Short Break, Then More Rain

Yesterday’s rainfall in Sacramento was the most in recorded history–five inches! It’s overcast now with no rain, but some is predicted for 11 a.m. . What complicated matters was that trees are losing their leaves, so gutters on roof tops and roads were often clogged with autumn colors.

The Adventures of Chartan: On the Mountain

            (Last week: The road trip is interrupted when police arrest Elisa after a traffic stop. Chartan and Brazil drive on, stopping to hike up a Sierra Mountain trail where Brazil reveals he may have killed a boy during combat in Vietnam.)

            Chartan and Brazil sat atop a giant boulder aglow in the overhead moonlight. The cloudless night sky, common in the summer along the Sierras, was dotted with pulsating stars. 

            Chartan gazed at Brazil who was speaking, but the self-anointed guru had stopped listening; instead, he found his mind trapped in a world he had only imagined. Killing. Combat. A foreign land. What were the rules?  Was anybody watching and telling the truth?

            I have failed. This dream of life restoration was based on my belief that a good life was about control and compassion.  Focus on the important. Eliminate the distractions of materialism and its connections to happiness. But I don’t understand Elisa. Brazil has been to a place I hope never to know. I am here on this mountain for a reason: to confess, to start over…not to give up or feel sorry for myself.

            “Chartan, are you with me?”

            He heard Brazil clearly. “I’m finally in the moment.

            Brazil laughed. “What the hell are you talking about?”

            “I don’t have a path anymore for others. I have to start over with myself and find the answers. Why am I here? What should I do?”

            “Got it. My story is too hard to take.”

            “I want to be your friend. That you have done something you regret will be an important part of our friendship.”

            “If there were a bar up here, I’d get wasted right now.”

            Chartan held out a hand, palm up. Brazil stared at it for a few seconds before putting his palm on top.

            “Maybe we can get through this together,” said Brazil.

            “We will.”

                                                                        ***

            They sat under the moonlight surrounded by dark shadows.

            “What are your demons?” asked Brazil.

            Chartan grinned—that was the kind of question he used to ask. He could barely make out Brazil’s rugged features as he spoke:  “My ego.  I’ve always had a well-defined path for myself—my purpose was instinctive. My ego, strong. But now I’m unsure.”

            “I have something for uncertainty.” Brazil pulled out a rolled cigarette from his shirt pocket. “High-grade hashish.”

            “I don’t do drugs.”

            “I’m not asking you to become an addict. You need to relax and this will help.” Brazil handed Chartan a lit joint.

            Two hours passed, or maybe it was one, thought Chartan.   He sensed he was no longer careful about what he was telling Brazil. “Elisa is my demon.”

            “She’s a beautiful woman.”

            “Hard to understand. Destructive, actually. I wonder how long she will be in jail?”

            “We can go back and find out,” said Brazil loudly.

            “If we don’t go back, where will we go?”

            Brazil laughed. “You’re right, we have to go somewhere. We can’t stay on this rock.”

            “It’s getting cold.”

            “There may be bears.”

            “You always see the dark side.” Chartan inhaled again.

            Both men laughed.

            Brazil thrust his arms out.” I’ve got it. The Plan!”

            “The Plan! That’s exactly what is needed. What is it?”

            “What?”

            “Yeah, what is it?”

            Both men giggled.

            “Seriously,” said Chartan. “The plan is simple. Number one, we get off this mountain. Number two, we drive to the jail. If we can figure out Elisa, we’ll be able to understand ourselves.”

            “You’re saying I can deal with 40 years of guilt if I understand what makes a crazy woman tick?”

            “In a way. When you understand others and have compassion for them, you’ll understand yourself. Removing the obstacles of anger and fear are blocking us from the peace that can be ours. It’s all so clear to me.”

            Brazil inhaled.

                (Continued next Sunday.)                                                       

The Adventures of Chartan: The Road Trip Begins With Bumps

            (Last week Chartan, Brazil and Elisa hit upon the idea of a road trip.)

            Chartan gripped the steering wheel of a 1966 Chevelle, his eyes riveted on the grayish two lane road ahead. The pine trees on either side became a greenish blur as he stepped on the gas pedal. Elisa’s face appeared to be pressed against the front passenger window. He knew Brazil was spread out in the back seat,  head propped up by a pillow– he could see the top of the combat veteran’s gray wavy hair in the rear view mirror

            ”Thanks for letting me drive your car,” said Chartan.

            Brazil responded, “You’ve got Chevy’s best engine—a 283 tuned to perfection. Just watch the speed limit unless you like to collect traffic tickets.”

            They were climbing I-80 near Donner Pass at 90 mph—Chartan eased off the gas until he reached 75 mph.

            “When should we discuss our first destination?” asked Chartan, expecting Brazil to answer, but Elisa said her first words since they had left Sacramento over an hour ago.

            “I want a steak—it’ll be my treat.”

            Brazil interjected: “I know this casino outside of Reno—about 60 miles from here. The steaks are great.”

            Chartan thought to himself: I am without expectations. We are three strangers to each other. I have no anxiety over our purpose if there is one. Tomorrow I’ll worry about money. For now I hope this casino serves fish.

            When Chartan checked the rear view mirror, he was greeted by a flashing red light. The speedometer needle pointed to 90 mph.

            “Dinner will be delayed.”

                                                                        ***

            “License and registration.”

            Chartan noted the officer didn’t say “please,” and he couldn’t see his eyes behind the aviator sunglasses.

            “Sir?”

            “Yes, license and registration,” replied Chartan as he struggled to remove the wallet from his pants pocket. He didn’t see the officer gripping the service revolver in his holster.

            “The registration is in the glove compartment,” said Brazil. Chartan retrieved it and handed it to the officer along with his driver’s license.

            “Mr. Chartan, you have the same last name as the first name?”

            “Yes.”

            “This car is registered to Skyler Brazil. Who is that?”

            Brazil leaned forward. “That’s me, sir.”

            “Ma’am, what is your name?”

            Elisa didn’t answer.

            “Ma’am, may I see your license?”

            “I wasn’t driving.”

            “Mr. Chartan, what is your destination?”

            “That’s a loaded question,” replied Chartan.

            “Stay here,” said the officer who returned to his cruiser.

            “Have any outstanding tickets?” asked Brazil.

            “I have a chauffer’s license with an impeccable record.”

            “Not anymore,” said Elisa.

            Chartan turned to the woman he didn’t understand. Why was she with them? He wanted her to go away and they’d only gone 90 miles. He eyed the side view mirror. The cruiser’s driver’s door was wide open with the officer standing behind it. He appeared to be talking.

            “He’s on the phone, “said Brazil who was looking through the rear window.

            Elisa kept her eyes on the road as if the car were moving. 

            “Shit,” yelled Brazil as two cruisers with blue lights flashing skidded to stop in front of their car.

                                                                        ***

            Elisa didn’t look at Chartan and Brazil as she was led away in handcuffs. During the traffic stop the police discovered a warrant had been issued for her failure to appear in court to answer charges that she had brandished a gun in a public place.

            After the patrol cars were out of sight, Brazil grunted, “Let’s drive.” 

            With Brazil at the wheel, they continued towards Reno until Chartan said he’d rather hike than eat a casino steak. Brazil eventually left the interstate and parked the car on a side road with trail access.

            They said little to each other as they trudged up the dusty path winding past manzanita shrubs and pine trees. They were breathing heavily by the time they reached the peak. Chartan pointed to a giant boulder. Once on it they had a sweeping view of the Tahoe basin in the fading light—the sun had dropped below the horizon.

            “All great conversations take place on a mountain top,” said Chartan, sitting down.

            “I’m overdue for a brain dump,” replied Brazil, positioning himself a few feet away.

            “Well put. Tell me why you took my class.”

            “I need answers–I’m tired of running from what I did once.”

            “Combat?”

            “It’s whatever they call 40 years of condensing a few seconds into this endless loop of images. Funny, the light was low like it is now. I squeezed the trigger because a shadow moved.”

            “And you wish you hadn’t?”

            “It was the only time when I was unsure.”

            “What happened?”

            “I found a boy next to a thatched hut. The shell went right through his chest. I left him there and ran. I never saw his face clearly. But these days I see him all the time. I live with him. Like you said, no one deserves to die.”

                                                            ***

(To Be Continued Next Sunday)

Monarchs Return for Day Two

Monarch in English ivy.
A monarch peering over a cosmos.

Monarchs returned to the backyard for a second day, this time joining thousands of honey bees working the English ivy. Of course, they also visited the cosmos flowers. But there haven’t been any clusters of monarchs as is the case about five miles north in Pacific Gove.

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