“I don’t know why I keep going on these hikes with you Chuck. You always end up talking about the same thing.”
“Jon, you know why I do it.”
“Can we not go there today? I’m not up for looking in the mirror.”
“As you wish.”
Jon noticed that the low clouds were burning off earlier than usual. The breaking sun started toasting him so he shed his jacket and tied it around his waist. He needed this hike today, needed an opportunity to sort through his troubles in different surroundings. The last five weeks were rough. Confronting his oldest daughter about her drug use and then sending her to rehab were the hardest things he’d ever done, made worse by the fight with his wife Gina on the way home from the center and his ensuing two-day bender. “What have I passed on to my kid?” Jon asked himself as they continued their climb.
Sandstone Peak was now in view, and the Channel Islands looked so tantalizingly close that it seemed like a vigorous swim would land you on Santa Rosa Island in no time.
“Pretty spectacular, eh?” Chuck said. "All my years in Malibu, I’ve never seen the view this clear.”
“Neither have I,” Jon mumbled, lost in this thoughts.
A long pause. “Hey Jon, how do you think all this got here?”
“I’ve heard they split off from the coastline as the Pacific Plate—”
“Not what I meant. Do you think days like this just happen? That this place just happened?”
“Are you asking if I believe God created it all? Nah, I go with what science says.”
As Jon tried to forget Chuck’s question he saw that all the haze and every wisp of cloud had dissolved into an azure canopy reflecting deep cobalt on the waters below. A rustle drew his attention—a ringtailed cat was chasing a grey fox. His first thought was nature’s brutality, but then he saw a beauty, an order, in their survival dance. Wildflowers grabbed his attention next, gently waving tongues of blue-eyed grass, trumpets of California poppies, and modest wild rose petals framing golden centers.
Jon’s eyes darted upward. A golden eagle patiently circled its domain while a red-tailed hawk dived toward green foothills to the west. A peregrine falcon zoomed past with a small rabbit grasped in its talons. A choir of gray owls announced its presence with a muffled tenor. “Owls … I thought they were nocturnal.” He spotted a pair of mountain lions enthroned near the adjacent peak.
Chuck’s question floated back into his mind. He shook it off before it could land.
Pleased that his digital camera captured everything, Jon told Chuck he was ready to rush home and show Gina the pictures. He started to feel an unfamiliar tug inside as they descended.
“Today was something special, Jon. I’m glad we shared it.”
“Great time, Chuck. See you soon.”
As Jon got into his car, the tug became something warmer, more familiar, like when he first fell in love. The answer to Chuck’s question came knocking.
Jon chased the answer away as he pulled into his driveway. He sprinted into the house, finding Gina in the family room. “What a great day we had! The gloom burned off real early and we could see forever. The islands looked like they were across the street. And I could see our neighborhood.”
Gina looked puzzled. “The clouds only cleared around here about a half hour ago.”
“That can’t be. Look at these amazing pictures.” Jon turned on his camera and started flipping through images. “What? No, this can’t be … I don’t believe it!”
Gina grabbed the camera. “Looks like you were above what we saw all morning.”
Jon grabbed his keys and bolted for the door. “I’m goin’ over to Chuck’s. This is weird. Somethin’s not right.”
Jon’s mind, heart, and car raced ahead. “I saw it! I saw it all!” he kept screaming as he sped toward Chuck’s place. He stormed out of the car to the front door and started pounding.
“Jon, what are you doing here?”
“Chuck, these pictures were fantastic when we were up there. But now they’re all just clouds. What’s goin’ on here?”
“Jon, what happened up there was just for you.”
“What do you mean?”
“Remember my question?”
“Yeah, but what does that have to do with the pictures? I know what I saw! What’s happening? What do I do?”
“Find the answer and you’ll know.”
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