SOMEWHERE OUT ON THE RANGE
I spent most of my life behind corporate doors. Now at retirement, it was time to exercise my outdoor fantasies. The first one was horseback riding in the mountains and canyons of California...
Once I learned to roll in the saddle, I was less conscious of the horse's movement under my bottom. The canyons were breathtaking, the streams and lakes refreshing to my soul.
Frequent stops were helpful to my riding career. Tim, the Dude Ranch's assigned riding partner, maintained they were necessary to look for signs. He was a lot younger. His enthusiasm matched his ego for trying to discover things other people hadn't.
On the other hand, I discovered magnificent sequoias casting giant shadows under a pale blue sky... mountain formations beyond imagination.
Once again Tim leaped off his horse to pick up a handful of rocks. They were clues to him.
"It's all in the rocks", he said.
He'd gotten an 'A' in Geology and now he was an expert fossil man.
I enjoyed his zest. It was good to be a patient listener if you wanted to share in his adventures. His logic escaped me.
"What now?" I said.
"Rocks show some kind of marine creatures," Tim said.
I was through arguing with him about Noah's Flood. The marine fossils weren't signs of Lost River Canyon. He got that from people in the diner at breakfast. Tim seemed to be a sucker for anyone who could spin a yarn.
I enjoyed the breathtaking views around every turn of the trail, so long as I stayed in the saddle.
The hooves plunked in the stream with regularity as the water crept up my legs. The hot July Sun beat down the back of my neck. I got an unexpected chill...
"Hey, Tim, that's cold!"
"Must be some kind of underground stream. The waters around here are never this cold!," he replied.
"What are you an expert?," I said, "We're tourists!"
"That's what the internet says," he retorted.
"Hey, Tim, it's getting deep!"
The water ahead was dark and agitated. Tim and his horse disappeared for a moment. His horse struggled to the surface, its hooves came up above the water and splashed down heavily. It's eyes were wide and panicked.
Swirling water pulled me under. Tim and his horse were separated - silhouettes floundering before my eyes. My horse was below me. I slammed into a huge rock so hard I thought I was going to die. Dark, shadowy images were all around. A wall smashed me on the other side. Propelled like a rocket, I rotated to face up, feet first. Seconds later came a free fall surrounded by tons of white water. Sunlight blazed on my face; shadows turned into glaring light. My ears filled with an intolerable roar... then silence as I plunged into frightfully cold water. No breath left, boots half off, exhausted, can't move.
A force rudely pushed me from underneath. I rocketed straight up, gasped for air expecting to suck in water and drown. Instead I got air and slammed down with a stinging belly whopper. I managed to lift my head and get air again. I didn't think I had the strength to breathe after this. A current grabbed me, my body twisted upward, I took in another breath.
Violent coughing from the shore reached my ears. Through blurred eyes I could see a body lying on the beach, half in the water. The current took me right past it and around a bend. I flutter kicked and pushed off anything I passed to get to shore. The angle was too gradual. I was going to get caught in the rapids that rumbled in front of me. My strength was gone, swimming only served to exhaust me more.
"Agghhhh!" I began to choke. Someone grabbed the back of my shirt as I passed under a huge branch. I was painfully dragged over rough bark in jerky motions. Seconds later, I rolled onto the sandy shore - coughing up water, my feet still in the stream. My eyes were so blurry I couldn't tell who my benefactor was. All I could do was close my eyes and breathe...
A violent shiver woke me up in darkness. My feet were swaying in cold water. Shaking uncontrollably, I dragged myself up the beach like a soldier in combat. By chance I lifted up my head as high as I could and spotted a bright, reddish orange flickering light between two bushes off in the distance. It was just over some sand dunes. Evidently the beach rose abruptly into a thick brushy area blocking the line of sight unless one stood up. Up to my knees I struggled, turning sideways at first to squish my boots on. The first step toward the light was shaky. Thoughts were of survival.
The bright light spewed visible smoke into the night air wisping up toward the moon. A multi-colored mound with a fuzzy top appeared on the right. I approached noisily. Nothing moved but the light which sent out a crackling sound. I had no energy to say anything - no worry if there were any danger.
Once I reached the clearing, I could see better. I was too exhausted to say a word to Tim. I picked up the multi-colored Indian blanket lying nearby, put it over my shoulders and sat down on the log next to him. His glazed, hollow-eyed stare went from the fire to me and back. Later, I put my wet clothes on a flat rock to dry. Tomorrow would be a new day - we could talk then.
I dozed on and off until the color of the sky matched last night's fire. I raised my arms and stretched - eyes gradually unblurred. Tim was bending over morsels of food laid out on a small, hewn out log. His blanket lay perilously close to the burning embers of the once blazing camp fire. I ate ravenously - it was some kind of dried meat surrounded by leaves and stems. It wasn't there last night. What I wouldn't have given for a cup of hot coffee and a bowl of rice krispies.
"Can't believe... hung onto th' horses' tail," Tim opened up. "Pulled me right to shore...Thought I'd lost you... couldn't speak last night, mouth wouldn't move."
"That's a first," I smiled.
"Ha!," Tim smiled back, chewing on green leaves.
"Phfffff" came the sound from one of our horses' nostrils as they clip - clopped their way up the rocky incline to our camp.
Tim and I turned quickly to see our mounts being led by a burly Park Ranger. Both animals were happily chewing on green grass from the valley below - looking no less the worse for wear. I spied the saddles straddling a fallen branch near the pathway.
"Sorry couldna introduce m'self t' y'all last nite," the man puffed as he pulled on the reins of both horses. "Name's Ranger Bob... someone got snake bit' down th' trail... had to take off soon as ah haird it on th' radio."
He looked powerful enough to drag me out of the water.
"Looks laak y'all had yore fill a desert food," Ranger Bob remarked as he approached the camp fire.
"Sorry 'bout all the trouble, Ranger," Tim said, "We were looking for Lost River Canyon".
"Why cain't y'all do thins the easy way?" The Ranger answered. "The trail ta Lost River Canyon's 'rat' off ol' 395 a short ride off yonder - cain't miss the sign, biggern' ol' miner Roy's shack. Thars ridin trails frum all points.... zzz'not a good idee fur tenderfeet ta go down river thru them rapids.... Ya'll musta been listen' to th' gang at Sparky's Diner"
I was embarrassed at how this crusty old Ranger could see so clearly through us.
"Y'all jes lak church folk ah know. They swaller up ev'ry word a foolishness, even from the pulpit... too lazy ta take time to check inta everythin' their selves. Trouble befalls them at ev'ry turn."
My face blushed like last night's campfire as I turned to see Tim's reaction.
The reins were suddenly dragging on the rocky path near the fire. The horses appeared startled. I blinked my eyes and rubbed them several times.
"Whaaaaaa!," Tim's sharp voice broke through the morning air to confirm what I saw - the Ranger had vanished into thin air!
I was paralyzed. Young Tim moved quickly and gathered up the reins. I looked all around to see if I could find any telltale signs. Too much had happened in the last few hours to process. There was nothing left of the man except a pile of clothing on top of his boots and an old Appaloosa grazing in the valley.
My throat was hoarse yelling for Ranger Bob... or anyone. I gathered up the reins of two horses and headed for 395 on foot. They were still skiddish. Tim insisted on riding in the hopes of seeing someone. At any moment, we expected to hear the whine of vehicles, but there were only the sounds of wilderness.
Thirty minutes later, the horses' clip/clop on concrete echoed eerily down an empty road.
"Which way to the Ranch?" I asked.
Tim shrugged. He pointed and looked with frightened eyes at a pick-up with its rear end straight up in the air - its nose in a ditch.
There were other vehicles in ominous positions in the distance. No sign of life - no road signs. A lone Tank truck rumbled toward us from the east. The driver had a wide eyed look. Despite frantic waving, he downshifted and accelerated by. The wind draft from the truck exploded on us and panicked the horses. I had all I could do to hold onto the reins. Tim's mount nearly bolted back into the forest. We turned in the direction of the pick-up. It's engine was still running, no one was in sight...
"Let's see if we can get this back on the road," I said.
Tim nodded numbly.
I pushed aside the clothes and slid into the driver's seat. The boots were still in place on the floor, waiting for their owner - with the jean legs pulled over each boot.
"It's still in gear! Man, what happened to the driver!," I said.
"Uhhh," Tim responded.
"You okay, Tim?"
"I dunno, all this scares me," Tim said.
I rocked the Toyota back and forth until it was on the road again. The four wheel drive made the difference.
"What 'bout the horses?" Tim said.
"Can't take 'em with us... There's grass over there...Stay here. Be back..."
"Okay," was all Tim could manage.
We'll probably get into trouble with the Ranch for leaving the horses. Too much has happened - gotta get outta here! With all this practice, I might become a good ranch hand.
A patch of grass near an ancient bony pine tree seemed a good place to leave the horses and riding gear. The animals were tranquil. All three bent down as a trio to graze.
I left food and Ranger Bob's saddle bags in case he turned up. I was still dazed about his disappearance. I owed him my life and now he was gone. I decided to keep the blankets and his bible... Never had much interest in religion - family background and all. But that bible was underlined everywhere... looked like he took it seriously. On second thought, he'll have more use for it - if he makes it back.
On our way in the Toyota, Tim resolved to embellish upon this adventure when he got home. He seemed to process Ranger Bob's disappearance as mystical - the danger he faced only a story to tell. He dozed off to sleep.
His callousness irritated me.
"Tim, wake up! Can you drive? I'm bushed."
"Ummph, huh!, Ohhh, yeah.," Tim responded. He rolled over to face the door and went back to sleep.
"Tim, come on! Wake up! I haven't seen a soul since the Tanker. We just crossed 208 to Smith. I was too tired to react. I'm getting hungry."
"Why didn't you take the food in the saddle bags?" Tim said, his voice muffled against the door.
"Suppose he turned up?" I answered.
Tim turned to face forward. "Not hardly, pilgrim," Tim answered callously in his John Wayne accent.
I wasn't ready to dismiss the man who saved my life. I needed to open up his bible and see what he found so important. I was so angry at Tim's insensitivity. I needed to distance myself for a while.
Tim's eyes were closed.
"Come on, Tim. Wake up. I need some relief!"
Once Tim was behind the wheel, he blazed his own trail. Without any warning, he turned west onto 89. Forty hungry minutes later he turned into a rundown Pizza place in Loope Canyon. Tim's staple was pizza. One look at the fare and I longed for Ranger Bob's desert food. The highlight of this stop was the first human we'd seen since the panicked Tanker driver. The owner was oblivious to anything happening. On the other hand, he apologized that his employee hadn't shown up for work this afternoon.
He said he couldn't reach her by phone. "Hadn't missed a day in three years"
I gathered up a plate of scraps from a lackluster salad bar and disappeared outside to sit at an old, wobbly picnic table. I was anxious to glean what I could from Ranger Bob's bible while there was still light. Tim was totally absorbed scarfing down his pizza with everything the owner offered to put on it. He took no notice that I was gone.
The book opened up to 'John', I was surprised because that wasn't in the middle. The middle was 'Ezekiel' - so I started there. There was lots of religious stuff like "The word of the LORD came to me, 'Son of man, this is what the Sovereign LORD says to the land of Israel..."
Hmmmm!, I said. "Boring".
I've hated church stuff since my holy Aunt tried to shove the bible down my throat. My older sisters were quick to run, so she always picked on me. We found out hers was the place to stop in town for every drifter who wanted to satisfy his personal lusts.
Canon Downs was the local religious figure in town - Episcopal priest. He refused to recommend me to the Navy as a respectable citizen because I didn't attend his church enough! He used to ride home drunk with the red bubble and siren going off in his official Chaplain of the Fire Department Car after free drinks at Douglaston Country Club. I was accepted into the Navy anyway.
I went back to 'John'. It started to read kind of funky. I munched on droopy carrots and brown lettuce and looked at the sunset. Tim went back for more pizza. I wondered where we'd spend the night.
Time was moving by. Thinking about the events of the last two days was enough to exhaust anyone. Waves of fatigue came like an incoming tide.
Drag Tim from the table, fuel up and then lodging.
The service station was wide open - no attendant in sight. I filled up the tank and left a twenty dollar bill on the counter. The cash drawer was open. A shirt and a pair of jeans lay on a chair as if one intended to put them on. A pair of boots was on the floor with the jean legs pulled over each boot.
Back on 89 East.... Tim was fast asleep with no hope of waking.
The road showed no promise of lodging. I turned into a park entrance. The sign said 'closed after dark', the gate was open. I drove to the top of the first hill and jumped into the truck bed. Shadows of monster trees illuminated by the stars portrayed an ominous army on the horizon.
"Gotta get directions back to the Ranch," I thought as I folded one blanket into a pillow and laid it next to the bible on the other blanket. I put on the shirt that was left in the truck.
Sleep was immediate and deep the moment my head hit the 'pillow'...
I was flying through the air amidst giant eery columns with outreaching arms...
The impact on the ground woke me up. It was pitch dark. The bright starlight illuminated nearby trees shaking their branches at me menacingly. The truck was on its side. The ground was trembling. I bounced and rolled downward violently, slamming into things until a tree trunk stopped me like a concrete wall. I rolled over in pain. All kinds of debris came on top of me. The shaking continued as I slumbered off into unconsciousness.
My nose and mouth were filled with dust. I was looking into sunlight through a mesh of branches, rocks and debris. The tree I slammed into had fallen right over me like a protective canopy.
"Tim, you there?" I said weakly.
There was no room to move - no visible way out of this prison. Panic flushed through my body. I turned over on my back, and looked down through my feet and saw daylight. Dirt fell into my face. I spit it out and slid feet first, inch by inch - spewing grit from my mouth as I moved. I inched my hand up my leg, over my chest to my face to wipe the dust out of my eyes.
The Toyota and hill were gone - in its place was a canyon of rock, fallen trees and debris. After hours of calling and searching, Tim was no where to be found. No time to sit, don't know when I'll collapse. What was left of SR 89 led me nowhere. I lost track of where it used to be with all the detours around mounds of rubble and fallen trees. I headed back in the direction we came in the hopes of meeting someone.
I rested frequently to conserve my strength and maximize distance traveled. The day went fast. Food and shelter were not in sight as dusk approached.
What had been evident for some time had I looked up was an elevated Ranger station...
"Y'all looking for help?" came from a blurr above standing in front of the setting Sun.
"Yes," I managed, straining to see who it was.
"Thars a bench n' table over yonder. Set a spell. Be right down," came the voice from the sunset.
My head automatically dropped to the table.
"Ah figured ya'll be hongry"
I looked up to find a metal plate of "desert food" and a friendly Ranger face.
The plate was refilled moments later as Ranger Walt coordinated rescue efforts on his radio.
"Y'all look a bit dehydrated," came as he placed a canteen in front of me.
"Whatever happened to Ranger Bob," I asked as I refreshed myself with cool spring water.
"Don' know. Found the Appaloosa and his radio settin' aside his clothes at a camp site. Strange happinins' of late - number a folk disappear. Picked up his bible sev'l malles away in a pile o' debris. Got no use fur it."
He pulled it from a leather bag and placed it on the table for me.
"He ain't got no kin," he said.
As usual it opened up to JOHN. My eyes drooped as I got to chapter 3.
"Hey, son! Wake up! Thar may be after shock. Ah got group a campers to lead ya ova to safe site."
I put on the knapsack the Ranger handed me.
"Good luck," he said, as I joined the group gathered around the table. His radio burst an urgent message as I shook his hand with great emotion.
"Name's Matt," I said to the leader of the camp group. "Thanks for the help."
"No problem, mate. I'm Ned. Stay close on the trail. We had a big one hit just over the ridge.
"Yeah, I lost a friend up there," I said, "people disappearing too."
Ned looked at me strangely and turned to take the lead on the trail.
By now it was dark so we traveled single file, in close order. Ned's light flickered back and forth across the trail - a constant checkpoint. Mono Lake appeared in front of us. The water reflected the bright moonlight onto a beachfront campsight.
"Can ya set up a tent, mate?" Ned asked, as he handed me a roll from atop his backpack.
"Think so," I responded.
"Set it up ova thea," he pointed.
The man instilled confidence and hope.
Setting up a tent by firelight is no mean task. Ned was there to make key adjustments. I welcomed him as tent mate. It gave me an opportunity to use his light to read more of Ranger Bob's Bible. There was a website address in the margin at chapter 3.
"Gotta laptop 'll pull it up in th' mornin', mate" he said, as he looked over my shoulder. "Get some rest. Plenty a rescue work to do at 'diebreak'."
"Nite," I said and rolled over on my side. My confidence seemed to be buoyed beyond the natural as I contemplated the events of the last few days - even recited the Lord's prayer like I did with my grandmother when I was a little boy.
Morning brought the best breakfast with a group of people who cared - bent on rescuing others from the devastating earth quake. I was a little intimidated by their efficiency in the wilderness. Ned brought his laptop over to me and keyed in the site we spoke about last night:
It summarized what I read in JOHN chapter three. The message spoke miles and completely changed my life:
Jesus, I know you must be from God with all the miracles youve been performing.
Truthfully speaking, no one can enter the Kingdom of God unless he is born from heaven above - born again strictly by Gods doing.
Thats the issue here.
Born again????? Can I expect to come out of my mothers womb a second time????
Its clearly explained in the Scriptures. I thought you were a teacher for all Israel? Was I not clear about being born from heaven above by God???
It says in Ezekiel, God will sprinkle clean water on you and you will be clean. That is to say, He will give you a new heart and put a new spirit in you and He will put His Spirit in you.
How can this be???
Like the wind, the work of the Spirit is a mystery, Nicodemus; but truly I say as Ezekiel said, you must be born of water = of the Spirit in the spiritual realm. It is not a physical birth.
Remember the time when Moses made a pole with a bronze snake on it and placed it for all to see so that all who believed and looked at it would not die of the deadly snake bites that were occurring?
So in the same way, the Son of Man, the One prophesied in Daniel and Isaiah to be Messiah/Savior will be lifted up in sacrifice for sins that all who simply believe in Him will have eternal life - be born again into the Kingdom of God by the work of the Spirit from heaven above.
For God so loved the world that He gave His one and only Son that the one who believes in Him shall never perish in Hell but rather at that very moment he believes be given the free gift of eternal life and most assuredly as a result will enter the Kingdom of God.
Jesus, so what are the works one must do to gain eternal life in the Kingdom of God?
To gain eternal life is impossible for man, but all things are possible with God.
The work one must do to have eternal life is not to work for it at all!
But to simply believe in the One Whom God has sent to save the world is all you must do, nothing more.
I put myself in the place of Nicodemus and considered the marvelous result of simply accepting as true what he was told by Jesus.
A moment of faith alone in Christ alone unto eternal life forever!
The devastating events over the last few days and the supernatural preservation of my life pointed directly to the new purpose that drove me this day.
"Time ta go, mate," interrupted my thoughts.
I have to read this again - much to ponder. All those disappearances!
My exuberance infected the entire camp. Everyone had questions - including Ned. Having possession of Ranger Bob's bible, I became the resident teacher. Some believed and received assurance of everlasting life. Believing in the simple account from the bible was key. The website's explanation was clear. It corroborated what was plainly read.
After all the garbage I was told, honesty and normal reading skills were all that were necessary to understand the bible - a moment of faith alone in Christ alone + nothing else gave you eternal life forever. I wanted to reach beyond the grave and tell my aunt and Canon Downs what they missed.
From what I learned, God was faithful in responding to those who had the least interest in what He had to say. A continued and careful reading would answer the questions everyone had.
Ned broke into our discussion, "Ranger Walt has directed us to go to the Nevada side of the Lake to see if we can pick up any stragglers".
He focused his gaze on me, "The ranch you were staying at is a disaster zone. Ranger Walt confirmed what you said about strange disappearances."
"Could be some outer space deal like in Death Valley," one of the campers mused.
"How 'bout it, Matt? Got anything in the bible to explain them?"
"Weren't you were there when Ranger Bob disappeared?" another asked.
"Let's get moving," Ned said as we broke camp and turned southward.
We picked up some campers and brought them back to our base camp. Casualties were flown out by chopper. We were learning search and rescue teamwork. For the first time in my life, reality was better than fantasy. It had purpose.
That afternoon I continued to move through John, focusing on the notes and underlining made by Ranger Bob:
1 "Do not let your hearts be troubled. Trust in God; trust also in Me.
2 In my Father's house are many rooms; if it were not so, I would have told you. I am going there to prepare a place for you.
3 And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with Me that you also may be where I am.'
Notes in the margin cross referenced with this:
1 THESSALONIANS 4
13 Brothers, we do not want you to be ignorant about those who fall asleep, or to grieve like the rest of men, who have no hope.
14 We believe that Jesus died and rose again and so we believe that God will bring with Jesus those who have fallen asleep in him.
16 For the Lord himself will come down from heaven, with a loud command, with the voice of the archangel and with the trumpet call of God, and the dead in Christ will rise first.
17 After that, we who are still alive and are left will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. And so we will be with the Lord forever."
"So that explains the disappearances," I said. "Evidently they all got a better set of clothes!"
The laughter was punctuated, "What about us?" someone asked.
"Evidently Jesus came to take those who had already believed in Him," I said.
"So where does that leave us," a newcomer sitting on a sand dune asked.
"I donno. John 3:16 gives eternal life for everyone who believes in God's Son. We missed the boat on going home early; but we'll get there after we face a few challenges"
"Well, keep on reading... I need to make sense of it," the newcomer said. "Names Anthony. Appreciate the encouragment. I lost two friends on the trail. One left his clothes behind, too"
On the job disaster relief training invaded my lonely life and gave it purpose. I married this purpose to my mission of sharing my new found faith. With no family to connect with, fellow relief workers became my family - where ever I was sent. America was devastated by the loss of so many believers who were caught up. So was Europe. Nobody was left except unbelievers. Conflicts erupted everywhere. People segregated for survival. They became aggressive toward anyone who was different. Natural disasters compounded the violent chaos.
The bible declared that it would only get worse until Jesus Christ came again to the earth. Giving assurance that God would see His children through all of this was my main message after the gospel of faith alone in Christ alone.
I attracted attention - much of it negative. One day I found myself behind bars. The shame of standing completely naked on the gallows before a crowd was more than I could humanly bear. I refused to recant my faith publically. This meant denying my reason for living. My focus was on crossing over to be with my Savior. The bible spoke clearly that some of the faithful would be martyred. I hardly identified with that until my feet were no longer about to be supported by the gallows floor. I handed my notes to the man as he placed the hood over my head.
"Hey, Charlie! Lookit this!," a prison guard said.
"Yeah, what?" Charlie grunted.
"That guy they just hung, he left his clothes on the bunk like he's still in 'em. Look, the jean legs are pulled over each boot!," the guard said.
"These religious folk is strange people. Gotta give 'em credit. Seems like he looked forward to dyin' ," Charlie retorted.
"Want his bible?" the guard asked.
"Nah, you keep it. I got better thin's to do wit ma time," Charlie answered.
"Ah right. Jes might do thet," the guard said. "A man who dies like that has some kinda peace 'bout him. Maybe thars more to this bible than we know," the guard answered.
"Better watchit, ya'll might end up naked on the' gallows wid dat pot belly your'n hangin out fer ev'y one ta see," Charlie added.
The laughter in the prison rang hollow against the guard's sober desire to have more than what this troubled life had to offer.
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