LONGLEAF STORIES

full circle in the hundred acre wood

Reading over old journal notes, our last trip to Sequoia National Park is as fresh as yesterday morning. The trip date shocks me: September, 1994. I can’t believe it. Whoever said “time flies” coined the ultimate sound bite.

We flew out of Pensacola on September 10th at 7:30 a.m. to Houston. The connection to Los Angeles, fully loaded, was wheels up a little after one in the afternoon. Buck and I found our seats, his on the aisle and mine in the center. The window seat was occupied by a heavily tattooed young woman in a pair of cut-off jeans short-shorts and a pink, midriff-baring sweater knit top. Her veneer of cool hostility was palpable. We made incongruous seat-mates. I probably looked like a cub scout den mother in my blue denim jumper, red high top Reeboks, and backpack plastered with trail tags, disgustingly happy.

Between the passing of drinks and snacks, we began to talk. At 23 years old, she lives in Los Angeles, says her whole family is there “somewhere,” that she hates L.A. — “The City is dead.” Continuing to unbend, she tells me she is learning the art of tatooing and now is trying to earn a living plying her trade. She was returning to L.A. from Atlanta, where she had been for three weeks on a blind date.

The vulnerable girl began to peek through the tough exterior as I spoke of mountain hiking, grandchildren, walking in the woods, staying close to nature, taking care of your body with wholesome foods and enough sleep. My words were more sharing than sermon.

The plane landed. Her face closed again, and we all stood, packed closely together in the fruitless belief that the doors would open quickly.

At LAX baggage claim, one of my bags was missing. Having stupidly put a file containing personal checks, bills, and stamps into a checked bag instead of keeping it with me, I felt my blood pressure rise in self-punishing stress.

But I was distracted from my own small drama when the young tattooed woman appeared in my field of vision. “I want you to meet my sister!” After a moment or two of small talk, she said, “Well, good-bye! Thank you!” And hugged my neck, exuberant as a pup.

 

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