Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Sunday, October 28, 2012


Sunday's message from Hebrews 5:11-6:3

Peter Pan is a heartwarming story about eternal boyhood. It’s a classic Children’s story, good for bedtime reading. But in truth, nobody likes to deal with a big baby who won’t grow up.

Saturday, October 27, 2012


"...We just had 'crock' the other night." A Let's Make A Deal hilarious ripoff.




“Let the fire fall!” The lonely cry carried down the cliff face, attenuated by great distance. At the command a blazing tree stump fell loose, plunging majestically down the face of the cliff followed by a glowing comet trail of sparks. As it rushed downward the fiery missle appeared to grow in size until the remains of a massive, ancient redwood were revealed; fully twelve feet in diameter. It struck the rocks at the base of the cliff with a resounding crash, splintering into a million burning torches. The piled firewood waiting below instantly ignited into a gigantic bonfire.
The forbidden spectacle pleased Ted Parker, primarily because of its complete illegality. These days, anything that flaunted the law was near and dear to his heart. The fire-fall had once been a great tradition in Yosemite. That tradition, like so many others, had been discontinued because of pressure from the Sierra Club and other environmental groups bent on ruining anything that somebody might enjoy. Do-gooders always reminded Parker of the harsh, self-righteous, sin-battlin’ preachers of his childhood, always railing against some perceived depravity or other. Who needs ‘em, he grimaced. Nothing but a bunch of whining killjoys, anyway. A man’s got to be free to make his own way in life, or die trying.
Hence the purpose for his presence at tonight’s solemn gathering of the brethren. Parker was about to change his life for the better. He would become one of the Mariposa Militia. He intended to run things his way for a change, instead of always running from the government. 
Beyond the leaping blaze of the firelight the surroundings were pitch dark on that moonless night. Pitch dark as can only be experienced high in deep clefts of the mountains, far from industrial pollution and city lights.
The High Council of the Mariposa Battalion had convened before the campfire in this lonely corner of Yosemite. Fear of discovery and arrest forced them to move their encampments daily, lest the Feds pinpoint their location. Parker knew the government would not hesitate to send in military troops loaded with heavy firepower. Government goons had no qualms about massacring him and the rest of  these brave freedom fighters.
We can’t afford any kind of permanent base, he understood. All that would give us would be another Ruby Ridge or Waco incident. Another chance for the government’s jackbooted thugs to stage a publicly acceptable bloodbath. And all on Prime Time television, too. Parker clenched his jaw in anger. Get it under control, Boy! You can’t afford to be seen as a weakling. Tonight would be a special Council Fire. The Militia was inducting Ted and some other guy he had just met as fledgling members.
Parker gazed through the shimmering flames of the blaze, watching the militia’s leader. Horace B. Taylor, Commanding General of the Mariposa Battalion, stood tall and ramrod straight. His bearing set an example of power and confidence. Parker relaxed, feeling he had finally found a home.
            After hours of patient waiting, ceremony time had finally arrived. Parker watched as the General strode forward in a self-assured manner, taking his position in front of the bonfire. Standing in the place of honor he nodded to the drummers to begin. A dozen men, holding a ragged assortment of drums began hammering out individual rhythms. The pounding, discordant at first, soon melded into a harmonious beat as the drummers became unified in spirit.
The percussive rhythms signaled the traditional commencement of a Council Fire assembly. Rolling booms of the tom-toms reverberated off the nearby stone walls of their secluded encampment, filling the air with the sounds of rampant maleness. From every corner of the campsite men began to gather. Most of them stood silent and expectant as they awaited the evening’s council. A few of the more exuberant men, unable to reign in their testosterone, began to howl like wolves in time to the beating of the drums.
            Parker kept his expression stern and impassive as befitted a new guy. Inwardly though, he smiled, his heart swelling with pride. These were real men, and it was his privilege to join them. Sure, most of them came from weak, domesticated stock; indoctrinated in the public schools to grow up as good little consumers. Coddled poodles, pampered when they pleased their government masters, and punished when they showed any sign of independence. Well, not any more, exulted Parker. No, not any more, brother. We’re wild mongrel dogs now. Big Brother can punish us if he wants, but these days he has to work at it. He might just get himself bitten too. After all, even poodles have teeth.
            The drums rolled to a sudden stop. The time had come. Parker watched as General Taylor dramatically raised his ceremonial staff into the air. In unison the drummers let out a dramatic roll with another abrupt cut off.
The General peered around to see he had the militia’s attention, “Brothers,” he shouted, his gruff voice booming across the clearing. “I summon you to gather at the Council Fires of the Elders, as have men since the ancient days of honor. We are but a remnant of what remains of the last true Americans. Only a few are left with the courage to stand as free men when all the world has bowed to tyranny. Big Brother, who calls himself our legitimate government, has stripped us of our lawful rights, overruled the will of the people and trampled our sacred constitution.”
A restless stir moved through the men around Parker at these words. They responded with murmurs of agreement and shouts of encouragement.
            “Most of the common folk in our once great country have meekly surrendered their independence,” General Taylor shook a ham-sized fist. “But there are still a few brave souls willing to fight back… You men,” he pointed with both hands, “are counted among that small but courageous number. Many of our brethren have already paid for our freedom with their very lives. For us it is either victory or death!” Taylor threw back his head repeating the challenge to the world: “victory or death!” He quieted himself and sought eye contact with individual members of the crowd. “Oh, we could give up. That’s right; we could go home, return to a life of peaceful servitude. We could do that. But I say: Death before dishonor!”
The canyon erupted with resounding cheers from the assembly. Parker joined them with enthusiasm.
General Taylor crouched low, peering from side to side as if confiding some deep insight. “Our families aren’t being killed by Nazis or Russkies. No foreign soldier never attacked this sacred soil, driving us from our homes. No, it’s jackbooted thugs—cold-hearted assassins from our own Government—they gunned down an innocent family at Ruby Ridge. Then they went on down to Waco Texas so they could barbecue a bunch of innocent men, women, and children. Those traitors from D.C. paraded the patriots—true Americans—from the Oklahoma City Federal building in front of a kangaroo court to gain a conviction. And let's never forget little Elian Gonzalez, ripped out of his own home by machinegun-toting storm troopers. Never forget,” Taylor slapped a huge fist into his open palm. “Never forget, because the Resistance continues!”
Around him, Parker felt the crowd swelling, alive with ceaseless encouragement, and cheers. He knew the General had his audience. With the murmur of their voices, their active body language, and continuous eye contact they responded to everything Taylor said. Their restlessness increased as Taylor elevated the vehemence of his rhetoric.
            “The weak members of society have no future; either with real American’s like us, or with the corrupt excuse for a government back there in Washington D.C. I pity the weak, by God I do! Most of them live out their pathetic lives in their safe little sheep pens. Some are so far-gone that they take their own lives hoping for a ride on an imaginary space ship to Neverland! They are nothing more than human debris who’ve forfeited their right to even be called men!”
A grand, masculine hurrah erupted from the crowd, not unlike the sound that one hears from outside a football stadium as a touchdown is scored. But these men were not cheering a mere game. Their passion was devoted to an objective they believed in with all their hearts, a cause worth dying for. Yes, a cause worth killing for. Parker knew he wanted to be part of that cause.
            “And that is what you wonderful guys are,” Taylor abruptly switched styles, lowering his voice so they had to strain to hear. “You are Men," he said with firm conviction, "men who will not bow their necks to oppression. Men who will take a stand against political corruption and police-state thuggery. We, my friends, are the true American patriots.” Taylor’s voice rose to a crescendo. “We will never rest until the day we have restored our beloved country to the rule of the people. Either we triumph gloriously or they’ll have to bury our cold, defiant bodies in our native, blood-washed soil!"
            The General paused, stuck his hands in his pockets as if contemplating a moment before speaking quietly. “You know, all those big shots back in Washington promise safety and comfort. Oh, sure, it’s yours for the asking. All you have to do is sit down, shut up, and pay your confiscatory taxes.” Taylor deliberately spat on the ground. “Well,” he wiped his mouth on his sleeve. “I’ve got one little question for you: Is comfort so wonderful, or safety so precious that we should surrender ourselves to servitude and prison under a corrupt government?” The General snatched up a brand from the fire and smashed the blazing stick into a shower of sparks. “Never! In the words of our great American forefathers: ‘Give me liberty, or give me death!’” 
Taylor gestured, his arms outspread in the air, a large “V” for victory, a flamboyant ending for his gaudy speech. The men of the battalion appeared to recognize the gesture, for they broke into thunderous applause. Men gathered into small huddles, spontaneously chattering among themselves about the import of the General’s message. They were pumped. Parker heard snatches of conversation as he continued to watch the General. He appeared mighty pleased with himself.
“At’s tellin ‘em, Gen’rul!”
“We’re with you, General; just say the word and we’ll attack!”
“I’d wade into Hell itself, as long as Eugene Taylor led me!”
Parker slowly nodded his head, judging the speech a rousing success. General Taylor gave them all time to revel in the moment, then called for their renewed attention. It was time for the next item on the agenda.
The General gestured to his sergeant, Buck Larson. Larson grabbed Parker and the other new guy, manhandling them to a position before the council fire. Larson gave a wicked grin as he whipped out leather thongs and bound their arms behind them. “You boys are gonna love this,” he cackled. After that he covered Parker and Mullen’s heads with shabby black hoods and Parker saw no more.
This is it, he exulted. I had to jump through a lot of hoops to get here. I had to turn over my property to the Militia. I had to submit to intensive background checks and wait like a daddy in the delivery room. And I wasn’t the only one either. Other men had applied as well, he knew. But just me and one other guy have the honor of standing here before the Council Fire. All the tests he had passed to this point were merely the preliminaries. Tonight, before the assembled Battalion, he had to demonstrate his courage and manhood by passing the final test before total acceptance.
The rowdy throng hushed as their General called for attention again. “Brothers,” he began, “these two men desire to join our ranks as brothers-in-arms. On my right hand is Ted Parker, on my left, Ev Mullins. Parker here, found himself maliciously accused of child abuse. Without any evidence or even a warrant, government goons busted right into his home and took his precious babies away. He lost his children, his wife, and his job. He wants nothing more than the chance to fight back against that kind of evil, authoritarian oppression.”
Parker felt the slap as Taylor clapped a large hand on the man to Parker’s left. “Brother Mullins used to run a successful small business. It was destroyed and confiscated from him by deceit and outright lies from our supposedly kinder and gentler Internal Revenue Service.” General Taylor spat into the fire. “Men, these brothers have suffered unjustly just as we all have. Just like the rest of us, they want some pay back. They desire to take up arms and stand shoulder to shoulder, fighting the battle with us.
Taylor paused for effect before asking dramatically, “Well, what say you?”
Sergeant Larson spoke up on cue, “General, I move that we accept these good men as brothers in arms, providing they prove their worth.” A voice from the crowd seconded the motion. A vote was taken and Mullins and Parker were immediately elected by acclamation.
Under the heavy hood, Parker listened as best he could to the muffled proceedings. He nearly missed it as the General put a ceremonial question to them, “Are you ready to demonstrate your worth as men?”
            “Yes!” Parker responded. He heard Mullin’s muffled response leak from beneath the stout hood.
            “So be it,” The General decreed. “I now command you both to take one step forward.”
            At this order Parker felt two threatening points of pressure pushing against the dirty fabric over his eyes. Maybe they were only fingers, but they could be knives. This is a test of courage, he realized. Hesitating but a moment, Parker steeled himself and took a good step forward. As he did the pressure disappeared, followed immediately by a cheer of appreciation from the assembly. Apparently he and Mullins had both passed the test.
            “You have demonstrated your bravery but you must pass one last test,” proclaimed the General. “You must survive the Gauntlet!” The cheering men quieted. Parker could hear them forming into two columns, facing one another. Sergeant Larson checked their heavy black hoods to ensure they were still in place. He roughly grasped Parker by the upper arm. “Run for your lives, you Sissies!” he ordered. With that Parker felt himself shoved down what he guessed was a living corridor of waiting militiamen.
Ted Parker stumbled, running blind through the savage gauntlet. From either side, men struck out at him with fists and open handed slaps. Some kicked with heavily booted feet, trying to trip the two inductees. Mullins fell, taking Parker down with him. But the heavy tumble brought no respite from the hail of blows. Both men helped each other, staggering to their feet to continue their passage through the maliciously cruel ritual.
How much longer can this go on? Parker wondered as he struggled to keep moving. Working together the two finally dragged each other out the other side of the living, mass punishment. Head bowed, chest heaving, knees trembling, Parker stood resolute, waiting for more. Instead, he felt a knife slice through his bonds. The smothering hood was yanked from his battered head. Eyes blinking in the glare of the firelight, Parker grinned at Mullins and the welcoming throng, their faces swollen and bloody. General Taylor strode up to them and grabbed each in turn in a bone crushing bear hug, welcoming two more converts to the fold.


            Twenty-four thousand miles overhead, in geostationary orbit, a National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration weather satellite mapped the ever-changing weather patterns over North America. As a matter of course it noted the thermal signature from the Mariposa Battalion’s council fire. The satellite was a data collection platform operated by NOAA and designated as GOESDCS-1995#4. For ease of usage the technical name was shortened to GEO-95/4.
Not specifically a spy satellite, it kept only the Northern Hemisphere of the Americas in view. Its photographic imaging capabilities were not designed to resolve small objects, nor did it directly link its data to any Defense Department satellite. It was simply a wide-field, low resolution, atmospheric data collection platform.
However, GEO-95/4 was not completely useless for domestic surveillance. It was quite capable of activities not strictly meteorological in nature. The National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration designated GEO-95/4 as a random reporting platform. It had been programmed to record and report when certain pre-defined sensor thresholds were triggered by environmental events; earthquakes, fires and tornadoes would fit those parameters. The disastrous 1988 Yellowstone fire had taught the US Forest and National Park Service the value of advanced fire warning and prediction. Since then those services regularly received notification from the National Weather Service concerning potential forest fires.
At 2318:37 Eastern Daylight Time GEO-95/4 noted a thermal bloom at an unauthorized site within the confines of Yosemite National Park. Unfortunately, there are more thermal sources within the view of any given weather satellite than their programming could ever handle. The elaborate systems would be constantly overloaded had they been required to report everything they were capable of detecting. That problem had been solved by software, which automatically eliminated known thermal sources from the satellite’s search parameters. Signal strength was also set at a pre-programmed threshold so that minor thermal sources, such as toasters and garage door openers, were not reported. Additionally, the search areas were limited by pre-defined criterion. In the case of GEO-95/4, the satellite’s primary tasking had it monitoring the large tracts of forested land under government authority.
At the National Environmental Satellite Data Information Service operations center, the automatic observation systems recorded a random data dump from GEO-95/4. NESDIS’s Satellite Analysis Branch is located at Wallops Island, on Maryland’s Delmarva Peninsula, The Satellite Analysis Branch is primarily tasked with supporting disaster mitigation and early warning services to Federal Emergency Management Agency and other government agencies.
That night an on-site junior analyst, alerted to the random report, was working the swing shift. Her immediate analysis of the data showed that the thermal bloom was in an area restricted to camping and camp fires. The image did not appear to be expanding. Therefore, it was most likely an unauthorized campfire, and a large one, at that.
Checking her standing orders, she noted that the U.S. Forest Service, the National Park Service, the Bureau of Land Management and the Bureau of Alcohol Tobacco and Firearms were all on the notification list. She prepared a standardized notification form and set the fax machine to send the data to the interested agencies. The machine hummed to life and began dialing the first programmed number. The analyst took the opportunity to leave the room for a quick break.
When she returned, ten minutes later, she saw that the fax had gone through to the USFS the NPS and the BLM, but the BATF had not received notification. She dialed up the number by hand but the BATF fax line simply did not respond. Probably a heavy print queue, she thought. Oh, well. She left the machine to continue its repeated attempts and went back to the ever-increasing pile of data awaiting analysis.
Ten minutes later the fax machine let out a triple beep. A printed message emerged informing her that the machine had made twenty unsuccessful attempts and now switched to standby mode. Telling herself to try again in ten minutes, she turned away from the fax machine and went back to work. She did not think of the BATF fax for another hour and a half.


By the time the Bureau of Alcohol Tobacco and Firearms received the requested data, which then had to work its way through the cumbersome routing network all the way to a sleepy BATF Special Agent in Charge, it was already 04:00 local time in Yosemite.
Bill James, the SAC, sat up in bed, rubbing crusted sleep from his eyes. He forced his fuddled brain awake, then gave the local duty officer his orders; “Roust the field agents out of their beds and call up the aircrews. I want helicopters in the air by first light.” James dropped the phone into its cradle. Probably another wild goose chase, he growled. He kicked his feet over the side and stepped onto an inhumanly cold floor. The chill helped him dress quicker.
Just over ninety minutes later, two bureau helicopters lifted off from Yosemite Village. Bill James sat behind the pilots as they clawed for altitude. The UH-60’s roared over the mountainous terrain, crossing Tioga road as they sped north. The fire had been detected near the Hech Hechy reservoir. As they approached the area, the co-pilot spotted a thin curl of smoke ascending through a thick stand of trees. James had his men dropped in clearings on either side of the smoke spiral. They closed in while the helicopters rode shotgun, watching for militiamen.
It was to no avail. By the time James and his agents reached the spot the Mariposa Battalion had doused their council fire and cleared out hours ago.

Wednesday, October 24, 2012



10. Your facebook "Friends" list has gotten a LOT shorter.

9. You're beginning to hope there's a special "Extra Gnashing" corner of Hell reserved for people who can't stop gushing about the "other" candidate.

8. Every time you see a pro-proposition commercial you decide to vote for it.

7. Every time you see a con-proposition commercial you decide to vote against it.

6. You've become convinced that ALL propositions are the work of the devil... except THAT one.

5. You miss Hubert Humphrey.

4. You crave the realization of Rodney King's majestic vision; "Can't we just all get along?"

3. Elvis' idea of shooting his television is starting to have a certain appeal.

2. You stabbed yourself twice with a #2 pencil while filling out your voter sample ballot.

1. Two words; mute button.

Tuesday, October 23, 2012


SIT REP: And then there were two.

When I started this in July I had four months of chemo to look forward to. Now I am looking at less than (</ Eric) four weeks. Today is the fifth of six sessions. The sixth and final chemo will take place three weeks from today with the end of "chemo" week five days later.

Over the years I have gone through numerous spiritual deserts, times where God's presence seemed remote. Some older writers refer to these as "times when the heavens seem as brass." I sometimes call it times when my prayers don't seem to get any higher than the ceiling.

Since beginning this journey in April, I have not experienced such emptiness. I have felt God's presence beside me, bearing me up in ways that I longed for during the desert times. why God chooses to works this way I don't expect to understand fully this side of Glory. Scripture promises God does not test us beyond our ability to bear it, though I have come to think that the Holy One has a much higher opinion of what I can bear than I do of myself.

I will say it's kind of like my health care provider. For the every-day services it can be quite tedious, but with major health issues I am amazed at how quickly and compassionately they can act. God seems to work LIKE that.

I don't expect I'm beyond spiritual deserts in my future. I do know that when I really need him God is an ever present comfort. "I will never leave you or forsake you," he promised. Amen.

Sunday, October 21, 2012


Sunday's message from Hebrews 5:1-10

God is Holy, Separate, Other than us. Not so the High Priest; he is one of us. He is chosen to represent man to God AND he represents God to man. Just like a defendant in court gets all the legal breaks, God has given us an advocate who is MORE for US than he can possibly be for God. 

Saturday, October 20, 2012




Stan Drake stood atop of the wooden steps outside his cabin. The profusion of places to see had him glancing back and forth like a spectator at a tennis match. He scanned the map in his hands. According to the park service, the restaurants and Valley floor lay to the west of the cabin, the precipitous north wall directly ahead of his front door. He retraced his steps, walking back to the parking lot.
Near the driveway entrance he came across a massive, wooden, Park Service sign featuring Woodsy Owl imploring visitors not to trash the place. The sign gave directions to various points of interest. After looked over the listed options, Drake decided that Yosemite Falls looked like a good first choice. It had the virtue of being less than a mile away in case the impending rain made good on its threat.
“Hank, heel. Come on pup!” he stepped out, setting a brisk pace in search of adventure. Hank fell in and they snaked their way through the parking lot moving north, the direction of the Valley’s north loop road. There they came upon an unexpected urban touch, a heavily used pedestrian crosswalk, complete with flashing yellow lights. A two-way stop sign had been placed there in an attempt to regulate the considerable automobile traffic. Drake arrived at the crossing at the tail end of a chattering tour group.
He took a firm hold on Hank’s leash and bolted across the street. As he stepped up on the opposite curb, the deep-pitched, blare of an automobile horn announced that at least one driver didn’t intend to wait any longer. He jumped up, feeling a swift rush of wind tugging at the jacket on his back. Glancing left, he watched a beat-up recreational vehicle roar past. Hank strained against his leash, barking at the rapidly receding vehicle. A bright yellow bumper sticker had been pasted on the back. It read, TOO CLOSE FOR MISSILES, SWITCHING TO GUNS. Nice touch, he grimaced, restraining the urge to vocalize his displeasure.
Hank, skittish from the close passage, couldn’t decide whether to crawl between Drake’s legs or bolt for the hills. Drake squatted down on his haunches to calm the dog, “Hey Boy,” he scratched Hank behind the ears, hugging the dog close. Hank shivered, offering a few tentative licks, which Drake allowed for the sake of his pup’s composure.
            Then he stood, wiped the drool from his face, patted his dog reassuringly, and set off again. Here, next to the main road, the path was simply another paved sidewalk. Soon however, he walked alongside a small creek, bubbling noisily back toward the lodge area. In places the crumbling concrete sidewalk had completely petered-out. Eventually, it became a hard-packed, well-trampled dirt trail. Stan Drake and his Wonder Dog Hank had reached the wilderness at last; sort of.            
            They continued along the well-established path coming across a series of helpful signs thoughtfully provided by the Park Service to prevent folks from falling into the sometimes-raging torrent of Yosemite Creek.
Drake stepped to the trailside, stopping at a split-rail fence. He peered over into the streambed. Here at the tag end of the season, with a whole six inches of water in the creek, the signs seemed overly dramatic to Drake. After all, Yosemite Creek was little more than a trickle. However, as he walked he began seeing teenagers and even a couple of adults, dripping wet and limping painfully past him going the other way. Drake concluded it might indeed be wise to heed the advice on the signs. After he and Hank had trekked along for several hundred yards, the path began to meander. Without warning, they found themselves among rocks and boulders of considerable size. Finally, the trail ended completely in a crazy jumble of monolithic granite, right at the foot of the falls.     
            Drake looked up, trying to peer through the heavy mist. That was a waste of time. Although Yosemite Falls is supposed to consist of two long, spectacular drops, you couldn’t prove it by him that day. He could barely see fifty yards in any direction. Through the drifting mist, what he could see was a hoard of people milling around. The ethereal shapes of a whole stack of kids scampering among the boulders were dimly visible. Above their shouts and squeals the sound of Yosemite Falls, which has a combined drop of twenty-four hundred feet, could be clearly heard, trickle though it was. As far as aesthetic experience went however, Drake might as well have been listening to a shower running. The oppressive cloud cover denied him any sight of the legendary falls whatsoever.
            He looked at his fellow adventurers. Several folks stood there at the foot of the falls, absorbing nature with their moisture. Among them, Drake couldn’t help but notice yet another loving couple, arm in arm, sporting those seemingly regulation hiking shorts; the expensive kind made of khaki, featuring huge pockets upon pockets, billowing legs and neatly rolled up cuffs. Handsome though they might be, Drake could never understand the compulsion people seemed to have for wearing them in every kind of weather condition from arid to arctic. The sight of all that bare, goose-bumped flesh set him to shivering empathetically. Unconsciously, he stuck his hands deeper into the warm pockets of his coat. Hank, on the other hand, was ecstatic over the soggy meteorological conditions. Given his liberty, he romped in and out among the slick rocks playing happily with the children.
            Apart from the rest of the crowd, standing in a small huddle were three obvious red-neck types drinking beer out of long-neck bottles. Their scraggly beards made their bulging multi-hued ski jackets look effeminate in that setting. They were making crude jokes, pointing at people in the crowd and laughing boisterously. Every so often they would playfully slug and slap one another; just generally horsing around.
The person who really caught Drake’s attention was by far the most conspicuous in that rugged, outdoor setting. He was large, impressive, bald headed man, sort of a wannabe George Forman. When Drake first noticed him, he appeared to be photographing yet another of the Forest Service’s numerous wooden signs at the end of the trail. Drake thought he must be having a hard time getting the shot because of all the people milling around. Every time he seemed ready to take a picture someone would casually wander by, spoiling the shot. Drake found the man’s boundless forbearance impressive.
            Of all the folks there at the foot of the falls that evening, this guy stood out. He was dressed for a safari into the very heart of Metropolis, right down to his thin soled, black patent leather shoes, shined to a glossy perfection. Over his charcoal gray suit he wore a de rigeure, taupe colored, London Fog raincoat. Drake figured him to be a fairly prosperous businessman, the kind of person who always holds permanent reservations at his favorite vacation spots, and always—of course—at the finest hostelries.
            Drake watched as the man wiped the lens of his expensive camera with an equally expensive chamois. He seemed particularly engrossed in his task. Drake grinned, what a clever fellow I am for leaving my expensive optical gear inside on a sodden evening like this.
            Banishing the incipient smile from his face, Drake made his way over to Mr. Corporation. After all, Drake thought, he’s probably the likeliest person around who can tell me where to find a decent place to eat. Drake prudently cleared his throat saying, “Excuse me,” in his best friendly-stranger voice; the sort of voice he would have used asking an unknown person for the time.
            At the sound, the man whirled around and stared accusingly, as if Drake might were trying to swipe his camera. Drake grinned. Well, I guess it is a nice one, but I already have one of my own. After a strained moment, the big man relaxed, appearing to sense Drake was only a garden-variety, amiable stranger, not the midnight mugger.
            “Yes,” he said tersely, making it a question.
            “Excuse me,” Drake repeated. “I wondered if you might be able to tell me if there is a restaurant around here that served something other than burgers.”
            The man stood as still as the granite face of El Capitan—a perception enhanced by his clean-shaven scalp. He stared unblinkingly back at Drake. Only his dark eyes moved, examining Drake from beneath a set of heavy brows. For the second time that day, Drake had the uncomfortable feeling that he stood as an accused man in a criminal line-up. The big man finally pulled his sable eyes away from their minute examination of Drake. He swung his head, looking suspiciously around.
He’s probably checking to see if my brother ‘Homer’ is hiding in the rocks, filming the whole exchange with his totally hidden video camera, thought Drake.
            When the dark eyes returned to Drake, having completed their brief reconnaissance, the man re-fixed his cold stare on the hapless preacher. “I suggest the Le Conte Lounge at the Ahwiyah Hotel,” he said, exhibiting an amazing economy of speech. “Or you may wish to try the Cathedral Room at Curry Lodge.” The man’s icy, jet black eyes continued to watch unblinkingly, awaiting Drake’s reaction.
            “Yeah, okay. Thanks for your help,” Drake stammered nervously. “I’m new around here,” he added inanely.
            “You’re most welcome,” the man replied. The ice in his voice fairly crackled. He turned his back on Drake, pointedly returning to his photographic pursuits.
            Sheesh! thought Drake, kicking himself mentally as he turned. Next time I guess I’d better put on a coat and tie first or just settle for fast food. He walked away feeling self-conscious and slightly ridiculous. That man had been as intimidating as a hangin’ judge. He’d merely asked a simple question. From the ungracious reaction anyone would have thought he’d tried to address the President of the United States with a banana sticking out of his ear.
Drake sighed. The idea of driving all the way over to the Ahwiyah Hotel, foraging for a parking place, then going through the parking hassle all over again on returning to the cabin wasn’t really appealing after a long day. He decided that the nearby Cathedral Room would enjoy the honor of his presence that night.


At a white cloth-covered table Drake sat back and blessed “Mr. Corporation’s” grudging advice. The service was conscientious and surprisingly quick. The steak was excellent. Even the check appeared in a timely fashion. All in all he found the whole experience a happy change from the usual tourist spots that exist primarily to cater to folks on vacation. Since they have little incentive to worry about repeat trade, they often don’t bother. Not the case here, thankfully.
            When the coffee and dessert arrived, Drake felt pretty good. But when he sat back to take in the surroundings, his contentment stopped in mid-sip. Nothing but couples, couples as far as the eye could see. He wondered, as he had innumerable times over the past year, just what his problem was. Taking a quick personal inventory he thought, I’m not too bad looking. Although, he experienced a touch of guilt, I could do a little more about this bulge around the ‘ol waistline. I guess my personality is okay; maybe a little cynical, but it’s hard to be objective on that subject.
            Not that he and Linda had been without their problems. Though they had been married for years, adjusting to the pastorate had strained that marriage. In the three years following seminary, Linda really struggled with her imposed role as pastor’s wife. She found the expectations of others to be burdensome. Each church member seemed to have a separate list of qualities and duties for Mrs. Reverend Stan Drake to fulfill.
            Linda’s frustrations sometimes boiled over into outright confrontation. She worked at being sweet, but she considered unwanted advice as nothing more than meddling. Drake remembered being caught in the middle of several of those disputes.
            She’d meet him at the door after work. “The ‘Church Lady’ and I had words today,” she’d say. Or, “I neglected to make the correct pie for the bake sale.” Linda would roll her flashing brown eyes. “How can they expect me to know the correct pie unless I’m told? I’m not prescient, like you, you know.”
            At the time Drake had been mortified. The ‘church lady’ would call him at home, expecting him to stand up for her; after all he was her pastor. At the same time, Linda expected him to support her; after all, she was his wife . . .
             . . . Drake looked around Curry Lodge’s crowded dining room. To his admittedly prejudiced eye, every couple there looked happy and content. Yes, he’d hated those tug-o-wars. But I’d gladly endure them the rest of my life for the pleasure of Linda’s company again.
            The accident that took her had been as petty as it had been unexpected. In fact, it had followed one of those church lady spats. Drake had exploded, storming out of the parsonage. He’d gunned his Datsun and roared out of the driveway. At his private hideaway back in the hills he’d brooded over the situation, rashly wishing himself rid of such a troublesome wife. Stan Drake would be better off alone, he thought.
            Alone: that’s a laugh.
            When he walked through the front door later that night, sheepish and defensive, he’d found her on the kitchen floor. Dead.
The coroner’s report stated she’d slipped on a chunk of ice from the freezer. She had fallen, striking her head on the kitchen counter’s edge. Buried in the report had been the coroner’s opinion that Linda had lingered sometime before dying. A cruel thought ran through his mind. Something he and his seminary friends used to laugh about. The grim joke among preachers is; you’re better off murdering your spouse than divorcing her.
Drake had yet to forgive himself his three-hour pity party up on the mountain.
Afterward, he’d halfheartedly tendered his resignation, but his congregation had surprised him. After a unanimous vote of confidence, they had flatly refused to accept his resignation. They had supported him through the inquest and funeral. Gene and his wife Norma had been especially supportive over the past year. They had practically forced him to take this vacation. How can you ever thank people like that? He wondered.
“Go on,” Gene had said, speaking as on behalf of the whole congregation. “Go to the mountains and recharge your batteries. Think about something other than church programs and office work for a couple of weeks. We’ll still be here when you get back.”
So he’d done it. He’d packed up and taken the long-planned trip to Yosemite. Only now that he was here—very alone—the peaceful solitude only served to dredge up all the past year’s emptiness and pain. “Alone” was almost bearable but the gnawing feeling that he had brought about his own loneliness was despair itself.
            Though he hated to admit it, Drake felt completely out of step with the single women he kept meeting; another factor contributing to his unease. So many singles were either emotional wreaks themselves from their own abominable relationships, or so self-assured and competent that they certainly did not need any kind of man, least of all Stan Drake. Not that he wanted a woman of the no-opinion, barefoot and pregnant persuasion. But the hardest thing to take were those times he had been treated as a potential slug simply because he happened to have been born with a Y chromosome.
            Of course, there’s always Hilly. That thought brought the ghost of a smile to his lips. Hilly Newham—Hildigard for heaven’s sake! She was a young widow in Drake’s congregation. Hilly believed with the passion of martyrs that she and Drake were divinely ordained soul mates. She’d been obviously chasing him for the last six months. If nothing else, this trip would give him a small respite from her attentions.
            Hilly aside, Drake found himself put off by the tricky ego-game relationships he had discovered in the current dating scene. In Drake’s opinion, love, to use a rather overworked little word, ought to be something two people do for and with each other on all levels, not some prize for which you and your significant other compete. Bottom line; he was beginning to doubt that there were any women out there with whom he could share anything more than a casual friendship. And even more important, he struggled to believe that God was doing anything at all to redeem the situation.
Rats, he thought in disgust. Whenever you find yourself strolling down memory lane, Stan, you always dirge yourself back to the oh-so-sad wreckage of your life. Excuse me waitress, I believe I’ll order the extra large crying towel to go with my whine, please. He paid the tab and took his sunny disposition out into the damp, dark night where it belonged.
            Halfway back to the cabin the incipient rain, looming all evening, at last made good its threat. A real live duck-drowner suddenly thundered down, with Drake standing smack-dab on ground zero. Stunned, he found himself standing there stupid and indecisive for a long moment.
            Gazing heavenward, water streaming down his face, his sarcastic, fleshly nature finally got the better of him. “Terrific!” he shouted heavenward, “Really great! Thanks a whole lot! Hey, the perfect end to a perfect day!”
            Drake sloshed back to the cabin, groping through his pockets for the tricky little magnetic key card to make sure he got the right cabin number. He was drenched to the bone long before he reached the door. Fumbling with the balky electronic lock, his chilled fingers were slow to cooperate in the simple act of opening the door. This served to raise his simmering temper to a nice rolling boil.
            “That does it!” He slammed the heavy door shut with a crash, rattling the windows in their wooden frames.
“Get down, Hank!” he barked, as the loyal animal jumped up to greet him. Outside, the storm beat furiously down upon the little cabin. Inside, Drake stormed and thundered to match.
“Welcome to romantic Yosemite,” he snarled, stripping his thoroughly saturated clothing off. “Oh yes, the perfect vacation spot. The campers dream! The photographers paradise!”
            Completely stripped, he threw the sodden mess into the still-clammy bathroom, roughly toweled himself off, shrugged into a heavy cotton sweat suit and jumped shivering into bed. As he lay there, tightly clutching the blankets to himself, a hoard of uncharitable thoughts paraded through his head concerning Yosemite in general and the Reverend Stan Drake in particular. This, without a doubt, is going to be the worst ten days of my life. What a dope I am. I’m cold and tired, alone and unloved. And bald people are mean to me.
            There did not seem to be a lot of profit in that line of thought. Drake closed his eyes for a contrite prayer then ordered himself to knock it off. With clenched teeth and a tightly furrowed brow, tension in every muscle of his body, Drake reached for the book he had laid on the nightstand earlier. When it fell open to the bookmark, his face flushed hot with chagrin as he saw the reminder he had written before leaving home. “Just remember the old Boy Scout rule,” it read, “the first night of a camping trip is always a loser.” 
            All the frustration and fury transformed to shame as he remembered typing the fool note to himself. I’m a prophet and don’t even recognize myself. Listen to the sage advice of bygone years and experience, Mr. Junior Camper. Drake realized he was simply exhausted. The natural rhythm of endeavor and fatigue, expectation and disappointment had simply taken its inevitable toll. That’s all. Sack time, that’s what he needed, about twelve hours worth. He shut the book, switched off the lights and zonked out in moments.


            “No Megan,” Paige stood in her bedroom doorway. “I told you I have absolutely no desire to go.” She shut the door with the proper amount of firmness, switched off the light and crawled into bed.
            “Paige,” Megan’s attenuated voice wheedled from the other room. She opened the door, her lithe form silhouetted against the light as she stood with her hands braced on either door post. “You never go anywhere anymore. You need to get back into circulation, girlfriend.”
            “Oh please,” Paige fluffed her pillows with more force than necessary. “You sound so Hollywood-ghetto when you talk that way. Besides, I’ve already done more than my share of circulating, thank you. I’ll pass.
            Megan shook her head, dark curls bouncing. “Have it your way. But you’re going to miss a great party. Hey,” a mischievous twinkle came into her eye. “Maybe I can pick up some people and bring the party here.”
            “Megan, you wouldn’t dare.” Paige’s eyes flashed in exasperation.
            “Well, maybe not.” Her hands dropped to her sides. “But Honey, someone has got to climb that dark tower and rescue you, O’ fair princess. Besides, I can’t see why it should make any difference to you. You’re already an irredeemable trollop, to hear you tell it. What else have you got to lose?” Laughing from her clever parting shot Megan left before Paige could respond.
            When the door had shut Paige stared after it. She clamped here eyes shut and quietly said: “You can’t be irredeemable, if there’s no God to enact redemption.”