Wes Boyd's
Spearfish Lake Tales
Contemporary Mainstream Books and Serials Online


Rocinante
An Aerial Adventure
A Tale From Spearfish Lake
Wes Boyd
©1993, ©2001, ©2007, ©2011



Chapter 21

After checking out of the motel the next morning, they stopped at the photo store that offered the overnight photo service. There was quite a bit of film there, clear back to Twillingate, and they leafed through the photos one by one, remembering some of the experiences they shared. Jackie selected several to send to her father and Sarah, and wrote a quick note explaining them, and added at the bottom, "Show these to Markís folks, will you?"

Mark shouldered their pack, heavy with clean laundry, as Jackie ran out to the curb to mail their letter. He followed her outside, just as she dropped the letter in the box. "You didnít include any of the nude photos, did you?" he smiled.

Jackieís hand shot to her mouth. "Oh, dear," she said, her eyes opened wide in shock. Then, she dropped the façade and went on, "Do you think Iím crazy or something?"

"Just checking," he smiled back.

They managed to hitch a ride out of town as far as the turnoff to the road that led past the airport, then walked miles before getting another ride to the airport. By the time they got to where Rocinante waited for them, the cleansing effect of all their shower time the previous couple of days had been pretty well overcome.

"Weíd better do a little flight planning," Mark said. Itís empty enough out here that we probably arenít going to be able to stop and get gas just anyplace." He spread maps out on the ground, and he and Jackie hunched down over them, measuring this way and that. "Letís face it; we need to gas up before we fly over the Grand Canyon. There arenít a lot of real good possibilities if weíre not going into the Grand Canyon airport. Itís a choice between Page and Winslow, and we go about as far out of our way to either place. Itís a little farther to go by Winslow, but weíd fly over Canyon de Chelly and the Painted Desert, and weíd see Meteor Crater right after we gas up. There just isnít a heck of a lot along the way if we go by Page. Then, after we get done with the canyon, we can maybe gas up again at Kingman."

"Thatís going to eat up most of the day, considering what time it is now, and a couple of fuel stops, and lunch, and messing around over the canyon," Jackie said, running her finger over the cluster of maps that they had spread before them. "Weíre probably looking at a night stop at Kingman."

"Might be kind of a big place for a night stop," he commented. "Weíll just have to see when we get there. Letís get a move on."

It was not to be the first day that they had basically done sightseeing from the air, but they agreed afterward that it was their best one.

They flew southwest out of the Durango airport. A little more than half an hour out, they came upon the ragged red crags of Shiprock, west of Farmington, New Mexico. Mark dropped down for a closer look, almost at the level of the peak. Below them, they could see a group of mountain climbers trying to work their way up the rugged, nearly vertical sides of the peak. "I canít help it," Mark told Jackie, "But that doesnít look like fun to me. Iím not real crazy about getting on a stepladder."

"But youíve flown all your life," Jackie protested.

"Yeah, but itís different when youíve got an airplane strapped to your butt."

They circled Shiprock several times, and Jackie took some pictures of it through the window.

It was a dead-reckoning run from Shiprock down to Winslow. With Mark watching her, Jackie had carefully laid out their compass course across the desert, where there were few good landmarks, and it turned out that she had worked it out on the nose. They flew low over Canyon de Chelly, with its ancient Indian buildings, and a little higher over the florid colors of the Painted Desert.

Winslow, Arizona, came up through the disk of the prop a little over two hours out of Durango, right where it was supposed to be. They stopped for fuel, dug some snacks out of the luggage compartment, and got some cold Pepsis from the airport machine Ė no Cokes were in sight Ė and got back in the little Cessna.

Fifteen miles west of Winslow, they circled Meteor Crater. About 30,000 years before, a meteor perhaps a hundred yards across had hit, blasting out a hole nearly a mile across. It looked massively impressive from the air.

"If there was a good place to land, itíd be fun to walk down to the bottom of that," Mark said. "But I think itíd be kind of a hot and dry walk, right now."

"We might have the best view of all from right here," Jackie agreed.

Their course to the Grand Canyon was almost north. They had worked out a compass course, but most of the way they could follow a dry-wash river bed, so they didnít bother with the compass. Miles before they got to the canyon, they could see it opening in front of them in the clear air.

What can you say about the Grand Canyon? Words cannot express it.

The Canyon is a chasm that slices through the plateau country of northern Arizona like a gigantic and impossible desert crevasse. It is more than two hundred river miles long. At its center it is more than a mile deep. If you built four Empire State Buildings in it, one on top of the other, they would not rise as high as the rim. The canyon averages ten miles across, but some of its side canyons swing back for twenty, thirty, even forty miles. In all it covers more than a thousand square miles, but most of the vast bulk of this area is almost never visited. Even today, unexplored corners remain.

Mark and Jackie had seen their fair share of photographs of the place, of course, and they thought they knew what to expect, but even before they flew close, they saw the space of it, a huge, cleaving emptiness that photographs had done nothing to prepare them for: an impossible, breath-taking gap in the face of the earth.

As they flew closer, they saw the depth Ė the depth and the distances. Cliffs and buttes and terraces, all sculpted on a scale which they had never imagined, filled with colors neither red nor white nor pink nor purple, but somehow a combination of them all.

"Wow," Mark breathed. "Iíll bet even Valles Marineris wouldnít hit you like this."

"Valles Marineris?" Jackie asked, not tearing her eyes from the window.

"Itís on Mars," Mark said. "Discovered by Mariner 9 a couple years ago, so they named it Mariner Valley. Itís bigger than this by far, but if you were standing in the middle at the bottom, you couldnít see the sides."

"It may be bigger," Jackie said, "But, my God."

They were out over the canyon by now, looking down into the burning and apparently waterless waste of rock. They looked down at the huge, alternating bands of cliff and terrace, repeating but never repetitious. They looked away, as far as their eyes could strain, until the canyon dwindled away in the haze.

Flying over the canyon was one thing, but to fly down in it was something else. Mark was flying now, his mind handling the plane on automatic while he and Jackie gaped from the window.

They turned westward to follow the course of the river. They flew this way and that over the rugged cliffs, with Rocinanteís wings carrying them over ground so isolated and rugged that it seemed likely that no one had ever walked there.

Ultimately, it was Rocinanteís fuel gauge that turned them away from this grandest of sights to see from the air. In their airborne exploration of this wonder, they had let the fuel get down lower than they liked, and while they werenít out of gas when they landed at the airport at Kingman, they pumped more into it than they ever had before.

"Any place around here we could camp out under the wing?" Mark asked the man at the fuel pump.

"I donít know if it would be OK if you did here, or not," the man said. "We had some avionics stolen out of a plane at night not too long ago, and the Sheriff has been keeping a pretty good eye on the place. He might not like it."

"Got any other ideas?" Jackie asked.

"Which way you headed?"

West, they told the man.

"OK, Iíve got an idea," he said. "You go northwest about a hundred miles, and thereís a little dirt strip at Taylor Springs, just over the Nevada line. I got weathered in by a thunderstorm there once. Itís a public field, so there wouldnít be any problem about you landing there, and itís pretty deserted, so I wouldnít think there would be any problem with you camping there."

Mark looked at Jackie. "Itís another half an hour, but thatís no problem."

They found the airstrip on the chart. "Looks good to me," Mark told the man. "Thanks."

It was hard to find the strip on the ground, since the land was pretty heavily desert with no real landmarks. Finally, they saw an airstrip with a building sitting at the end, next to a road. "There it is," Jackie said, and began to set up the landing.

She let Rocinante roll to a stop at the building at the end of the strip. There was a sign that they could read: "Bullhead Ranch" it said. There was an "Olympia" sign in the window. "Strange to have a fly-in bar," Mark commented. "I suppose weíd better ask if we can camp out here tonight."

"If we can, a beer is going to taste good," Jackie said.

They went inside. The lights were low and red, and it was hard to see in there. Dimly in the corner, they could make out three or four girls and a couple of cowboys, and there was some heavy necking going on.

They went up to a middle-aged woman who was behind the bar. "Would it be all right if we camped out in back overnight?" Mark asked.

"Didnít think youíd come here for business," the woman said. "Not the both of you, anyway. Probably shouldnít, though. It might disturb the customers."

"I thought the guy over in Kingman said the Taylor Springs airport was deserted," Jackie said.

"Oh, this isnít Taylor Springs," the woman said. "Thatís about three miles up the valley. We just put the airstrip in last fall, for the fly-in trade out of Vegas."

Mark started to say, "What fly-in trade?" but stopped short as the light dawned on him. Jackie didnít get it, yet, he saw. "Well, we can fly up there," he replied. "Any chance we can get a cold six-pack of Oly to go?"

"Sure thing, honey," the woman said as Mark reached for his wallet. In a moment, she set the cold beer on the counter, and rang up the sale. "You want to come back without your young lady, some time, just remember that Bullhead Ranch is open twenty-four hours a day."

"You never know," he said. "Thanks a lot."

The sunshine of the fading day was still bright on their eyes as they walked back out to Rocinante, which they hadnít bothered to tie down. They had the beer in the cooler and were in the plane before Jackie asked, "What was that all about?"

"You donít know?" Mark teased as he started the engine. "I thought you brought me here because you were getting tired of all the attention Iíve been giving you."

"Huh?"

"It did occur to me that maybe I wasnít giving you enough attention," he said, turning Rocinante to face down the runway. "Who knows, maybe you were looking for a job."

Jackie shook her head. "I donít know what youíre talking about," she said as Mark opened the throttle.

"I mean, why else would you bring me to a Nevada whorehouse?"

"You mean . . . "

"Yeah, theyíre legal in some counties in Nevada, but not in Vegas. There are air taxi companies in Vegas that do nothing but haul people out to whorehouses and back." They broke ground and turned north, looking for the other airport, never getting very far off the ground. It sprang up in front of them in only a couple of minutes, looking very deserted. "Bet they donít use this much since they built the strip down there at Bullhead Ranch," Mark commented as he set up for a landing.

"My God," Jackie said. "Donít you ever tell anybody we were in there. What would they think?"

"Oh, think of the stories it would make back home," Mark teased as Rocinante touched down.

"Thatís one kind of place I never thought Iíd see the inside of," Jackie said, shaking her head.

They found tie downs, set up camp, and cooked their dinner as the sun set behind the mountains. It was getting dark before they finished up their dinner and zipped the two sleeping bags together for the first time.

It felt strange to have their two naked bodies together in a sleeping bag. It was different from the motel bed the last couple of nights, but they cuddled each other closely as they lay there talking. "How can women do that, anyway?" Jackie asked.

"Oh, some of them are probably pretty good people," Mark said, thinking that Mei-Ling had been one of them. Heíd never mentioned Mei-Ling to Jackie, and didnít plan to ever do so; that was one thing he intended to keep private.

"I just canít imagine it," she said. "If youíd been by yourself, would you have stayed?"

"Probably not," Mark said. "I hear itís kind of expensive."

"Wouldnít it be a lot different than the two of us here, me and you."

"A lot different," he said. "We care about each other, and that counts for a lot. Being in love will do that to you. Of course, if youíd like me to slide back down there and make sure, I will if you want me to."

"Thatís not necessary," she said, pulling him to her. "I think I can give you all you can handle."

*   *   *

They were just going to wander for the next couple of days and try not to hurry, so there would be time for mail to reach them at Palomar. They rose early the next morning and flew north to check out Boulder Dam. They turned west and flew low to the south of Las Vegas and all the high-performance air traffic out of Nellis Air Force Base. Sliding up over the mountains, they flew down to Furnace Creek, sightseeing in the fantastic scenery of Death Valley. "Thereís no real reason to land there," Mark said. "But only a little over a week ago, we were at the highest airport in North America, and now we might as well land once at the lowest."

It was hot when they landed at Furnace Creek, a good two miles lower than they had been at Leadville. They only stayed a few minutes, on account of the heat, then got back into Rocinante and let the plane carry them up to where the air was cooler. They stopped for fuel at Trona, but then had to backtrack nearly to Nevada to get around a maze of restricted areas before they could turn south.

They spent the night at Lake Havasu, Arizona, where they saw the beginning of the transplantation of the London Bridge to its new location. "The developers kind of got rooked on that deal," Mark told Jackie. "They thought they were buying Tower Bridge, and thatís the pretty, two-level Victorian one. London Bridge is just a plain-vanilla stone arch. I walked over it a couple of years ago, when I was on leave, out of Germany. Itís going to be strange to see it here, if we ever get back here."

The heat was bad enough at Lake Havasu, but it was even worse at Calipatria, where they spent their next night near the Salton Sea. They wound up sleeping naked on top of their sleeping bags, and the night was so hot and heavy that they were almost ready to sleep naked under the stars.

Fortunately, it was cooler when they got to Pauma Valley, near Mount Palomar, the next morning. It was several miles to the telescope, but they were able to hitch a couple of rides and get there.

It got considerably cooler as they went up Palomar Mountain. Pines and spruces grew around them, and soon they could see the huge Hale Observatory dome, 170 feet in height, towering above the trees, glistening in the dry sunshine. They climbed the stairs and entered the glassed-in room where tourists could view the telescope. It was unbelievably huge; the 82-inch and the 107-inch at McDonald Observatory had seemed big enough, but this huge machine dwarfed them easily. It had been the largest telescope in the world for a nearly a quarter of a century, and only now were people beginning to think of building one bigger.

Late in the day, they got back to the Pauma Valley post office; and there was mail for them Ė a package each for Mark and Jackie.

They ate dinner in town before they went back out to the airport and opened their mail.

There were a couple of short notes for Mark, a bunch of junk mail, and some magazines. He began to leaf through "Sky and Telescope," when Jackie let out a gasp. "Mark, how quick can we get back to Spearfish Lake?"

"Something the matter?"

"My mother died." She began to read the letter. "This is from Sarah," she said. "ĎOnly an hour or so after you called yesterday, they called us from Camden to tell us that your mother died. They donít know why, yet; one minute she was the same as she had been for years, and the next minute, she wasnít breathing. We tried to call Durango to find you, but if you get this at Palomar youíll know that we couldnít reach you.

"ĎI donít know what the plans are at this time. Your father is still the next of kin, I guess, since we donít know of any other relatives your mother has, besides you. We should know more by the time you get this, but call home collect as soon as you get this.í"

Mark shook his head. "Weíre about as far away from Spearfish Lake as weíre likely to get on this trip," he said. "If we cranked up right now, and flew all night, and got lucky on finding places open to refuel after midnight, then we might be able to make it back by this time tomorrow."

"Would an airliner be any quicker?"

"We donít have enough radio to get us into Los Angeles International, although we could get close and get a taxi, I suppose. You might be able to get a redeye as far as Chicago, but I donít think you could get to Camden from Chicago until sometime in the afternoon, and youíd still have to get a ride to Spearfish Lake. If we get lucky with refueling at night, we can get there just about as fast as an airliner with five times the speed."

"Mark, I donít know what I should do," she said, shaking her head. "Worse, I donít know how I should feel. I mean, I suppose I should be sorry, because sheís my mother, but sheís been the next thing to a vegetable for ten years now, and maybe Iím relieved, for her sake."

"Before we go racing off, we should call," Mark said. "I think thereís a pay phone up at the administration building."

Both Walt and Sarah were at home when they called. "Thereís no need to race home," her father told her, as Mark leaned close to Jackieís ear to hear the conversation. "We called around in Durango, the railroad, the airport, and the police, but when we didnít hear from you, we just decided to go ahead with the service, and we hoped you wouldnít mind."

"We can come back tomorrow or the next day if thereís any need to," Jackie told her father.

"Thereís no need to," Walt replied. "We didnít have much of a service, but the preacher at the Baptist Church was nice enough to come over and handle it for us. We used to go there years ago, and he was nice about it. We had her buried in her family plot."

"I feel like I ought to have been there," Jackie told her father.

"Donít worry about it," Walt said. "I know you would have liked to be here, and we thought about holding off until we could get in touch with you, but we decided that sheíd really died years ago, and all we were doing was finishing up the details. Thereís no reason to feel guilty about it."

Jackie asked if they had figured out why she had died.

"The autopsy didnít have any clue," Walt said. "It was like God had finally taken mercy on her and pulled the switch. Actually, I think Iím relieved, more than anything else. Iíve felt for years like Iím the one that should feel guilty, for giving up on her, but I realized that I needed to get on with my life."

"I know," Jackie agreed. "I always felt like there was something I ought to be able to do, but I could never figure out what it was."

"Try to remember the good times," Walt said. "There were some, even though you were pretty little, I think maybe you can remember some of them. Try to forget the harder times that came later and just put them behind you."

"Itís hard to forget," Jackie said.

"Maybe itís a little easier for me," her father said. "I remember your mother before you came along, and she was a good person, and we had some good times. The bad times didnít start until after you were born. It was kind of like she couldnít handle the responsibility of being a mother, but she tried hard. Maybe she tried too hard. Weíll never know."

"I guess I never knew that," Jackie commented.

"Itís over with, now," Walt said. "If you feel you need to do something, say a prayer for her or something, and get on with what youíre doing."

Jackie shook her head. "Dad, if you think thereís any reason why I should be there, to be with you, or anything, we can be heading back tonight."

"Thereís no reason," Walt said. "Try to call home a little more often, maybe, and keep us up on whatís happening on your trip. I donít know if you realize how much we enjoy your letters and calls. Weíre enjoying the trip right along with you. When you write to us that youíve been to a place, we dig out old National Geographic articles or go to the library to get a book to read about it. We were just leafing through a book on the Grand Canyon when you called. Youíre seeing things and doing things that Iíll never have a chance to do. Believe me, this isnít worth ruining your trip for."

They had been aware that Sarah was on the other phone, listening in, and now they heard her voice: "We both think a lot of you and Mark," she said. "All we want is for you to stay safe, and come home to us when youíre ready."

"Weíve never had any plans about when weíre coming home," Jackie told them. "About all weíve planned is that we have to be back not later than next summer, sometime, when Mark has to be ready to go to work for the phone company, and we hadnít planned on coming home before then, unless we had to for something like this."

"You donít have to come home for this," Sarah reiterated. "Donít misunderstand me. Weíd be just as happy if you came home to see us, but donít come on our account, or because of this."

After they hung up the phone, Mark and Jackie walked slowly back to Rocinante. "Itís up to you," Mark said. "If you want to go home, weíll go. We can get started now, and get maybe three hundred miles east before night sets in. Iíd really rather not fly over that country in the dark, if I can help it, but we could spend the night some place, start at dawn, and be out over the plains by tomorrow night, and fly most of the night, there."

"I donít know," Jackie said. "I just feel guilty, like I ought to have been home when I was needed, and I wasnít there. But you heard Dad say that there was no need for us to rush home. I donít know what to think."

"It wonít hurt us to spend the night right here and sleep on it," Mark told her. "At a minimum, we could be fresh when we start in the morning, and thatíll count for something."

"I suppose youíre right," she agreed, furrowing her brow. "But Mark, I just donít know how I should be feeling, right now. I mean, she was my mother, and I ought to be feeling sorry, but mostly Iím relieved, more for Dadís sake than anything else. I mean, even after he married Sarah, I donít think he ever gave up hope. Even when he was on the Walsenberg turn, he was down in Camden every other day, and I think he was in to see her almost every trip he was on. I mean, he never told Sarah and me about it, but we knew he was doing it. It was something we just didnít talk about."

"You said once that you hadnít seen her for years," he observed.

"Yeah, itís been six, seven, maybe eight years now," she said. "Just to see her got me so down that I never wanted to go back, and Dad never made an issue out of it." They walked along in silence for a bit longer before Jackie added, "Mark, I was just so scared that that could be me some day that I just never wanted to see her again."

"Youíve been thinking about it that long?" he asked, a suspicion dawning. "What made you think it might get passed on to you?"

"I donít know," she said finally. "I guess I always just knew that it could happen. Mark, itís just such a scary damn thing to have to live with that I donít know what to think any longer."

"Yeah," he conceded as they reached Rocinante. "I guess it would be, at that."

"You know the best part about being on this trip with you?" she said, thinking aloud, then answering her own question. "Itís just being with you, making believe that Iím a normal person, that I can have a normal life. In Spearfish Lake, I was always being reminded that it could happen to me, and that people seemed to expect it would. Iíve been so happy just being with you, out in the country, that it makes me wish sometimes that we never go back. Maybe we ought to go back to Fort Collins and see if you can get a regular job at Waverly. Or, go back to Twillingate, and see if Mr. Thibodaux will hire you. Or something, I donít know, but sometimes I hope we never go back to Spearfish Lake."

Mark shrugged. "I suppose it isnít a got-to sort of thing, but thatís a good job I have waiting. On the other hand, there are other good jobs out there, too. Itís something we donít have to make a decision about until maybe this time next year, so why worry?"

She took him into his arms; he could see that there were tears running down her face. "Thatís what I like about you," she said. "ĎWe donít have to make a decisioní . . . ĎWe can go homeí. God, you donít know what that means to me. I mean, back at home, all the little minds and little mouths were going, and it was always, ĎYou donít want to have anything to do with her, you donít want to get involved with her, stay away from her,í always on account of my mother. Mark, you donít know how much I hated my mother for being what she was, how much I know that she screwed me up, screwed things up for me. I mean, I donít get that from you, and I never thought that would happen with a Spearfish Lake guy. I always figured that if I ever got married, Iíd have to marry some guy from out of town whoís not heard that shit all his life. Thatís why, if we do ever get married, I want to get married in Spearfish Lake, just to show all those old gossips that Crazy Jackie can find a good guy to marry."

"They called you that?" Mark bristled.

"Not to my face," she sobbed. "Nobody had the guts to do that, but I knew about it."

"I never heard it," he said truthfully, "But then, Iím enough older that I might not have. We didnít exactly run with the same crowd. But if we do go back to Spearfish Lake and I do ever hear it, Iím going to get a reputation for punching peopleís lights out."

"Maybe theyíre right," she said. "I guess I sound a little paranoid right now. Maybe paranoia runs in the family, I donít know. I know it scares the hell out of me, and Iím scaring myself right now."

"Jackie," he said. "Youíre about the sanest, most level-headed person I know. If youíre in the least little bit off your rocker, itís because youíre too level-headed. Itís all right to show anger; itís all right to show youíre scared. Iím no psychiatrist, but I do know that you donít have to think youíre crazy if youíre just pissed off or frightened or confused."

She buried her face in his shoulder. "You believe in me more than I do," she said, "And thatís not right."

"Somebody has to believe in you," he said, realizing that he had to lighten the atmosphere somehow. All of a sudden a thought came to him: "Look, what you have is a Catch-22 thing. You know what that is?"

"Never heard of it," she said.

"Famous book. Thereís these bomber crews in Italy, back during World War II. Theyíre flying mission after mission, and getting the shit shot out of them, and theyíre all afraid of dying. Well, the regulations say that anybody can take themselves off of aircrew status by declaring that the fear of dying has driven them crazy. But the regulations also say that only a sane person can fear dying, so they canít be taken off of flight status. If you think youíre crazy, youíre not."

"That doesnít make sense," she said.

"Thatís just the point," he replied. "It doesnít have to make sense; itís the Army. Youíre so afraid of going off the deep end that the fear could drive you there if you let it. What was it you told Bruce? Donít let your fears keep you from doing what you want to do? You gave him good advice."

She pulled away from him. "That was a totally different situation."

"Bullshit."

She was silent for a moment, thinking about it. All of a sudden, an incredible urge for a cigarette came over him. He knew that there were a couple of cigarettes left in the pack heíd bought in Fort Collins, weeks ago. They were in the side pocket of his pack, and he open Rocinanteís door to dig for them.

"You know what I almost wish we could do?" she said from behind him. "I wish we could fly back to Twillingate and talk to Brother Erasmus."

He pulled a cigarette from the pack, and turned around to face her. "We could, I suppose. Or, we could call him. But I can just about tell you what he would say."

"What would he say?"

He sat down on the Cessnaís tire and lit the cigarette. "Heíd tell you that itís all Godís will. That whatever happens, to you, or whatever, is Godís will. Maybe heíd tell you that your motherís death is a sign from God, to get closer to him, to let the past be dead and buried. Heíd quote you some scripture from John or from Romans or something telling you to put your faith in God. And, he might be right."

She cocked her head sideways. "You donít believe in God, do you?"

He took a deep drag on the cigarette, and let the smoke relax him. He let it out in a long, slow cloud and said, "Thatís not right, and you know it. Iím not sure I believe in Brother Erasmusí God. Iíve always had trouble of conceiving of God in a church, but then I know other people donít have that problem, and I respect their beliefs, and thatís why weíve been reading Brother Erasmusí Bible. But, Iíll tell you that I canít stand out under a night sky, or look at M-31 without feeling the presence of God. You remember John, down in Texas? I donít know if Buddhists believe in God, or what they do believe, but looking at Omega Centauri through Johnís telescope Ė well, I donít know how a person can look at that and not feel the presence of a superior being, and I think John knows that."

She stood there thinking for a minute, then sat down on the ground next to him. "I think I agree," she said slowly. "I couldnít have put it in those words, but Iíve always felt a magic out under the stars, out with the telescope that Iíve never quite been able to describe."

"Thatís it, all right," he said. "I get the feeling sometimes when Iím flying, too. What Iíve been wanting to do is to find some way of making that feeling relate to Brother Erasmusí view, or something that kind of relates to how other people feel. Having a gut feeling and making sense out of it are two different things. I mean, I think I could explain the feeling to John, and heíd understand what Iím talking about, but I think heíd lose me when he tried to explain it. I just donít have it in me to turn my back on my Christian upbringing."

"I know one thing Brother Erasmus would tell you," Jackie said. "Faith isnít something that you can explain logically. Faith is something you have to feel in your heart."

"Iím sure thatís what heíd say," Mark agreed. "I mean, I have faith enough to go out under the starlit sky tonight and pray for your mother, and pray for the load youíre carrying to be lightened, and pray for guidance for both of us, and at least feel honest about it. Iím not sure I could walk into Brother Erasmusí church and do that honestly."

"I think you may be right," she said. "I think I feel the same way."

On the top of Mt. Palomar that June evening, the largest telescope in the world was turned toward the sky, seeing answers to some scientific puzzle about the making of the universe, or the makeup of it, or the future of it. Far down the mountain to the west, a much smaller telescope was also turned skyward, seeking answers of its own to questions that were in many ways the same. The larger of the two telescopes sought wisdom until dawn wiped the stars from the sky; the smaller one was put away much sooner. In each case, the operators of the telescopes put them away with satisfaction, feeling that they were a little bit closer to solving their piece of the puzzle.

*   *   *

Pauma Valley, California

June 26, 1971

Dear Dad and Sarah:

Mark and I talked about it very late last night, and decided that we wouldnít come home just yet. A couple of different times we all but had the plane packed to leave, but we talked ourselves out of it.

We are still willing to come home if you feel in the slightest that it would do any good for us to be there, even if it would just do you good to know we are there. We will try to call home more often, but donít feel that if you want us to come home that itís going to put us out any, as we have no real plans, and thereís no place that we have to be.

Weíve seen a lot in the few days since we left Durango. The Grand Canyon was magnificent, and we also saw Shiprock, Meteor Crater, Death Valley, and, would you believe it, the beginnings of the London Bridge, and the 200 inch telescope, of course. Somehow, though, I just donít feel like writing about those things right now, but I will try to in a day or two.

Mark and I are still trying to sort out how I feel about Motherís death. Itís very difficult for me to describe, but mixed feelings gets off to a good start. Hopefully, in a day or two things will start to sort themselves out.

I donít know too much about where weíre going from here, although south and west are out, for obvious reasons. Mark says heís not looking forward to flying through the Los Angeles metro area, but I kind of think that weíll at least head north, perhaps to Yosemite or up along the coast. Frankly, Iím torn between wanting to get on the move again and leave the heavy thoughts of this place behind me, and between sitting right here until we work them out. But, weíve packed up the plane, so I guess we will be leaving.

Dad, I promise weíll call in a few days. If thereís any reason we should head home, donít be afraid to let us know.

Love,

Jackie

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