The Looking for Lilli Tour - Page 2

Tumbleweeds

Fort Toulouse/Fort Jackson
State Historic Site near Wetumpka

Drizzle on Sunday morning didn't bother me. In fact, for the first time this trip, I felt relaxed. My back was better. Judy, too, was feeling more spry. Our plan for the morning was to visit Cathedral Caverns State Park. After dealing with a clogged blackwater tank, we left the trailer at the campground and drove through quiet and beautiful Guntersville, Alabama, then on past Grant with its buildings made of small rocks.

"The truck is unresponsive today," I complained, as I tried to avoid the gutters. Judy had no comment. I was assaulted by cravings for Alabama-style barbecue (sliced pork with sauce on a bun), and so, when we came to the state park and found the caverns closed, I seized the moment to insist on a meal.

"But we just ate breakfast!" Judy protested as I drove us back to Grant.

I pulled the truck into Porky's, where the fare turned out to be pulled meat, unsauced, white bread on the side. Not traditional Alabama style but delicious. Still, my craving was unsatisfied. I resolved to continue my quest for Alabama barbecue.

Back at camp in Guntersville, my stomach turned leaden, my senses dull...time for a nap. Judy however marshaled me to go for a hike, which seemed out of the question until I found myself slogging behind her up a dark, damp, moss-rocked trail. Forty minutes of this brought a looseness to my legs. My gut settled down. We began picking out faces in the rocks, and just as I realized I was having fun, thunder threatened and we bent our steps back to the camper. The rain never came. Overheated, Judy and I swam in the lake, which cooled us delightfully. Later, as Judy and I sat on the shore watching families playing in the water, I thought:

"Love you, Lilli!"

Lilli stayed with me that night, through hard dreams, bad feelings, wakefulness...always nearby, a friend to hold on to. As always my old childhood home in Wichita was there to represent my psyche, and the attic beyond my 3rd-floor room. When I crossed the threshold out of sleep, I felt Lilli embedded within me somehow, my protector.

In the shower I beseeched God for a greater closeness with my guardian angels. They were here, I know that now; when I became sensitized to their presence my life would become more sychronous with God's will. I address the angels directly:

"In the name of Jesus Christ, angels, please guide me in all things, and please tell Lilli we love her."

Judy hadn't slept at all. I got the coffee on, fired the water heater, dumped the bilge, and hitched the rig. The air was wet and hot, and soon my clothes were sweat-soaked. I inspected the trailer, stepping slowly around it, and met Judy at the door as she handed me coffee and looked on the day.

We headed out. The narrow mountain back road that yesterday seemed so difficult in the F-150 seemed easy now with the trailer attached. I couldn't explain why. Guntersville stretched south, becoming Boaz and then a succession of other strip cities, until a turnoff brought us to dark forests and rain. I dreamed of barbecue. Sometimes the tires hydroplaned, bringing me back to clear awareness, but then I'd drift off again and the truck would drive itself. The sky cleared, the sun gleamed on pavement. The landscape opened up. Near Wetumpka we eased into Fort Toulouse/Fort Jackson State Historic stite, and stretched our legs on the lawn of an old stone building. Then I wandered into the restroom.

A blond-haired man in Native American headdress and tomahawk stood at the urinal.

"No lunch today," he said, zipping up, "and I'm on again in five minutes." He strode off grinning.

It must be a reenactment, I thought. He's an actor.

I was correct. As the website says, the park boasts over 6,000 years of history:

The 165-acre park, operated by the Alabama Historical Commission, is open year-round for the public's enjoyment where you can step back in time, wandering through the French and American forts or walking to the Mississippian Mound site.... Almost every month includes a weekend of living history by the French Marines at Fort Toulouse along with a weekend of living history by the Tennessee Militia and the U.S. Army Regulars at Fort Jackson. One weekend a month is also set aside for historic black-smithing. There are special events throughout the year such as Frontier Days in the Fall and the French and Indian Encampment in the Spring.

Judy and I found a wonderful campsite on the edge of a bluff overlooking the Coosa River. After an early supper, Judy fell fast asleep. I sat at the picnic table in the dark still night with a sense of deep calm that I couldn't account for. The chirruping of crickets emphasized the quiet. Danger might lurk around every corner, as the X-Files season finale had reminded me, and yet I felt strangely at ease. I gazed through Spanish moss at the wide smooth river flowing serenely far below.

Dusk settled in. Fireflies blinked like itinerant beacons. Time seemed to stop. For that moment, the entire universe was contained in the magic of simply being there.

Tuesday, May 23. Alabama is a beautiful state, and Southerners possess an equanimity denied those without understanding of God, family, work, and leisure. Today it was everywhere evident: in the contentment of the ranger at the state historic site; in the helpful nature of the bread man at the convenience store; in the forthright humor of Smiley, the son-in-law at the Ford dealership where the truck was serviced; and in my relatives, who, recognizing a good thing, have lived here all their lives.

I had no such peace. The cell phone method of keeping in touch was unreliable, and paying bills was problematic. Standing for hours at a pay phone outside K-Mart in Prattville, I argued with tech-support, who led me to conclude I'd better look for cyber-cafes if I wanted to check my e-mail; then, guarding my space with grim glances, I juggled pen, pad, and wallet, which dropped to the ground as I jotted confirmation numbers.

At the trailer, Judy gave me a hug and then gathered the laundry. I called Aunt Kathleen, who declared, in her lovely voice, that we should all visit the Camp this afternoon. Next, Judy and I drove into old downtown Wetumpka and ate in an ancient café where families lingered over glasses of tea.

"Nowhere but in the South can you get good iced tea," Judy said, sipping her own.

An elderly gentleman, a longtime regular, traded witticisms with the waitress. Our river catfish was excellent. With warm tummies we drove around Wetumpka, found a Laundromat, and pulled in beside some white men in baseball caps; they regarded our truck in affable silence as they chewed and spat. Within, the clientele was black, except for a man in round spectacles reading Sherlock Holmes. A ceiling fan slowly stirred the heat. A young girl began sang r&b in the voice of an angel; when I told her she sounded as good as the radio, she smiled shyly, moved away to a sink, and then, to my relief, continued her song. Children launched each other across the room in laundry carts. Mothers carrying baskets dodged aside. Alabama. The world for me was this place at this time.

Aunt Nancy, Aunt Kathleen, and Judy

We lost our way to Lake Mitchell, so Aunt Nancy, my mom's sister, darted over in her little car and led us to the Camp. Kathleen, my great aunt, was there to greet us, and both women were a joy to behold; we hugged, and I introduced Judy. Bear the poodle barked. David, a second cousin, came in from the porch and shook my hand.

"How do you keep on?" He asked. The question rattled me. I fumbled for an answer.

Supper was spread, and after loading our plates with fried chicken, potato salad, buttered bread, and bread & butter pickles, and then choosing iced teas (sweet or regular), we sat on the porch as birds played in the baths beyond the screen. We exchanged pictures, and I learned news of my cousins and their children. Newton, a cousin I'd never met, returned from Birmingham and took us out in a boat. Pointing out Lake Mitchell's salient features, he guided us through creeks and coves, and then got me up on water skis, which I rode till my legs gave out. Then Judy and I tossed breadcrumbs to the Canadian geese that have adopted Aunt Nancy. We left wishing we'd accepted the invitation to stay over, and with promises to sleep there the next night.

After the long drive back to the campground in Wetumpka, Judy and I settled in to our hard trailer bed. A peaceful feeling spread through my body and wound through all my dreams. I dreamed of Lilli skateboarding down the street of my old neighborhood in Wichita. As she rolled past me she turned her head and shot me with a fearless grin.

Uncle Tommy took us out for barbecue in Prattville late Wednesday morning. Tommy is Mom and Nancy's brother, and a hero of my childhood: at the beach his grip once saved me from undertow. Cousin Rob, Tommy's oldest son, was with us, and as I savored my moment of true, vinegar-based barbecue, he chatted amiably of his recent marriage, commutes from Montgomery, and life in Prattville. At the beautifully renovated house Tommy and Robb use as their office, Tommy told us the powerful story of how he fell in love with God. We wept. Then he held our hands and prayed. There was a knock at the door, and Aunt Kay, bright-eyed and cheerful, bustled in with my cousin Sarah. I laid eyes on Sarah and for an instant saw Lilli. The resemblance was less physical than some indefinable quality of Sarah's bearing. Judy noticed it too.

In the afternoon we drove to Aunt Kathleen's house in Prattville. The yard, with its stately pines, its soft lawn, and its lovely hydrangreas, was beautiful, and so was Aunt Kathleen. The warm clean delicious smell of the kitchen transported me back to childhood and good times. We sat in the den with Kathleen's sister-in-law, Aunt Kat, a slender woman with sweet eyes, and Virginia Barnes, a family friend.

I told them how there wasn't a good mix of ages in Florida: the elderly kept to themselves in gated retirement communities, and didn't care to mingle with younger folks. They sat around condo pools griping about young people. I had seen it many times. It just didn't seem healthy to me.

"If I make it to be elderly, I plan to live around people of all ages," I said. "It would be boring to live only with people the same age as me."

"I just can't stand to be around old people!" Virginia remarked. I laughed. Virginia, who was close to 90, still drove and got out every day -- she had the energy of someone half her age.

Uncle Gene came in, and we all trooped up the hill to Gene and Kat's house next door. Gene showed us his thriving garden of corn and tomatoes. Then, as we all sat on the deck in the light of the westering sun, elation filled me at my great fortune to be with these people, my family. Judy, too, enjoyed them.

"Lilli would have loved them," she said.

That afternoon, Judy and I drove back to the Camp. Aunt Nancy and Uncle Bobby treated us to a fine steak dinner in nearby Clanton and then to a twilight motorboat ride on Lake Mitchell. Darkness descended with flashes of lightening; Bobby guided the boat back to the Camp. There, in our bedroom, Judy and I slept as we hadn't in a thousand years.

On Thursday Judy and I drove to Birmingham, where I had a blowout with our cell phone company. A settlement of sorts was reached: a new phone would be sent us...somewhere on the road. We spent the rest of the day at the Camp. On the porch, Aunt Kathleen and Judy chatted, and my nurturing Cousin Linda told us about her job in Tuscaloosa. Mary Sue, a relative who has lost two children, was comforting not only with her wise words, but with her very presence. David, the cousin whose words had unnerved me, sat quietly in a corner with an unlit cigarette. Lake Mitchell neighbor Bunny entertained us with boat stories. Aunt Nancy moved in and out of the room with pictures, comments, and wry insights. Uncle Bobby, nursing a Bourbon, teased us about the legendary teeth of the alligator gar in the lake, and Bear, at his feet, watched him reverently. I talked in a crazed manner about not wanting to live. Then I excused myself, stepped into a bedroom, and phoned my cousins Louise, Rita, and Robert. Late that evening, satiated with warm regards, Judy and I returned to the trailer at the state historic site and dropped into sleep.

The days with my relatives in Alabama were timeless and healing for both of us. For a moment we had been home, as in "where the heart is."

A clue that we're out west!

Sunday took us through Tuscaloosa to Grenada, Mississippi, where a storm raged and tornadoes were close and we cuddled through the night. Then followed a long drive across flatlands of mud, cotton fields and corn; through townships of black folk and derelict buildings. The Mississippi River! And Arkansas, where I became sleepy and we pulled in to a truck stop of brunchers eating fried pie. Judy convinced me to try the buffet, and I was pleased with the fried chicken, okra, and soul bread. Our highway became interstate that led to Little Rock, Ozark foothills, road construction, and the KOA in Sallisaw, Oklahoma. The new owners, who were getting ready for Memorial Day, sacrificed their fax line to give me modem access. Later, while we did laundry, Judy and I played pool, though I was so tired I could barely lift the cue.

The Memorial Day drive across Oklahoma was much the same as what we'd come through in Arkansas, though in the afternoon the land became flatter and dryer. Why were the lakes strange hues of orange and red, like the surface of Jupiter in Stanley Kubrick's 2001? The water-skiers didn't seem to mind: they were out in force. Head winds and crosscurrents pounded the truck and trailer, making driving a battle and gas mileage ridiculous. Apparently, a gremlin with a straw was living in our fuel tank. Several times we stopped to refill. At twilight, sore and weary, we drove through treeless Guymon, Oklahoma, and found a spot in the Southwind, a spartan campground that lived up to its name. Despite the intense gusts wind from the south that rattled the trailer windows, it was a relief to just sit and vegetate.

On Tuesday the wind continued. We caught sight of our first tumbleweed late that morning, and by midday, when we stopped for gas beneath the grain elevator of a one-stop town, I felt moved to photograph this very ordinary but visible symbol of our location. The West. At last! Judy popped Sabotage by Black Sabbath into the CD player, and so, when a sudden road-change came at the edge of town and we found ourselves barreling down a narrow, pot-holed grade, a series of shrieks and fell thumps accompanied us like movie theme music. I couldn't breathe. Judy's eyes went wide. The bottom came. We found ourselves alive, and burst out laughing. We carried on, banging our heads and our fists and screaming the words till our throats were sore.

The route we'd taken was desolate, but, thankfully, a shortcut, for gas mileage was the worst yet. The temperature was 99 degrees when we pulled up to the gas pump at a lonely building with a sign that said, "Pop. 6." Turning my head in a semi-circle, I could see no other civilization. Inside, I asked the clerk, a handsome Native American woman, if she was one of the six.

"No," she laughed. "I work here in town but live out in the suburbs."

Judy giggled. The plastic-wrapped firecracker sausage I purchased in Pop. 6 sustained me without stomach discomfort all the way to the KOA Colorado Springs. There, after the paperwork ritual, we were guided to our site by man in a golf cart. After unhitching the trailer I found the tiny modem closet, and once inside, using a local dial-in number, connected with difficulty to the net. I sent some e-mails and posted once more to the Jack Vance BBS.

Wednesday we drove to Denver, cut to I-70 and headed west into that part of the Rockies called the Front Range. With the foothills the truck slowed, and when the mountains came we could only do 40 mph. We passed Buffalo Bill's Grave, the bison herd overlook, and the turnoff to Evergreen. After Idaho Springs we turned on US 40 and drove through the old mining town of Empire toward the family cabin in tiny Berthoud Falls, where we spotted Nancy, Judy's mom, chatting in front of the store with the owner. Nancy, a tough and pert mountain gal, squeezed us, made some wisecracks, and considered our parking situation.

"It won't fit at the cabin," she said, assessing our rig, and I nodded agreement. Nancy made a call and arranged for us to park at the Conestoga Wagon Stop down the road. Once there, I backed uneasily into our space, then unhitched, and we stood watching the snowmelt ride Clear Creek. "We're having a heat wave," Nancy said. I couldn't reply; the 10,000 foot altitude had done me in.

Judy, locked out of truck on Jones Pass

Then we retired to the cabin in Berthoud Falls. Opa, Judy's grandfather, built it of aspen logs in 1928, not long after he'd come over from Germany. First it was one room: Opa and his pals would stay there on ski trips and make beans in the cast iron pot that hangs in the fireplace. When he married Oma, he added the kitchen, the upstairs, and the porch. Opa was an expert house painter, trained as a youth in all aspects of the discipline, including hand-painted floral decorations, so the interior of the cabin is a masterpiece of detail. When you step into the cabin, you walk into old-time Bavaria. It is a marvelous place to relax: the cabin is cozy, the air is crisp, and Clear Creek splashes below. Today, Nancy cooked burgers out on the porch while Judy and I watched the hummingbirds buzz the feeders. We ate and relaxed and talked.

Glad as I was to be at the cabin with Judy and Nancy, I began to feel homesick for Mom and Dad -- I was now only 40 minutes away from them. Judy and Nancy understood, and suggested I use the rest of the afternoon to drive over to Summit County. Summit is comprised of several towns: Dillon, Keystone, Silverthorne, Heeney, Frisco, Copper Mountain, and Breckenridge; and is the largest ski resort area in the world. It's big money, and very developed. But it is also stunningly beautiful. As I popped out the west side of the Eisenhower Tunnel -- elevation 11,000 feet -- and caught site of enormous Buffalo Mountain and the Gore Range, my heart jumped. Thousands of times I'd seen this view, yet today it held magic for me.

These were my old stomping grounds. At the age of eighteen I'd moved here with my father, mother, sister, and brother. I'd met Judy in Summit, and here was where we'd conceived Lilli...in the bed of a camper, no less!

At the bottom of the pass I exited at Silverthorne and turned into Dad's office. Dad was in his cubicle. He turned and smiled, then stood up. We hugged. He looked terrific: spare and strong and tanned.

"Let's get something to eat," he said.

We walked across busy Highway 9 to Wendy's, where we sat outside on rocks, talking while Dad ate ice cream and I drained a Diet Coke. I told him of our visit to the relatives in Alabama and he grew wistful, for that is where he met and married my mother. It was nearly dark when I returned to the cabin. An excellent meal had been prepared by Nancy; we ate, then sat around by the fireplace talking. Judy wanted to stay the night in the cabin. I decided to sleep in the trailer, where all my stuff was.

Nancy (Judy's mom) at the cabin

On Thursday afternoon Judy's brother Lyle arrived at the cabin along with wife Angie and their cute daughter Kaylea. It was good to see them. Lyle, a friendly young guy with twinkling eyes, is a kayak nut. He'll ride down just about anything, anytime, in any weather. He worked in a kayak shop in Denver and gaves lessons on the weekends.* One January he was featured on the cover of The Denver Post: the photo shows him paddling amid snow piles on the Platte River with his blue heeler Taz along as hood ornament. Today his back was hurting. Angie, very pregnant, had brought a superb spinach dip that I stabbed at with Ruffles potato chips. Judy and Nancy prepared dinner while I showed Lyle the stack of brochures we'd brought from Tennessee. We ate on the porch. The rush of Clear Creek was our dinner music.

*2009 update. These days, Lyle is an owner of Renaissance Adventures in Denver, a company that takes people on kayak and rafting trips all around the world. He was also featured on The Discovery Channel for setting the world's height record for kayaking off a waterfall.

Later, I wandered upstairs to take a look at the quaint bedroom and then suddenly I realized I'd fallen asleep and hours had passed. The cabin was very quiet. Everyone had gone. Just when I headed down the narrow staircase to find them, Nancy came through the front door.

"We saw a bear! And the keys are locked in the truck. Can I borrow your keys?"

It turned out that after Lyle's gang left, Judy and Nancy had driven up a Jeep road past the Henderson Mill, where they'd spotted a bear near the road, and then they'd gone up Jones Pass. Here they'd gotten out, taken some pictures, and then realized the keys were locked in the truck. So Nancy had hiked down while Judy sat near the truck and waited. It was hard for either of them not to think of the bear.

"I'll walk you back," I offered. But Nancy waved me away and headed back on her own. Again I awoke, this time on the couch. Judy and Nancy were bustling into the room. We had a big laugh.

Judy's hip was bothering her again and since the cabin beds seemed to help her condition, she decided to sleep there another night. I stayed in the trailer that night so I could operate on myself: it was time for the large growth on my big toe to come off. Alone in the trailer, I anesthetized myself by getting very drunk and by applying a small chunk of dry ice to my toe. Then I cut at the growth with my sterilized, ultra-sharp fish-boning knife. But though my toe was really numb, and I was singing like a pirate, I just couldn't do the job. The dry ice wasn't strong enough to deaden the pain. Whenever I started cutting, waves of pain shot through my toe. All I managed to do was scrape away some dead skin. Then I passed out. Morning greeted me with disconcerting cheerfulness.

Georgetown to Silverton
Narrow Gauge Train

The narrow gage train from Georgetown to Silver Plume is an engineering feat: in order to gain momentum at the outset, the train has to climb a trestle that looks like a slinky. This was explained to our group as Nancy and Judy and I boarded the train at the historic mining town of Georgetown. The altitude was making me feel crappy, and Georgetown, dim in it's narrow vale, seemed gloomy; but as soon as we started up the trestle, the sky brightened enough for us to see clearly the dizzying drop on either side of us. This woke me up. After that, the ride up to Silver Plume was uneventful except for the fact that I could only breathe in gasps. We stopped at Silver Plume to use the bathroom and eat candy. Silver Plume is a tinier mining town than Georgetown, but was quite popular in the late 1800s with the Georgetown miners because it allowed gambling on Sundays. We re-boarded the train and rode down as far as the mine tour, where we disembarked for an hour.

A spade-bearded gentleman was speaking animatedly to a group of tourists, who laughed in appreciation. We assumed he was our tour guide. He wasn't; we were assigned to a tall, pale, dour young woman who rattled off the facts in a monotone. First we toured replicas of silver-mining buildings, then donned hardhats and slouched into the mine. Miners were seldom taller than 5'6", our guide explained as we hunched along wet boards beneath the variegated roof. She indicated a water-filled adit and we all stopped.

"Has this been investigated by scuba-divers?" I asked.

"Hardly," she replied.

In the miner's old lunchroom we learned the torrid details of a Nineteenth Century silver-miner's existence: for mere dollars a day he would hammer or chisel or blast for twelve-hour shifts until he was dead by age Forty. The guide told us how the miners relied on the rodents to warn them of danger, for rats can sense cave-ins before they happen. Then she led us to a stope and pointed out what looked like mucus on the walls:

"Stalagmite formation."

Once more outside, we were taken through more buildings and shown samples of ore along with old photographs of Georgetown. Our guide finally displayed some interest in her job as she passed along the rocks for us to feel. A smiling, heavy-set woman tried to translate the guide's explanation of the samples to her Japanese guests, who, also smiling, either nodded or shook their heads; the woman's son bounced precociously at her knee. After the mine tour we caught the next train down to Georgetown and enjoyed the engineer's narrative.

Judy slept once more at the cabin; I was annoyed that she didn't come with me to the trailer. Some hours after I'd fallen asleep, I heard water splashing.

"Ah, a rainstorm," I thought, and returned to sleep with the happy thought of the drought being over. At 5:00 I woke again to discover, on my way to toilet, a sea of water. The toilet had somehow become stuck on "flush" and the trailer was now flooded. Alarmed, I cleaned up the water, using all the remaining dry towels, then drained the blackwater tank and returned to sleep. At 8:30 Saturday morning I showered and then carefully inspected the trailer. Everything was okay: the space under the floor had emptied its water through some holes smartly placed in the bow; the insulation, which turned out to be styrafoam instead of fiberglass wool, was undamaged.

Nancy's house in Silt

Judy and I hitched up the trailer and followed Nancy to her home in the town of Silt. I-70 was gridlocked, and the rig, underpowered, made the situation worse. Going down from the tunnel, I put the truck in low and we rode between semis smart enough to use their gears. The runaway truck ramps were occupied, and the air toward in the valley was filled with the smell of brakes. At West Vail the landscape and traffic opened up, and we had a pleasant drive past Edwards and Glenwood Springs. We unhitched on the dirt street in front of Nancy's little house. Judy and I then spent the next hours reorganizing the trailer with wisdom begotten of two week's traveling. For supper that night Nancy prepared a German meal out of ground beef, onions & cabbage, and instant mashed potatoes. We kept an eye on a new TV show, "Survivor." I was upset by the show's premise, which fosters backbiting rather than harmony. I mentioned to Nancy that Silt was very relaxing after being in Summit County. This didn't sit well with her. Nancy spent most of her life in Summit, and she still misses it. Silt, she always says, is too hot.

Sunday, June 4. Relaxation! Silt is like the TV town of Mayberry, North Carolina, but without the stress. Judy and I both felt great there. Nancy's opinion: "If God had meant me to live in Silt, he wouldn't have made the mountains."

Judy and Nancy drove to the Wal-Mart in Glenwood Springs to get items to improve the trailer: curtain-material, a foam mattress pad, etc. Meanwhile, I cleaned bugs and tar off trailer's fiberglass exterior. When the girls returned, I took it easy while they made curtains. Later, they teamed up to make a fabulous German dinner, rollatton.

Monday morning I awoke feeling almost chipper. The foam pad had made a difference in the bed, and the climate was good for my sinuses. Judy and Nancy took the truck to the Ford dealership in Rifle for the 10,000 mile service and returned to find me working on the budget. Then Judy and I drove to Glenwood, hit the Wal-Mart, the Tru-Value Hardware, and the McDonald's. We also bought more rum. Later, at Nancy's house, I tried to reach my contact at the cell phone store in Ft. Myers but she was busy and wouldn't return my calls.

There was new e-mail...and a voice-mail from best-friend Chris! He and wife Jill and son Eben had survived their own odyssey, a big move from Austin, TX, to near Seattle. It was good to hear Chris' cheerful colorful summation of their journey.

Nancy continued work on the trailer curtains, and punctuated this time with visits to the woman next-door, who was cutting Judy's hair. When Judy stepped back in the house her hair was much better: the shorter bangs lofted to reveal her beautiful forehead. We all piled in to the pickup for a meal in New Castle that included rounds of margaritas. Mid-way through, I had an allergy attack that wouldn't come to a sneeze; my body felt volcanic. I excused myself from the table, wandered out to a marble bench beside the Town Hall, and watched teens gathering across from the pizza place. From beyond the dark window of the community center next door, an elbow and hat indicated to me that I was being watched. Uncomfortable, I stood up and walked, peering up a steep street. A bearded, longhaired youth in sunglasses approached; two young men in an old Chevy pickup spun their wheels round the corner and shouted, "Hippie! Get on over!" He ignored them.

From Grand Mesa: view to Utah

When Judy and Nancy came out we took advantage of the remaining sunlight drove the "back way" to Silt. The scenery was bucolic. Cows, horses, and sheep inhabited the rolling meadows on the way to the Hog Back. Harvey Gap State Park revealed bathrooms, a waterfall, and a sheriff and deputy, who both followed us in their cars as we descended without braking to Silt. At Nancy's I paged through a fine new coffee table book of that compares early photos of Colorado with ones taken recently from the same spots. Later, in the trailer, which tonight seemed like a clubhouse, I scanned in some pictures Nancy took of the time surrounding Lilli's death. I updated the journal of our trip; work on the journal was coming to be a joy.

Tuesday, we met with Grand County Memorial in Palisade and picked out a beautiful headstone for Lilli. It would be heart-shaped, and quarried out of a rose-colored granite from mountains near Boulder, Colorado. I cried and cried in the sitting room; the ladies who worked there were very kind and genuinely consoling to me, though they must have often seen such emotions. Then we drove to Grand Junction, did Wal-Mart, ate at a terrific Mexican meal, got gas, and headed up the back side of Grand Mesa, the largest mesa in the world. The narrow dirt switchbacks constituted one of the scariest roads I'd driven, but the view from the top was spectacular: in the distance could be seen mountains of Utah. On the other side of the mesa we came down to the town of Mesa, then took a tiny back road to Silt that was filled with odd bare rock formations. At Nancy's that evening, Lyle, Angie, and Kaylea showed up, and Taz came bounding in.

Dave and Judy atop Grand Mesa

NEXT

nonjudgmental support sanctuaries journeys of discovery
Text and photos Copyright 2001, 2009 by David D. Pierce, Jr.