So, when we last left our adventurous characters, Sarah had just made a self-discovery about her faith, amongst the grandeur of the Colorado Rockies...
An awe-inspiring experience that has reviberated inside me, every time I am struck by the beauty of my natural surroundings. I can be anywhere from Martha's Vineyard, to a walk along the Charles River, to the rainforests of Puerto Rico, and my soul will crawl out of hibernation and smile like the small hands of a child, catching a firefly; where you peer inside and see a small aspect of the world and the whole world, in the same moment.
When Chris and I arrived in Bishop, California, the town that had inspired us to make the trip across country, I instantly fell in love. It was a small town, almost New England-esque, with a mix of residents; nature lovers, metaphyics seekers, old down-home Westerners, and displaced American Indians. The town rested in Owen's Valley, between the California White Mountains and the Sierra Nevadas. This was Inyo County, California, respectfully named after the Native American word inyo, meaning "dwelling place of the great spirit".
And indeed it was. I had been there before. My soul was familiar and at peace, not stirring around as it normally does, adjusting to the new and ever-changing. I had perhaps, visited this place in another life. The connection was so strong and I could feel a sigh of relief, deep within me, as though I had been holding my breath for a lifetime.
In the mornings, I woke with the base of the mountains on my fingertips. We would pack up our gear and hike into a new spot, in the early morning humidity. We would stretch our appendages awake and approach the rocks, as though we were meeting another body for the first time. We would learn their curves and crevices. We would hang and hold, balance and maneuver. We would form our fleshy hips, bellies, and legs to be close to the sharp, grainy terrain; "to be one with".
My fingers bled and blistered in the hot, midday sun. But we kept climbing, until we couldn't stand it anymore. And as if our prayers were answered, every day the clouds would roll in and rain just enough to cool the rocks down, and cleanse us of our dust and disuse. When it would stop, the boulders would steam like water on a frying pan, and the whole canyon would be in a vaporous, fog.
We spent about 5 days in this place, but I can't be completely sure. All the time seemed to blend together, as though it didn't exist. Our lives during our stay there, existed only to "just be". We slept in the deserted hills, we climbed and meditated among the volcanic boulders, we visited eery lakes and towering pine forests, and we bathed ourselves in the hot springs with other pilgrims.
Heaven existed for me, in this place and in this time. When it was time for us to leave, we hoped that we left an imprint of ourselves, so when we did go back, it would be like we never left. In a way, a piece of me will always be there. (I have spoken about this in my blog, Lost and Found: Reclaiming My Experiences)
When we were passing the limits of Bishop, our van broke down. It was the first and only time on our trip. We were driving right along and the car completely lost power and shut down; no warning, sputtering, or grinding. We were in a desert, with the closest town 15 miles in either direction.
Neither of us knew much about cars, so we looked at each other nervously and mystified. We crawled out and made our way to the hood. Propping it up, we stuck our heads inside. Nothing seemed wrong with the cylinders, pipes, tubes, or belts (at least from what we could tell). But it was Chris who claimed, "Aha!" when he noticed a small nest on top of the battery.
The nest was composed of grass, some sort of fuzzy material, and plastic wire casings. When we looked closer, there was a small, brown mouse fried to the engine block. (What a way to die.) Chris scraped it off gently and placed it under a sage bush on the side of the road. It seems this little rodent had managed to chew through our spark plug wires, leaving us without any power. It had probably crawled up inside the car, during one of the cold desert nights, trying to stay warm.
Chris, being the Macgyver he is, decided our climbing tape was our saving grace (at least until we got to an auto parts store, where we could replace the spark plugs). And just as we were slamming the hood back down and wiping our hands, a white bus pulled up beside us with about a dozen or so tow-headed kids, with bright blue shirts, hanging out the windows in curiousity.
"Do you need any help?!" One voiced from the mid-section of the bus.
Chris and I smiled at the wholesome sight, "Nah, I think we've got things fixed."
"You sure?" They seemed eager to offer their assistance.
"Yep. Nothing that good ole' tape can't fix!"
They laughed at the joke.
"Ok. Well, God bless you and have a safe trip."
We said 'thank you' and waved 'goodbye', chuckling among ourselves about the exchange and our resourcefulness.
At the first rest stop, we stopped to see how the tape was holding up in the heat, and to use the facilities. When we pulled into the parking lot, we noticed the white bus parked in a corner, and the blue-shirted, tow-heads scattered about the curb and picnic area. We parked a few spaces down, and almost instaneously they noticed us, and approached our van.
"How is everything?" One tall boy asked.
"Just checking to see how our tape is holding up." Chris explained, opening the hood for further inspection.
"What happened?" Another asked.
"Well, it looks like a mouse made a home in our car." Chris pointed to the little remnants of nest left over.
"Oooh." They said in unison.
"Hey, wait a second..." I heard Chris trail off, as he leaned closer into the belly of the car.
"What?! What?!" A smaller boy, piped up.
Chris hustled over to a small, wooded area and came back with a good-sized, broken stick. He dug around in the engine, like a dentist manuevering teeth and gums. And after poking around for a few minutes, he re-emerged with a large, white rat dangling from the end, like a spear-thrower with his first kill. The rat was literally the size of a house cat. I had never seen anything like it and neither had any of the boys who were now standing wide-eyed and open-mouthed at Chris, as though he were some Saint appearing before them.
Regrouping and disposing of the cat-sized critter, we decided to get back on the road. Chris was now a rock star among the young boys and it was hard to get him to bow out, when they wanted to know all the details and crazy tales from our travels. When we said "goodbye" for the last time, they asked if they could pray for us.
Of course we didn't want to say "no". But we didn't realize that they meant right there, right now, in public, at a rest stop in the middle of nowhere. And as they circled around us, holding hands, with their heads bowed and eyes closed, muttering the words to an unfamiliar pray, I couldn't help but feel a sincere, thankfulness for their compassion.
When we pulled away from the rest stop, both Chris and I were silent, but we knew what the other was thinking. We were both glad to know there were people like that in the world; so full of wonder, faith, and compassion. And it was nice to be reminded, so far from home, that good-hearted people come in all forms, even in the embodiement of faith.