BERNIE'S STORY

© 1983 Don Watson
Bernie made his first trip to Tuscon soon after he had moved from Brooklyn to Southern California. Driving through the desert, he reflected on its history. He could almost see Wyatt Earp and his brothers riding toward him over a crest. Upon approaching Tuscon, he was greeted by a modern sign--an ordinary sign, but one that entranced him: "Lookout Motel - 15 Miles."

At first, he was annoyed by the intrusion of civilization into his reveries, but as the miles slid under him his attention was drawn toward the idea: Lookout. And before he could press forward into the middle of the city, as was his habit, the Lookout Motel rose over a crest and corralled him.

It was still early in the day, so he stepped outside his third story room and scanned the horizen from his balcony. He could see the parched, scantily vegetated earth for miles. But he attended sharply to one rise, a tiny bump in the wilderness. Suddenly, his sight abandoned him. Like watching a movie whose film had started skipping sprocket holes, a vision appeared in jerking stills and staggering movies--a vision of a time long ago, but not far away.

He clearlysaw a busy mine shaft with a swimming hole next to it. The swimming hole fascinated him--not the incongruity of a pond in the desert, but the strength of the bond that tied him to the pool. He thought he might be hallucinating, but he knew that he was an unimpaired observer; his faculties--save his eyesight--were intact during the vision. Knowing that his eyes betrayed him, he grasped the rail to prevent his falling forward. In a couple of minutes, the vision left. And he was left with a profound sense of history.

He rushed to the lobby. "Is there an old mine shaft around here?" he asked the desk clerk. "One with a swimming hole next to it?"

"I doubt it. This is the desert," cracked the kid.

"I'm serious. It should be right over that rise," Bernie persisted.

Studying the pressured, but sincere, manner of this guest, the clerk suggested, "I'm new around here. Why don't you go into town and see if you can find someone there to help you."

Bernie drove the two miles into town, looking for a likely guide. He soon found one. The old man was conspicuous in his rustic clothes, long white beard, and tanned face. "Hello! I wonder if you could help me," called the New Yorker.

"I'll try, young feller," replied the old man.

Bernie's eyes probed for signs of a truthseeker in this old man. They were there.

"I'm looking for an old mine shaft with a swimming hole next to it."

The old man stepped back, his toothless smile disappearing. "Why?"

"Because I was there before, and I want to see it again," he explained implausibly but naturally.

"Couldn't have been. It's been closed a hunnerd years."

So there was a mine--and a pool! "Would you tell me where it is."

The old man squinted at the stranger, as if captivated. "I'll take you there. Ain't no more than two and a half miles from here. But you ain't been there before, I'll tell you that."

Watching the odometer, Bernie drove with measured excitement down an empty dirt road. He saw nothing but desert. But as the meter rolled over two and a half miles, the skeleton of a mining shack rose across the rise to his left. Mesmerized by this ghost, he stopped and got out of the car. Then he walked into his vision.

The swimming hole was there, but it held no water. It was a dry, shallow crater a few yards away from the mine shaft--a tailings pond--a cool spot for kids to play in while their dads worked the mine. The same one he had seen from the balcony at the Lookout Motel.

Years had passed when Bernie related this story to his partner--but his excitement had not. With mist in his eyes and an awestruck voice, he said, "I was there! I was a kid there!"

I had heard this story before, but I hadn't archived it. But hearing it this time, I knew that it would never leave my memory. I had changed. He no longer tried to control my destiny with my mind. Experience had taught me that I was better served by Providence. Now, I welcomed messages from the unknown.