Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Leon's Grave

I ran across this little entry I had written about fifteen
years ago. It's pretty old was originally
written in 1994, AND it mentions events that had occurred
eighteen years before that!

I present it not because I think anyone will ever read it,
but for the same reason I write anything...because I am
compelled to write:

(Originally written on)
Thursday, October 6, 1994

Last Saturday night I decided to head out to the desert with a
couple of my buddies. What I thought was going to be a mellow
evening of partying and bonding turned out to be more of a
philosophical learning experience.

Starting around 1976, along with a large group of friends,
I began going to the desert each summer. The first trip of the
season was usually Memorial Day Weekend. Three or four trips
would take place during the summer.

Most of the guys were riding dirt bikes, buggies, and four-by's.
(That's off-road lingo for four wheel drives...trucks, jeeps,
etc.) I used to ride bikes when younger, but my coordination
factor was low, and the potential for serious bodily injury
high, so now I just relax in the desert.

Our original group started out small, just three of us. In the
following years, however, the group swelled to about thirty or
more people on one trip. In the later years, with wives,
girl-friends, and kids included, we would have a major campsite,
need three separate camp fires, and consume over sixty cases of
beer in a three-day weekend.

These trips were looked forward to for months. The season
opener-Memorial Day-was an event to be planned far ahead of
time. Beer was bought by the case over a three week period, so
we didn't have to buy it all at once. Trips to the deli, camp
store, and gun-shop were completed well ahead of time.

It's difficult to express how emotionally satisfying these trips
were. I imagine it was just having all of my closest friends
with me at the same time, and being able to drink beer in the
middle of nowhere, where we couldn't get into trouble.

The camp site became literally a mini-community, with its own
laws, rules, and rituals. For example:

All empty beer cans must go in plastic bags. Paper goes into
the fire. NO LITTERING!

No shotgun shells or bullets can be thrown into the fire.

No kicking up dust clouds with bikes near the camp.

These rules were obeyed, and nobody got mad at anyone.
Special projects included the baking of cookies, with a real
Coleman oven, and live musical jam sessions with drums and

We experienced all types of weather at one time or another, hot
and sunny, cold and windy, rainy, foggy, even some snow. It was
all shared by a group of drunk friendly people, loving each
other, loving the company, and loving nature.

It was always fun at night when you would see a car's lights
approaching on the dirt road, and everyone would try to guess
who it was that was coming.

Over the years, something changed. People got divorced. People
moved away. We got tied up in our lives, lost touch with each
other. After about ten years, we began to skip some trips.

Of course, I still kept seeing several of my closest friends,
and we often talk wistfully about how it used to be. If we made
a sporadic trip, it was often only an over-nighter. But
something was missing. Something was different.

Last Saturday, I finally discovered what it was. Of course, I
knew the obvious reasons for the change. We're older, more
responsible, not just kids anymore, blah, blah, blah. But
still, there is something else that has changed.

I stood in the open desert, and soaked in the warm sun. (As it
turned out, this was to be literally the very last perfect,
warm, still day of the summer. One day later was windy, cold,
and dusty).

I had gotten lost trying to find the old campsite. Some of the
dirt roads were changed, there may have even been new ones. I
was able to find the old site merely by getting out of the car
and staring at the horizon.

I knew I was in the wrong place because the horizon looked
different, but from memories and hundreds of old pictures, I knew
exactly how the panoramic view should look, from the flat, close
eastern horizon, to the small, rocky hills to the west.

I kept driving a bit, got out of the car and looked, drove some
more, until things started to "look" right.

There were four of us this time. I had a few quick beers when I
first arrived, and then, just at sunset, walked off by myself to
stare at the open desert. It all looked exactly the same as in
the pictures of eighteen years ago. As I turned in a slow
circle, it was if ghosts were out there, silently reminding me
of my youth.

When we had first come out to this site in 1976, there was a
metal frame of a discarded TV set sitting in the dirt, and since
nobody had removed it, every year when we came back, it was
still there. It almost became a known 'landmark'.

And now, in 1994, here it still was.
(For all I know, it is still there today).

And Jeff came up to me and said, "What are you doing,
remembering how it used to be?"
"You've got it."

Then Jeff explained to me that years ago, we really WERE just
dumb kids, and we really DIDN'T have any responsibilities, we
didn't worry about the future, we were just here to party.

When we are here now, the stress and tension of life are always
just below the surface. We used to drink more, sleep less, and
go for a whole week-end without even thinking about work.

I can't believe that now when I go out there, I actually worry
about my pants getting dirty when I sit down on the desert sand!

As night fell, we drank beer by the fire. We didn't go rabbit
hunting that night because we realized that while shotguns,
beer, and darkness seemed to mix well years ago, they don't

Every few moments, a boring, responsible thought would
enter my mind, such as work, money, bills, the future, and work.

The next morning, Jeff took me to Leon's grave. Leon had
been a faithful, loving desert dog owned by a friend of ours.
Leon had been on all the desert trips since 1978, and was only
one of a pack of dogs that usually accompanied us.

As Jeff led me up the side of a gentle slope towards the grave,
he explained that there had been an actual funeral, with several
guys taking off work to attend. This was no joke, the funeral
was emotional and sentimental, this was real.

As we climbed up the hill, I couldn't help but feel I was
approaching hallowed ground.

Leon's grave was about a mile or so from the same campsite we
had been going to for eighteen years. Leon was in a small
wooden box, encased in solid concrete, and buried four feet
down in hard desert pack that had taken four guys all day to
dig out.

There was a cement plaque among some large rocks, that read


There was a small caricature of a dog crudely etched in the
cement. And this was real.

Jeff led me back to camp, telling me we can still drink beer,
but we have to be sober sometimes, too. The desert can still be
fun, but it cannot be an escape from life, but a vacation from

Jeff and I buried our own ghosts that day, but we did not destroy

God bless Leon.

Peace be with you.