By Marcia Singer
My life has been blessed by more than one vigilant guardian angel. I have hit some pretty rough spots along the great road, and maybe it’s a miracle that I am even alive. I am eternally grateful to my angelic benefactors; and it is important to point out that they seldom bear any resemblance to the smooth, shiny and untarnished angels reflected in gift shops. Although often gnarly and rough hewn, they shine no less brilliantly, like my Labor Day weekend angels.
Girlfriends had begged me not to go camping alone, or to at least pack some pepper spray. They were adamant: a woman, especially one my age, should not go camping alone in the wilderness, and certainly not without some nasty protection. I simply said, “It’s not my way.”
I hadn’t undertaken a solo wilderness quest in nearly five years, since returning to Los Angeles. I was starving for quietude — to listen to hawks, be serenaded by a million crickets. I was hungry for the kind of soulful communion that only wilderness provides me.
It was a sorry fact that my four “free” days for traveling coincided with Labor Day weekend, not the most opportune time to be alone anywhere in Nature. I was about ready to call the whole thing off. “Forget about finding any place quiet on a holiday weekend, or free of L.A. traffic,” said state park and forest services. Then a ranger in the San Bernardino mountains at “Lytle Creek” said one of their nineteen “yellow post sites” might offer some respite. While these sites were undeveloped — no potties, water or picnic tables, and were accessible off a “dirt road,” I opted to have her fax me maps. I would gladly trade a shower and toilet for an uncluttered skyline, and sagebrush growing unadulterated by people trampling around a campground.
Although I had apprehensions — strange places, travel time, traffic — I plucked up courage and set out Thursday afternoon, hoping to outwit the throngs of weekend campers, and score a couple of days all to myself. One hour and thirty seven minutes later, I arrived at Lytle Creek Station.
When I exited the car, I knew I had made the right choice. Pungent sage stalks clustered all along the road. The air smelled wonderful. A refreshing high desert wind took a cooling edge off the high 90’s heat. Inside the ranger station, I bought my adventure pass and promised “Patsy” to return Saturday to pay for another, if I decided to stay an extra day. “Stop at our developed campgrounds first and see if you like it,” she advised. “If not, just stay on the main road until the pavement ends, then take the dirt road until you come to the yellow post sites.”
Apple White Campground was already packed with families, dogs and RVs, so I headed for the “dirt” road. What was this? Rocks everywhere! And thick grey dust kicking up all around. I slowed to about two miles per hour. Neither I nor my thirteen-year-old Probe had bargained on this.
I drove nervously past the Lytle Creek “firing range,” gunfire crackling, punctuating the continual crunching of rocks beneath my wheels. As much as I longed to reach the campground, I also hoped it was far away from any men with guns. From my car window, countless shards of glass shone in reflected sunlight, scattered in a million pieces all over the desert floor. My hair bristled.
Forty endless minutes passed, and still no signs pointing to the yellow post sites. Was I on the right road? It would soon be dark. Better pull off the road and set up a temporary camp. Hearing the sound of gunshot in the distance, I wanted to be well hidden from the road. I chose a spot with tallish brush, hoping it would provide shelter from the hot morning sun as well. It was 6 p.m. Three hours had disappeared since arriving at Lytle Creek. I unfolded my beach chair and ravished a salad.
Settling in, from my hiding place I watched an occasional SUV head loudly up the road, then come back down full speed. Wanting some exercise, I took a little exploratory walk up the road, returning alongside the setting sun. I began to relax a bit into the cool darkening, even though I couldn’t get the Cole-man lantern going, perhaps because it had sat for five years unused? No matter, I had two flashlights along, one in my tent, one next to my chair.
Night came, filling my world with the songs of crickets and mysterious night birds. Under the enormous, star-studded heavens, I could see forever. I craned my neck looking upwards. Mars was bold and red, bearing down on me from the left of my sky.
My neck was beginning to hurt. Lying down would be nicer, but not on my ground mat. I didn’t know what else might be crawling in the night sand, and didn’t really want to find out. I got into my tent and stretched out, finding myself uneasy under Mars’ steady watch through my mesh window. A nearby owl provided relief, his rhythmical “whoo-whoo” soloing against a soothing backdrop of cricket choruses. It was only 9 o’clock; I dozed off.
Waking with the sun already heating up at 7 a.m., I got into my car and rode about a quarter of the mile up the road, scouting for a better campsite. Walking about, I found surprising yellow bursts of delicate desert flowers, even a lone pine tree here and there. This spot had a good feel. I got back in old Betsy; I heard a tiny click sound, but the engine wouldn’t turn over. Nada. She wasn’t starting. Omigod.
I got out of the car, paced for five incredibly long minutes, then got back inside and tried again. To my enormous relief, the car started up. I drove back to my tent, backing in this time, facing the main road just in case I might need a jump start from somebody. Hopeful and fearful at the same time, I turned off the engine, sat there, and fearing the worst, tried to start it again. Over and over, not a sound, not even a click. I was alone and stranded.
I would have to come out from behind the protective bushes and shrubs. I would have to expose myself to seek help. And that help would have to come, most likely, from the element I most feared — the “yahoos” who love to shoot the hell out of bottles in the desert, practice taking aim and firing, hitting, smashing. I was going to need an angel, for sure. Maybe two.
I sighed and pulled my faded chair over to my car to wait. Would anyone else be driving this road on Labor Day weekend? Would I be safe? Starve? Die of dehydration in the heat? I struggled to manage my imaginings.
Two hours dragged by. At last, the sound of crunching rocks and a cloud of dust meant someone was arriving. I crossed my fingers and went out into the road, flagging down a helpful young couple. Our efforts to jumpstart Bets back to life failed, so I welcomed their offer to drive back down the road to the shooting range and get someone to call for help. They returned a half hour later with news that a ranger would be coming in about an hour.
One hour passed, then three, four, no ranger. A couple of other vehicles had roared past me, paying no attention. One gave me bad vibes, and I hid behind some bushes, hoping they’d pass. Sigh. I really was in a fix.
I mustered both courage and trust and took a deep breath. However, it was afternoon already. To relieve my anxiety and to give myself something useful to do, I constructed a “Help Me” sign using a discarded stereo speaker, a big stick, rocks, cardboard and colored art pens I had in my trunk. Time to be creative, resourceful.
A slower moving car was approaching. I ran out, waving my hands wildly, seeing another young couple. “Why doncha go on down to the gun range?” said the tired, and not-so-friendly-looking fellow. His girlfriend add-ed, “it’s only about a half mile down the road.”
I set out carrying a large sun umbrella — little match for the gusty winds, and a pint of water. My wraparound shades were keeping the dust out of my eyes, still I prayed it was only a half mile down this godforsaken road. I mulled, could I find trustworthy help from gunslingers? The kinds of people I associated with harming innocent, living things? Like me? It was time to Surrender.
What happened over the next few hours and three days was wondrous. A parade of people — the kind I normally don’t talk to, run across or consort with — came to my rescue. “Bonnie” who owned the firing range rounded up “Alberto, ”a sweet young Latino laborer on the premises, and sent us back in her van to try and get my battery going, which again, didn’t work. “Why don’t you carry a gun,” Al asked, telling me that dead bodies have turned up in this area. “It’s just not my way,” I said, mustering courage that sparked dialogue about my shamanic medicine path and my adopted Buddhist ways of invoking harmlessness.
The car wasn’t starting. Alberto went to get “Dale,” a front toothless, skinny older man who came with a big truck and pull chain. He seemed at home under my hood and wheels. The starter “ain’t happ’nin,” he concluded. I watched with gratitude as my two benefactors, soaked in 95 degree heat, pushed and pulled my car over rocks and sand, into the main road. “You’ll have to get in and roll ‘er on down the mountain a piece,” offered Dale, “‘til you get to the firing site. You’ll be OK. Just pull up the emergency brake if you need to stop or slow it down ‘til you git there.”
With Dale and Alberto watching out for me up ahead, I climbed into my car and set it rolling down that horrible road, wondering if it would ever run again. Which it did. Because Bonnie, Dale and Alberto, and a host of other angels in disguise were coming to my assistance.
There were immediate clues. Arriving at Bonnie’s gun headquarters, after telling her about my dilemma, the first words out of her mouth were, “God works in mysterious ways.” More clues: Jaime was all heart, and Dale, “half Cherokee,” shared his formula for peace of mind: “Respect eveybody, try not to never harm nobody, and you will not be afraid of nothin,” he said between puffs on his cigarettes. “And you will be at peace.” His speckled blue eyes were kind, reassuring. Funny how two hours earlier I had been so uneasy about the prospect of being stranded there alone with him and his three raggedy rescue dogs through the night. Mindreader Bonnie had taken me aside, though, to tell me that she’d put her life in Dale’s hands more than once, and that “a nicer human being” couldn’t be found. Eyeing the starkness of his rundown trailer home, I’d prayed that it was so.
A tow truck had arrived. I was now in the hands of two more strangers, also Hispanics. Always nervous to be alone with male strangers, it was time to stretch my faith again and trust them with my life, my body, my money, my car, a reliable destination — somewhere in Fontana. More clues: the driver’s name was “Jesus.” He loved his job: “helping people in trouble” gave him a really good feeling. We dwelled on the benefits of caring about others, arriving 7 p.m. Friday night at “Michael’s” repair shop. Jesus said he’d give me a break on the cost, only $90 to tow. The other firm we had called wanted up to $300 for holiday tow.
Michael, ready to close up shop now and go home to his family, had phoned his employee “Jeannie” to deliver me to a motel. Awaiting her arrival, he told me proudly how he had built his business with integrity, treating people “right,” and being “honest,” not even charging fees sometimes. I was Listening. It seemed again, I would be a beneficiary.
I climbed into Jeannie’s jeep. “God always has a reason for everything,” she assured me. “You just don’t always know the details right away.” Minutes later, we had discovered we both were artists and poets, and she was reciting me lovely verses about having a good attitude and being happy for what we have. As she dropped me off at a motel — which was blessedly clean — I suspected another angel in disguise.
My car was fixed at minimal cost by early afternoon — dusted out battery and starter cables. Jeannie pleaded with me to come home with her to see her “arts,” and get me a map to her favorite local hiking spot. My experience while kind, was paved everywhere with cement, low-income housing and litter; I was desperate to leave for greenery now. Still I couldn’t say “no” to my new friend. When I realized we had pulled up to her boyfriend’s place first, I grew more impatient. “Don’t be in such a rush,” said my inner voice. “Wouldn’t it be nice to have “free time” like Dale and Jeannie to help strangers out, or just Be?
Jeannie’s house, shared with a brother and nephew, looked a lot like the repair shop, right down to the tires in the living room — guy stuff. Her own room was another story, saturated with her wondrous works of art, painted talismans, bright paper story collages and her rock collections (we both see ‘faces’ in everything) and her unabashed enthusiasm. I marveled at her patience, too, downloading a map of “Sapphire Canyon” via a borrowed computer. I felt a rush of gratitude; Jeannie was giving up favored time to be cavorting with her boyfriend, and their impending holiday trip to Mexico to help me out.
I reached the canyon a half hour later and another dirt road up a big hill, in the heat of the day. Couldn’t risk putting ole Betsy — or me — through it. Getting more than six personal angels in less than three days might be pushing my luck.
I plucked a batch of sage from Sapphire Canyon’s mouth, found a decent green spot off the highway to hike a bit, and drove home in one piece. While I am still recuperating from the exertion, I know I was given a major Angel Lesson: angels come in all forms, seldom in those guises we most anticipate, and always when we need them most.
I may be a little crazy to go off alone at my age, with an old car, into the wilderness in some strange place, but it’s been my way. What a blessing to have a demonstration that my passage is Guided and Protected.
Marcia Singer, MSW, CHT heads The Foundation For Intimacy and is a frequent contributor to New Thought publications. She holds a master’s in Clinical Social Work from U.C. Berkeley and is a master Hypnotherapist (ABH#H1743). She is a contemporary Shamanic healer and artist, and is available for sessions, day Quests, and classes. (877) ART-WILD firstname.lastname@example.org
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