Shift 38: Another Summer


When summer came, Deon drove me up to the mountains again. He told knock-knock jokes the whole drive. Usually, his laughter’s contagious, and even if I don’t find his jokes funny, I find him funny. But maybe it was the long drive. I just wasn’t feeling it. I felt a little off and worn out, actually.

Deon stuck around for the weekend. He introduced me to the new ranger, who’s graduated with an environmental science degree from USM.


He said that USM students do a lot of field work up here, so if I specialize in forest ecosystems, I’d be coming up a lot, too.

“You really ought to think about going into forest management,” he said. “That’s where the jobs are.”

But I’m not into the going to school for the jobs. I really do want to study plant genetics, just like I pretended all those years ago when I first met Deon at Oasis Springs National Park.


I figure I’ll use the summer to do some of my own investigations on genetic variations in the high alpine plant communities. You don’t need fancy equipment to study genetics. All you need is a good eye, the ability to notice trends, and accurate measurements and record-keeping.

I want to make every second count this summer. If I’m not doing field work, I want to be training. The high altitude will be great for developing speed, strength, and greater lung capacity.

And if I’m not training or doing field work, I want to study with Ted, so he can teach me more folk uses of the wild herbs. I’ve got so much to learn!


Deon left to head back to work. “Don’t be so hyper focused all the time,” he said. “Take it easy a bit, too! Remember it’s your summer vacation!”

He gave me a jar of Ted’s favorite pepperoncinis to deliver, told me he’d see me after Labor Day, and off he went, driving back to the gardens of the low lands.

And I headed up to the wilderness of the high country.


It felt like coming home.

Like I expected, Ted was out wildcrafting when I arrived, but he left me a note, telling me to make myself at home, and saying that he was looking forward to seeing me somewhere around my birthday.

I’m gonna be 17 this summer.


What a luxury to have the place to myself!

I slept well, ate a lot, and of course, I kept up my training.


After a week or so, I was out in the meadow doing yoga when this weird feeling came over me.

I felt empty.

I figured it must be one of those spiritual things that always seem to happen to me when I come up here.

But it felt weird. It was sort of pleasant, but I couldn’t really feel my body. I just felt really, really empty, and really, really tired. I sort of felt exhausted.


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Shift 13: Heaven

It took a few days of searching. I finally found that passageway that Deon told me about, the one that leads to the high country.


Walking into the crevice, I felt I was leaving behind all the bad stuff that ever happened.


And I emerged in heaven.


I never saw blue before, until I saw that sky.


Rainbows rode the waterfalls down into the pools


Granite crags line the meadow. It’s safe here.


I followed a western tanager up to a rocky crag, and I looked out below, across all the mountains, over the foothills, out toward the desert.

I’ve left it all behind.


Lying on a slab of granite, feeling the sun warm my face and the radiating rock warm my back, I found freedom.


I want to live here forever, where nothing can hurt me, where I can see forever.


A land full of rainbows must be where happiness is born!


Near the pool at the base of the waterfall, I found a ring of campfire stones and built a fire.


Then I heard laughter. First, I thought it was my imagination, because I was happy. Then I thought it was an echo from the waterfalls, ringing through the valley.

Then I turned around, and there was an old man.

“Are you Ted?” I asked him.

He was. I told him I was Deon’s friend.

“Then you’re my friend, too,” he said.


We talked for a while. But he didn’t ask me any questions about who I was or what I was doing there. He talked about seasons. He talked about a tree that was growing old, and another young tree that was reaching up and would fill the space that the old tree left, after its branches lost their leaves, dried, and got blown off in storms.

“No space goes empty,” he said. “There’s always something to fill every space.”

He asked me what I fill my spaces with.

I told him I didn’t know. I was happy now, and I felt quiet inside, so now my spaces were filled with the roar of the waterfall and the tickles of rainbows.

But I said this wouldn’t last, and something else would fill the spaces when this shifted.

He laughed and clapped me on the shoulder.

“Good answer!” he said, as if I’d passed some sort of test.

He asked if I was hungry, and he led me through the alpine meadows to the cabin where he lived.


I looked at the wildflowers lining the path, the light coming from the windows, the front door that begged to open.

“Can I stay awhile?” I asked.

“For a while,” he said. Something shifted in me, and the space inside me was filled with home.

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