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The Last Best Place

More than three decades ago, a tiny band of California hikers discovered a magical valley in the Sierra Nevada. They possessed a rough map, but told no one. Now, the truth comes out.

They were in the tunnel for an hour, and Betsy freaked out once and started screaming until Max, who had managed to turn his body, grabbed one of her ankles and told her they couldn’t go back, it was too tight, they had to keep moving forward. Roger chanted, which seemed to help.

Finally, they emerged into twilight and a deafening roar. They were on the bank of a river, raging with spring runoff. It looked at least 100 feet across and impassable. Max studied the map, and found what looked like a bridge, but there was no bridge, just huge boulders and whirlpools and frothing whitewater. They huddled together as the sky darkened, and all three shivered, and even Roger shut up.

None of them slept well, and when the sky lightened, their situation looked no better. Roger studied the map and walked 20 paces downstream, to where the map showed the bridge. But there was nothing, just a large Douglas fir whose roots reached to the water’s edge. He walked down to the river, studied it from every angle, even looked at the roots. That’s when he saw the rope. It looked like it stretched across the river, but he couldn’t see that it was tied to anything on the far side. Instead of calling to the others, he grabbed the rope and waded into the water. He hadn’t taken three steps before the current swept his feet from under him and he went horizontal. But he hung onto the rope, his feet dangling downstream, and pulled himself hand over hand until he got to the other side, where the water was calmer and where, he saw, the rope was tied to another tree. By then, Max and Betsy, worried at his absence, had come down to the edge and witnessed Roger’s crossing.

Soon, all three students were on the other side, where they followed a trail through a meadow, up the side of another waterfall, down another gorge, and around another lake. They walked until they came upon a field of wildflowers next to a small, singing stream. At the far end of the stream was a tidy little stone structure.

“This,” Max declared, looking at the map, then all around them, then back at the map, “is where magic lives.”

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