Right before I took my brother home to Colorado, I took another trip, one just for me. In its own way, this first trip is as incomprehensible as the second one, and together they comprise a very strange and mystical journey.
I had nowhere in particular to go on my sojourn, so I headed north to visit a friend I’d only met offline once. I had enjoyed our visit so much that I thought I like to take her out to dinner and visit some more. When I realized there was no way I’d get to her place early enough to have dinner with her, I decided to head west toward the ocean. I was experiencing a brief grief upsurge because I’d just talked to my bank about removing Jeff from our joint account, something I’d resisted all these years, and it felt like one more little death.
“What’s it all about, Jeff?” I sobbed. “Have you figured it out yet?”
There was no answer, of course. He has never answered me in any way I could understand. I continued driving west on the same highway, but somewhere along the line the highway must have veered off, and I ended up on a narrow two-lane road that seemed to be going north. The road curved, and vineyards hugged the hillsides. Although Jeff had never visited any vineyards, he had a special affinity for them, and collected any movie he could that featured such terrain, such as A Walk in the Clouds.
I stopped at one vineyard where a musical event and barbecue were going on, sat for a while and enjoyed a glass of sangria, good barbecue, and satisfactory (though too loud) music, then I continued my journey.
I ended up at the coast in the dark. I stood at the water’s edge, listening to the surf and watching the tides come in (or out), then I went to find a place to stay for the night.
As you might expect, there was no vacancy anywhere by the beach on that Friday night at the beginning of August. I headed inland, drove for hours on a winding road with no shoulder, no turnoffs, and no other cars, but finally ended up at a motel around midnight. The next morning, I talked to my friend about dinner plans, but she was unavailable, so I headed west again with a full tank of gas. Again I ended up on a winding road with no shoulder, no turnoffs, and only a few other cars. I couldn’t see where I was going or where I had come from since most of the road was lost in the curves. All I had was the moment, and the moment was lovely.
When I was down to less than a quarter of a tank, I began to wonder if I would find a gas station before I ran out of gas. I didn’t much care, except that there was no place to pull off the road if I did. When I came upon a small market, I stopped and asked the woman at the cash register if there was a nearby gas station.
“Where are you going?” the woman asked.
“I don’t know,” I said.
She stared at me blankly and asked, “Where did come from?”
“I don’t know,” I said. “I don’t even know where I am. I’m just driving.”
She nodded, then admitted there was a gas station up ahead about twenty-five miles on the road to Lake Isobel.
“I know where Lake Isobel is,” I said.
“It’s desert,” she told me. “Not very pretty. Since you’re out for a drive, you should turn left instead of right when you reach the end of this road and go to Ponderosa.”
I bought a peach and chips and thanked her for her help, then continued on my way. The stop at the gas station on the Lake Isobel Road was like a stop in a foreign land. I had no idea what language they spoke, didn’t understand a word they said to me, they didn’t understand a word I said, but after a frustrating half hour I had a full tank of gas.
I turned left, of course. The scenery was remarkably beautiful.
I meandered along, stopping occasionally to take photos, and when I came to a parking area, I paid the price and took a break for a walk. “Trail of 100 Giants” proclaimed a sign, and so I found myself walking among the giant sequoias. Oh, my. Such beauty. Even the carnival atmosphere of the other visitors couldn’t mar the cathedral-like air of that awesome place.
The next day, I found myself within a few miles of California City, a platted area designed to be a megalopolis in the middle of the desert, and since I’d always been fascinated by the idea of the place, I took a quick look. Oddly, the roads and signposts of this city-that-never-was still surround the town.
And finally, on my way back to my father’s house where I am temporarily residing, I took a turnoff to see The Devil’s Punchbowl, something I’d seen from afar, but never up close. The Devil’s Punchbowl is a huge scooped out area in the earth lined with magnificent boulders.
It was while wandering around the punchbowl that I glimpsed the scope of my journey. Though I do not truly believe in signs, it seems to me that the trip to the wine country was a message from Jeff (or from my own inner being speaking in a way I could understand) telling me to pay attention. From the vineyards, I’d gone to the eternal waters, to the eternal trees, to the eternal land, to the eternal rocks.
A trip to eternity.
Even though I know what the trip was, I don’t know what it means. Maybe that we are part of something bigger than we can know. Maybe that our lives mean more (or maybe less) than we think. Maybe that it will all come right in the end. Maybe that we are where we are supposed to be. Maybe that the universe really is unfolding the way it’s supposed to be. Maybe, more specifically, that it doesn’t matter about dropping my brother off in Colorado, that he will be all right.
I do know that when I drove back after leaving my brother in Colorado, the eternal moon stayed by my side all that night while I wept.
Pat Bertram is the author of the suspense novels Light Bringer, More Deaths Than One, A Spark of Heavenly Fire, and Daughter Am I. Bertram is also the author of Grief: The Great Yearning, “an exquisite book, wrenching to read, and at the same time full of profound truths.” Connect with Pat on Google+. Like Pat on Facebook.