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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.

Max and Mad Dog thought that was strange, but it was late. They wanted to be alone, as young lovers do, and even though they appreciated Roger, and worried about him, his aphorisms were kind of hard to take, so they didn’t say anything. Later, they sometimes wished they had.

Late spring turned to summer and Max had a family reunion to get to, back in Ohio, and they had already stayed two and a half weeks longer than they had planned. On the hike out, they found the hidden path next to the cliff from which they’d jumped, and they climbed it. Even though their meadow had been warm during the day and chilly at night, the sun had been beating the higher elevations, increasing the snowmelt. Runoff was fierce when they arrived at the river, and what had been fast before was a nightmare now. The river had risen five feet and the rope, once straight, bulged in an arc downstream. Max went first, and he coaxed Betsy onto the rope. They got some mouthfuls of water and it was terrifying, but they made it. When they got to the far side, they turned and saw that Roger was sitting by the bank, cross-legged again. Max and Betsy looked at each other, and they were scared, and they yelled at their friend. He wasn’t going to do something stupid, was he? But then Roger grabbed the rope and started pulling himself across, and the lovers laughed. Roger made it across and they pulled him onto the bank and then, before either Max or Mad Dog could figure out what he was doing, Roger pulled a Swiss Army knife from his pocket, and opened it and sliced the rope tied to the root, and the rope across the river flew downstream. Then he used the knife to unravel the knot on the rope and tossed it into the raging river.

“Are you nuts?” Mad Dog yelled.

Roger smiled. “It’s a beautiful place, but it should not be easy.”

“How will we ever make it back there?” Max screamed.

“There’s another way in,” Roger said. “I shared it with the spirit.”

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