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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.

The flowers looked like enormous, psychedelic Frisbees. There were strawberries, too, red as fire trucks, big as apples. The water from the stream tasted like Fresca and was filled with golden trout, which apparently had never seen a worm on a hook before. The bluebirds were fat and chatty.

The evening wind sounded like music, and the morning sun brushed their faces like gentle kisses. They woke to birdsong. Most days they hiked. They napped in the afternoons, in a little meadow above the camp, in warm, soft grass. They lay on their backs and looked at clouds and talked about what they would become. But they didn’t want to become anything, really. Not then. They all wanted to stay in this place forever.

Even the rain was warm and fragrant, and when it fell hard, they retreated into the little stone shack, which had a wood-burning stove. Next to the stove was a hand-hewn rocking chair and a stack of legal pads filled with equations and a few decks of playing cards and a wall lined with canned food. They stayed for three weeks, and during that time they witnessed the most powerful thunderstorm they’d ever seen. But even the booming of the thunder and the crackling of lightning and the drumming of the rain on the tin roof sounded like lullabies, and the three students slept soundly.

The morning after the storm, when Roger was off tromping around—“seeking truth,” he said—Mad Dog and Max looked at clouds and Mad Dog brushed her hand against his and one thing led to another, right out in the meadow. Roger seemed to know what had happened when he returned, because every evening after that, he would announce that he was going to seek truth, and that he would be gone at least a couple of hours. When he came back, the stars would already be out and Mad Dog and Max would be in their separate tents, smiling.

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