Excerpt from Summer Bridge Tales - Picnic and Panic

         An earthquake and avalanche, interrupts their rest stop and picnic.  (return to home page.)

   “Sarah, have you read Mihaly Czikszentmihalyi’s book on ‘Flow;’ it’s a treatise on proceeding through life’s smoothest path imaginable, in a most efficient manner, while enjoying every minute of it, as a total experience.”
   “No Marceline, I’ve never felt inclined to partake in such intellectual blather.  I’d rather live life than read philosophical treaties about it.”
   “I always knew you were a child of Nature; just doing what came naturally, no fuss no bother, and enjoying whatever comes along.”
   “There’s not an intellectual bone in my body Marceline, but when I get on stage just watch me work my creative imagination.  As you move through life in your own way, I’m quite sure Mother Nature, the Grand Lady of earthly treasures, values your contribution to her earth children’s emotional wellbeing, just as she thanks me for my biological efforts to assist her.”
   “What gift can an exhausting auto give the purest essence of Nature.  An auto may be nice as a summation of all mechanical endeavor, but only the human body is a sample of Nature’s eternal efforts to perfect herself.  However, it occurs and whatever path it takes, I think Nature even values my automobile and its contributions.”
   “Wow, well put Marceline; in the struggle between man and nature; game, set and match to you.”
   “Never sell her short; our Mother Nature knows everything, Sarah; we just experience small portions of it, and try like intelligent students of her to imitate everything she does for us.  We even have the arrogance to think we can control her climate.”
   “That will be the day, Marceline; wait until the cold spell of fifty years like the Maunder Minimum sets in.  Then we will know haughtiness as only Mother Nature can share.”
   “I concur, and she doesn't’t need Facebook or Twitter to apportion out her largesse.”

                         The very subtle beauty of Nature along this country roads is enchanting.
   Putah Creek’s silken water, smiles, as two young professional ladies acknowledge with humble recognition of their ethereal Mother’s subtle beauty. As she continues to rill and glide gently over mossy green rocks and gravel runs, her partner, gravity urges the Lady of the Universe ever onwards toward the thirsty Sacramento Valley. There, her crops, livestock and the good earth nurture mankind and those fortunate few who know the real value of land, water and clean crisp tang of Northern California air. Families are born, raised and mature in all its profundity.
   Smiles and windblown hair of driver and passenger display an air self-satisfaction as each infinitesimal strand combined with an infinite melding of woman, machine and this river valley’s passing beauty, amalgamate and become one at a smooth and comfortable forty-fifty miles-an-hour. The Grand Mother of our natural world smiles within her limitless self and holds quiet for a breathless moment. Then, acknowledging her own beauty and love, shivers in the quiet sharing of it with earth-bound mortals.  Whether these two riders know it or not the Great Goddess of all we see, feel and experience holds up her selfless beauty for all to enjoy.
   Enticed by this counter play of Nature, driver and machine, and thus prompted by a random zephyrs tickling emerald green leaves, She jealously asks her winds to seduce strands of Marceline’s long auburn hair out from under her tightly wrapped scarf. All too willing to oblige, they dance and tangle around the stem of her large-frame Bolle Eagle Vision sunglasses. As she pulls strands loose and tucks them back in the security of her scarf, the wind temporarily settles down. 

 Realizing, humanity has won this round, but it ever lurking beyond her windshield, it awaits another chance at interplay with one lovely touch of Nature versus humanity. And then, accepting this hirsute win, as one small triumph over her eternal Mother, Marceline settles back into a soothing drive, bathed in sunlit ambience. However, up ahead rushing water flows more intently now, mixing with a new stiff breeze, hinting of a gust to come down that narrow river valley and smack into Marceline’s space. As if the wind handed the graduate ladies a rambunctious rebuke, the wind rushes in its uninhibited freedom, down mountainous valleys and canyons, pleased with itself as it sets car and driver up for many surprise encounters.
   If one listens with a different, more sensitive intent, Nature makes herself known in many subtle ways. On a quiet afternoon’s Nature walk, a hiker or passerby strain at the task to understand it all.  Yet, the act of understanding can barely hear and feel all her whispers of natural joy, above a cacophony of day sounds and not so subtle crickets calling their mates across gently flowing grass-filled fields. Then, realizing even her limitations, Nature laughs to herself in restrained amusement at the roots of the world’s befuddlement. I am here for you; all of you to enjoy, cherish and fill your hearts with contentment. Every part of me awaits your appreciation; but don’t crush it to ennui with all the negativity your species can devise.
   Now and again, rolling countryside hills and mountains along Route 128 close their boulevard like vistas as Marceline and Sarah pass through steep walled canyons.  This area retains some sharp-edged peaks created by geologic faults; each rocky mass twists the road into tight turns to surprise an unwary driver.
   With Putah Creek running along Marceline’s left side, winds funneling and rebounding off nearby rocky cliff faces buffeting and shaking Sarah’s right, this rough and tumble battle makes both girls tremulous as they ‘round each corner and sometimes face a boulder projecting out over the roadway’s shoulders. 

 Then, ever-present soil, barely clinging to craggy mountainside boulders, tumbles down in small piles on to the roadside edges and spins cyclone-like into little dust clouds, attempting to catch up with Marceline’s fast-moving car, never achieving a match, fall to the wayside in envy at being left behind.
   Within a thin boundary layer of steel, separating air, engine and rock walls, a struggle between man and nature takes place.  A three-hundred horsepower engine, sitting comfortably in its steel framework, skirmishes with approaching hills.  Mile after mile, the Berryessa mountains’ four-hundred-foot high rock walls to one side, a flowing creek to the other, compete for these young professionals’ attention.
   In her own form of metaphysical parry and thrust, Sarah Davidson thrills at vicarious challenges of blast and blow off mountainous walls and into her face.  Now and then, a strong sideways breeze whips a few loose ends of her coiffure across her face, as she struggles to find ways to secure each wayward strand. Seeing no escape from her hirsute dilemma, Sarah signaling her driver to slow down, and leaning over toward Marceline’s ear, says with a slightly disdainful snarl, “Please keep your speed under Mach 2 as you pass through these tight spots.  These scarves are not hurricane proof you know.”

   A picnic by a creek is just what it takes to finish five years of college work. Birds competing, amongst Nature's perfectly arranged tree branches; a symphonic background of sweet sounds and gently rushing water makes everything about this place a wonderful plein-air déjeuner (lit. trans. Fr.; an outdoor dinner or, a picnic). But as nature does not like or consent to being perfect forever, as Marceline closed her eyes under her sunglasses, a strange and hazy vision started to form in her vivid imagination.
   Marceline realistically decided a while back that her visions were not a bunch of hallucinatory litter caused by too much coffee. Resolving to abstain during a college exam, after having super dosed on several lattes, sometimes she would see floating white shapes, which resembled grotesquely shaped refrigerators or stoves. 
   At that point, she knew to back off on caffeine loading for a while. That routine worked great for a comfortable slide through an extremely difficult and long exam, but Marceline certainly did not overdo the habit. 
   But this time was different, Marceline was having a vision from the past; a warning of danger. Suddenly, in the quiet of that summer afternoon, Marceline's vision from her ancestral past, was a warning of approaching danger. The vision was there again; this time it was in the form of knights in full armor except they had no helmets and their grimaced faces bore painful expressions of battle.    They rushed into her field of vision in a full gallop, stopped, reared up their horses and made menacing gestures toward her with their swords.  After looking left and right, they spurned their horses and galloped ahead at full speed, right over Marceline and up the hill, that the two girls came down earlier.
   Then her vision was gone, and all was quiet again. At this point Marceline took off her sunglasses sat up and looked around; she thought to herself, that must be a hallucination, but what does it mean?  Then she mumbled to herself, "The best course of action at this point is to just forget that illusion."
   "Did you say something Marceline?"
   "No, I was just reflecting on how lovely and beautiful it is around here."
  "Well, keep it down to a dull roar; I know this research and Uncle Phillípe's requests have put you under some stress lately, but there is no need to get rattled. Besides, face it Marceline we're done; we've finished our classes, and tests are gone forever. Think of an expression that a liberated person might say like, 'free at last.'"
   "You ponder that expression Sarah; I have a few of my own demons and ghosts to sort out."
   "Well, do it quietly; I'm enjoying this little repast far too much."
   Then, as Marceline put her sunglasses back on and settled back down on her pillow she let sounds and sights of summer, like that burbling of Putah Creek surround her. After few minutes of quiet babbling creek sounds and chirping birds, Nature reigned supreme but only for a moment. Suddenly everything went dead silent. It was as if the world of sound just abandoned them in an instant.
   Even the babbling brook stopped flowing and took on a different look. Instead of flowing, its water was dancing in place, like a night clubbers scene, with the creek's water bobbing like heads going up and down in a zombie dance.  It seemed like the world started to come apart, the earth was trying to turn upside down. Marceline removed her sunglasses again and said, "Sarah did you hear that?"
   "Hear what; I don't hear anything."
   "That's it Sarah; silence! I don't hear a dam thing; not a bird, breeze or creek ripple; not even the quiet rustling of tree leaves; nothing."
   Sarah sat up with a start; removed her sunglasses and said, "You're right I don't hear a thing; something's wrong Marceline. Then panic started to settle across the girl's faces...”

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