. And you’ll see the springs in the light of day. There’ll be lots more ‘first time’ things, more adventures.”

“I hope I’m up to it.”

“You’ll do just fine. I’m just hoping you’ll think that it’s fun.”

Gladys lay there in the dark, wondering if she could possibly be the person he wanted her to be. So much of what he called “fun” was unexpectedly foreign. Who could imagine that at her age she would be learning so much that was new. Nothing beyond Jimmy Brooder’s undisguised caring had prepared her for that.

A second later her thoughts were interrupted by Jimmy’s unexpected laughter. “What’s so funny?” she asked.

“We were talking about your ‘first time things.’ I think I can relate to that. I don’t believe I’ve ever spooned in separate sleeping bags. It’s not the same. But I’m not complaining.”


     Brilliant sunlight bathed the surrounding pines, sending shafts of early morning light through the camper’s east-facing window. In the over-the-cab sleeping space Jimmy, returning from a chilly trip to the restroom, tried his best to slip back into his sleeping bag without waking Gladys. Since she was already awake, his efforts were bound to fail.

“Do you always get up so early?” she asked, rolling onto her side to face him. 

“Only when I have to.” Scooting his sleeping bag closer he pulled her head onto his chest. “How did you sleep? Did our spacious accommodations cramp your style?”

Their cozy and very pleasant arrangement called for restraint. Gladys Horner understood that much. It would be easy to get carried away and perhaps in the process send him the wrong message. Better to follow Jimmy’s low-key lead and see where that would take them.

“It was just fine,” she replied. “Except for the couple times I raised up and bumped my head. Actually, I expected to be cold, but it’s really quite warm”

“It’s fine in here, but freezing outside. It’ll be perfect for an after-breakfast dip in the big pool. By the time we’re ready to go hiking it should have warmed up.”

Eggs, bacon, and freeze-dried ‘instant hash browns.’ Add coffee and Jimmy had created a filling breakfast. He was setting their meal on the tiny table when Gladys returned from her frigid trek to the restroom. Warming her hands over the still-hot stove top element she offered her own critique of high mountain mornings. 

“It’s so cold and clear. It must be down to zero. The big springs are steaming more than ever. I was expecting to see frost everywhere, but there’s hardly any at all.”

“That’s because it’s so dry up here. Except for the springs there’s not much moisture to freeze.” He motioned for her to take a seat. “We’ll have some breakfast, then check out the springs for ourselves. That will warm you up.”

And so it did. Twenty minutes in the fenced main pool was enough to overcome the chilly morning. It also provided an opportunity to meet the young couple whose trailer was parked across the campground. Like Gladys, it was their first trip to High Mountain Springs. 

“I’m pretty sure it will be our last,” the young man grumbled. He was half squatting on a submerged boulder, letting the warm water wash over his shoulders. “The guy who told us about it never said anything about the creepy green stuff growing on the walls. And I don’t want to know about that crud on the bottom. I hate to think what you’d be into if you fell off your rock.”

Glancing over at Jimmy, Gladys was tempted to tell the disenchanted youngsters about the smaller and definitely more appealing pool just a short walk away. Jimmy’s wink seemed to suggest she keep that as their secret. Later, as they walked through the morning chill back to the camper, she wondered out loud why he had not shared what he knew of the other pool.

“I suppose I was being selfish, wasn’t I?” Jimmy said. Then, after a few seconds, “The thing is, there’s just not room for more than two people. I’d rather keep it for us.”

“But why?” she asked. “If we’re only going to be there twenty or thirty minutes, a couple times a day, why not let them enjoy it too? There’s no need for everyone to be there at once.”

Half an hour later they had changed clothes and Jimmy had assembled a backpack lunch to take on their hike. They would be traveling light. A couple sandwiches, a handful of energy bars, and a pair of water bottles would see them through the three or four mile loop he had in mind. Pausing to lock the camper door, he saw their neighbors coming up the path from the springs.

“You giving up so soon?” he asked.

“Yeah,” the young man answered. “Turns out we must not be hot springs people. It’s just too darn scuzzy for us.” His lady friend produced a silent grimace to match his “scuzzy” description. “Anyway, I think we’ll be moving on.”

A second later Gladys had hold of Jimmy’s hand. Without a word her gentle squeeze was sending her message. Just as surprising, he seemed to understand.

“Hold on.” Pulling Gladys with him he stepped toward the young couple. “You really shouldn’t give up without seeing the best part.”

The youngsters exchanged puzzled glances as the woman asked, “What do you mean?”

It took only seconds for Jimmy to share his secret. Pointing to the smaller, scarcely noticeable steam plume beyond the main springs he suggested, “You really should check it out. You’ll like it, I promise. We won’t be back there until later this afternoon. You’ll have it all to yourselves. While you soak in the pool, we’ll be enjoying our hike.”

Wednesday, February 22, 2023


        CHAPTER 34

It was late morning. Mark Halvern had just started back to the parking area and Hank was again alone in the rustic comfort of his headland Sanctuary, sitting on a soft cushion of pine needles, with the sturdy Alpha tree serving as a backrest. The crashing surf, far below, was so constant he scarcely heard it as he watched his young visitor vanish around a bend in the headlands trail.

He had arrived that morning seeking seclusion, a peace and quiet he hoped would foster his communion with Sarah....and hopefully lead to the insights she had to offer. Now, returning again to his solitary thoughts he sensed a new understanding, triggered not by her unspoken prompting, but his own brief encounter with young Mr. Halvern.

It was about changing, he reminded himself. About recognizing that what had worked so well for so long, was perhaps no longer appropriate. Why had he not understood that before?  It had been easy enough to point out that reality to Mark, to help the young man understand that the ‘lines in the sand’ he spoke of were pointing directly at him, underscoring his need for change. Having spelled out that truth to his visitor, Hank was unexpectedly aware that it also applied to him. 

He too had been guilty of drawing lines that obscured, rather than revealed, the need for change ....hemming him in, and sometimes turning him away from the most productive path. 

With that realization came a surprising epiphany. Sarah had known that all along. With her last breath she had spoke of his need to “move on,” to change. How many times, in the quiet of his computer room, had he struggled to make sense of her imprecise instructions, when in fact she had already provided her answer?

It was an hour after Mark Halvern’s departure when Hank finally left his cliff-top shelter, starting down the trail toward the parking area. To the west the fog had retreated, revealing an approaching line of dark and threatening storm clouds. He was half way to the car when Sarah recaptured his attention, stirring new questions about her role in his escape to the Mendocino headlands.

Had she, from her temporary home with Grace Carson, played some role in nudging a confused young husband and father into Hank’s presence? Had she used Mark’s turmoil to illuminate her husband’s darkened path? Whatever the cause of it, whether or not it was Sarah’s doing, one thing was more certain than ever. There was change in the air.

He walked on, caught up in that seductive notion, aware of liberating possibilities for removing the encrusted chains of the status quo. In spite of Sarah’s urging he had misread the need for a new course. For reasons he had always assumed were her’s, he had drawn his own line-in-the-sand and in the process had perhaps cut himself off from the outcome she had wished for him.

Back in the dry warmth of the car Hank allowed his muddled thoughts to settle, before surrendering to a cat nap. Predictably, he dozed off with visions of change on his mind. 

Forty-five minutes later, in the half light of a dark-clouded sky, he woke to find that those thoughts of change had taken on a personality....the face of someone who might accept his notion of change. Rubbing the sleep from his eyes he sensed that like young Mark Halvern, he too had a phone call to make.


Back on the graveled Headlands Road, Hank pulled off to the side just before he reached the Coastal Highway. If a phone call was in order, and by then he had convinced himself that it was, he ought to do that while he was still within range of the Mendocino microwave towers. Once in the deep Havenport canyon, where the campground was nestled beside the river, he would certainly be in one of those ‘no signal’ black holes.

For five or ten minutes he debated if it was the right time to be making that call. He remembered his young visitor’s stumbling admission that a commitment to change would have to begin with an explanation and an apology. 

He too would have to do that, though he had yet to address what needed saying or how to say it. When he paused to consider those practical matters he set them aside in favor of a more elemental understanding. He needed to talk to her. What he had to say was secondary.

“It’s only Saturday.” Hank must have heard the surprise and relief in Grace Carson’s voice. “You just called a couple nights ago.”

“I didn’t realize I was limited to one call a week. Is that one of the rules?”

“Of course not. But why so soon?”

Switching the cell phone to his other ear, Hank went searching for words to explain what he was not sure he understood. He owed her the truth. But what was that? “Well, it felt like it was time to check in," he continued. "I’ve been thinking a lot the last couple days. It feels like I’m getting closer.”

“Closer to what?”

“I’m not sure. Hopefully I’ll have a better idea by the time I get home.”

“Where are you now?”

“Northern California. Not far from Mendocino.”

“So what have you been up to?”

“I told you. I’ve been ‘up to’ a lot of thinking. And right now I’m getting ready for a crab feed.”

“That sounds like fun. I guess life on the road agrees with you. Eh?”

“It must. It’s taken a while, but I think I’ve finally figured out what comes next....after the crab feed, that is”

“What could possibly top a crab feed?”

Hank paused, wondering for a moment if he could say the words out loud. Then he did. “There’s only one thing I know of. That’s going home.”

Going home,” Grace repeated his unexpected declaration to herself, wondering if she had heard him correctly? “I thought the idea was to be gone until you found those ‘answers’ you went looking for," she explained. "You said you'd be gone ‘However long that takes." Are you telling me you’ve got it all figured out?”

Hank was laughing at her exaggerated notion of “having it all figured out,” knowing he was not quite ready to go that far. Still, he had a point to make, something he wanted to be sure she heard.

“I think I’ve been gone long enough,” he said. “I’d like to see you and Sarah again. Maybe explore some new ideas with the two of you.”

Looking up, he noticed large drops of rain bouncing off his windshield, the precursor of a new squall line approaching from the sea. Rolling up the driver’s side window, he debated whether to explain in more detail the reason for his call. A second later he had decided to settle for an abridged, short-hand version.

“I dozed off for a while this afternoon,” he began. “And had a very intriguing dream. I never remember dreams. Occasionally I’ll remember that I was dreaming, but have no idea what it was about. But this time, this afternoon, I woke up and remembered every single detail, right down to the color of your dress. For some reason it felt like I was supposed to listen to what it was telling me.”

The color of your dress.” Whatever that meant it was enough to capture Grace’s attention, especially the puzzling notion that she was part of his dream. She wanted to hear more.

“What color was it?”

“What color was what?”

“My your dream.”

“It was kind of greenish.”


What was he driving at? He had called sooner than expected, talking about a dream that included her. Obviously, something had changed since their last visit. It felt like he was reading from a different page.

“And what was your dream about? That’s not a big secret is it?”

“No. It’s not a secret. In fact I’ll be telling you all about it in a few days, when I get home.”

“That soon? Why the big hurry?”

“Once I’ve had my crab feed, there’ll be no reason to be dragging my feet.”

Hank was winding down, apparently ready to end his mysterious revelations. Before she let him go Grace was ready with a last question of her own.

“Shall I tell the folks at church that you called? I know some of them are wondering where you’ve gone, what you’re up to. They’d probably like to know you’re okay.”

“I’ll tell you what," he answered. "Tell Jimmy that I’ll catch up with him in a few days. Beyond that, there’s no one else who needs to know.”

“Okay. I’ll tell him.” Grace was smiling to herself, ready to offer her own not-so-subtle hint. “And I’ll tell Sarah that you’re coming. I’m sure she’d like to know. I’ll see you soon.”

      A moment later the line was dead. The call had ended, and Hank sat replaying her parting words, especially “I’ll tell Sarah too.” 

     What did she mean by that? Minutes later thoughts of a Havenport Crab Feed had won out. Pulling back onto the Headlands Road he started toward the highway. 

Monday, February 20, 2023




                               CHAPTER 33

Their Saturday together had ended at a south-end restaurant. The meal itself earned high marks, but perhaps it was the feel-good afternoon....spent watching a feel-good movie in Gladys’ feel-good company, that had emboldened Jimmy Brooder. By the time he finished his dessert he had talked himself into what was surely his most daring leap of faith so far.

“Do you recall the other day?,” he asked, pushing his plate aside. “After our lunch with David. I told you that I had a special excursion in mind for us. Remember that? It would be something I’m sure you’ve never done before.... something I hope you’d be willing to be part of.”

“I remember wondering at the time what you could be talking about," Gladys replied. "But I wasn’t sure if I should be asking my questions in front of David.”

“Were you afraid I might shock him? Was that it?”

She nodded her timid agreement. “You must admit,” she said. “Some of your ideas are rather unorthodox. What do they call it these days, outside the box’?”

“Are you saying I can be a little off the wall? Is that how a night with Frankie Avalon struck you?”

Gladys knew Jimmy was steering their conversation somewhere. His pointed reference to a “special excursion” was enough to confirm that much. Still, there was no need to be impatient. It might take a while to hear his story, given the delight he took in stringing her along with his silly questions and teasing hints. But she was willing to let him explain at his own pace.

They walked from the restaurant to his car. There, leaning casually against the passenger-side fender, he asked, “Have you ever been to a hot springs? You know, where you sit there in a pool while warm water bubbles up all around you.”

“David has a hot tub. I was in that once.”

“That’s kind of a copy-cat thing," Jimmy answered. "Similar, but not the same.” 

It was not an easy thing, creating effective word pictures when he was not sure Gladys could even relate to the images he wanted to paint. Still, he had to try. 

“I’m talking about the real deal....out in the mountains, miles from anywhere, sitting out in the sagebrush, on the sandy bottom of a thermal pool. That’s a lot different than being wrapped up in some plastic tub with air jets.

“Actually, the place I’m thinking of has two pools,” he continued. “One has a concrete deck around it, and wooden walls that make it kind of private. But it’s deep. You have to stand on big rocks out in the pool. 

“The other one, the best one, is just a shallow little thing, maybe six or seven feet across. You sit on the sandy bottom and let the water come up over your shoulders. You can close your eyes and just soak, chase away all the stress and garbage the world has thrown at you. I’m guessing you’ve never had a chance to do that. Right?”

Jimmy was in his sales mode. She had heard his energetic pitch before....the excited talk of playing Black Jack or seeing a Frankie Avalon concert. But a hot springs? ‘Soaking in hot water.’ She could do that in a bath tub. What was the appeal? 

“So you just sit there?” she asked. “And get warm. And that’s it? That’s all there is?”

Opening the car door, Jimmy motioned her inside. By the time he slipped in behind the steering wheel he realized he must expand on his word picture,  make it more descriptive.

“No, that’s not ‘it.’ There’s lots more. In the first place, you’re out in the mountains. You’ll have warm days and cold nights, maybe freezing. You’re off by yourself. If you see more than a couple people all day, that’s a crowd. You’ll be sitting there in a thermal pool, warm as toast even when the air is frigid. There’s a forest behind you, and out front a sagebrush desert that stretches for as far as you can see. One time we watched a herd of antelope from right there in the pool.

“But the best time of all is when it’s snowing. You’re snuggled down in the water, like a hot bath that never gets cold, while snow is falling on your head.”

Still in the restaurant parking lot, Gladys sat shaking her head in time with Jimmy’s upbeat recital. “This isn’t something you do in your backyard, is it?," she asked. "It’s sounds like some kind of backwoods adventure.”

Whether or not she meant that as a compliment, Jimmy was willing to accept her judgment as exactly that. “Some people might call it an ‘adventure,’ he replied. "I like to think of it as a different kind of fun.”

“Here we go again, back to that ‘fun’ thing of yours.” She had unbuckled her seat belt and turned to face him. “Do I look like someone who’s ready for something that 'different?’ I’m seventy-some years old, for heavens sake. Why would I wander out into the mountains, just to sit in a pool of hot water? How many grandmothers do that?”

Truth to tell, Jimmy Brooder had a theory about that, one that applied to men and women their age, and explained to his satisfaction why they were so prone to ‘getting old.’ Though Gladys had heard snippets of his down-home wisdom before, he was prepared to offer a more thorough explanation.

“Why should you do something that crazy?,” he asked. Reaching across the console he lifted her drooping chin with his finger. “That’s what you’re asking, isn’t it? Well, here’s why I think we should.

“Because we’re alive, and we can. Like always we have a choice between living in the same old cage or spreading our wings and trying something new, something different. I’m hoping you’re the kind who wants out of that cage, at least for a little while.”

Out of that cage,” Gladys repeated to herself. It was not the first time her enthusiastic friend had proposed the road less traveled. Yet none of his previous side trips had promised the seemingly extreme experience he was describing. Could she possibly be the travel companion he expected? 

While she wondered, Jimmy was preparing to close the sale, and hoping that Gladys was buying. “Look,” he said. “I want this to be something you’ll be glad you did. More than that, I want you to be glad that you did it with me. I’d really like us to expand our horizons while we can. 

"There will probably come a time when we can’t do that. But I’m hoping we’re not there yet. Most of all I want you to know you can trust me, that you’ll be as safe as can be.”

“And ‘expanding our horizons’ is good?” Gladys asked, sounding something less than convinced. “Why is that?”

What was it, he asked himself, that made the obvious so hard for her to grasp? His word pictures had been meant to excite her interest. Instead they seemed only to raise new questions. It appeared that his efforts to cultivate an adventuresome kinship were only setting her on edge.

“I guess I’m being selfish about this,” Jimmy nodded. “I’ll admit, doing things like that helps me feel alive. I guess it’s my way to fight getting older. Whatever the reason, I was hoping I could do that with you. But maybe that’s one of those places we can’t go together.”

Dusk was closing in on their parking lot rendezvous. Light was fading, but not enough to hide her wondering grin. “Please, Jimmy. Don’t give up on us yet. I do want us to go places together. I guess I even want to expand my horizons. Though I must admit, I never thought that might include a hot springs, like the one you’re describing. But I do trust you. And I’m sure it will be a good time.”

It felt a bit like whiplash, hearing Gladys’ sudden change of direction. Was she saying “yes?” A second later, giving thanks for her unexpected capitulation, he was suddenly switching gears.... from pleading descriptions of a hot springs outing to explaining the hard reality of the impulsive adventure he was proposing. Just seconds after she seemed to have agreed to join him, he was about to put her avowed trust in the maverick Jimmy Brooder to the test.

“First of all, thank you for having that much faith in me.” He squeezed her hand, took a deep breath, and looked her in the eye. “But before you give me your final okay, I owe you the whole truth about this adventure of ours.

“It will be a great time. I’m sure of that. If we could leave Monday morning that would be perfect. That would give us two nights of full moon. That’s the best time of all. The pools will be steaming, making their own fog. And the sky will be full of stars that look like they’re so close you can touch them.”

Had she picked up on his ‘two nights’ reference? “We’ll be down south,” he continued. “Almost to the Nevada border. It’s something more than five thousand feet elevation. We’ll be too early for snow, but it will be cold, even freezing. We’ll be in an improved campground, with good rest rooms and running water. But our home will be a camper....a little house that sits on my pickup.”

Jimmy slowed, looking for signs of her questions, or more likely, her objections. With no change of expression Gladys sat waiting for him to carry on. “It’s kind of cramped, but it’ll be warm and cozy, with everything we need.”

Though she had still not raised an eyebrow, he knew there was one last obstacle to overcome. Would she be so calm and quiet after that? “Here’s the deal,” he explained. “There’s just one bed, over the pickup cab, in the front of the camper. 

"We’d be in separate sleeping bags, but on the same bed. I’ve tried to think of a better arrangement, like me sleeping in the cab. But it will be too cold for that. The camper will be heated, but not the cab.”

Finally Gladys was ready with her questions, which had nothing to do with shared beds or separate sleeping bags. “We’ll be sitting in the hot pools, or in the camper, and that’s all. For two days?”

Her account of that sparse itinerary quickly earned Jimmy’s embarrassed laugh. “I didn’t explain that part very well, did I? We’ll be doing lots of other things. It will be warm enough during the day to go hiking. We’ll keep an eye out for antelope, maybe go down to the Visitor’s Center at the foot of the mountain. 

"I’ll take the star map, because once the moon has gone down the skies are absolutely clear. And, of course, we’ll eat well and do the hot springs. I’m pretty sure you won’t get bored.”

For an instant her sly little smile seemed to light up the car. She took his hand as she asked, “And we’ll be sleeping in the same bed?”

“Not inOn the same bed, in our own sleeping bags.” He was trying his best to sound serious. “Look. I know it’s pretty lame. But I don’t know any other way. So tell me. What do you think?”

“Well, to begin with I’ll have to ask Ann to cover my ESL class on Tuesday.” Wrapping both her hands around his, Gladys was nodding her acceptance. 

"But other than that, I think it’s time for us to expand our horizons. I’m told that’s a healthy thing to do. If anyone else has a problem with that, I guess that will have to be their problem."