When they pulled up to Cory’s house the garage door was open, the light was on, and there was a plastic dog kennel in the driveway next to a red cooler with a shotgun case leaning against the garage wall. Cory walked out just as they pulled up in the gray three quarter ton Ford crew cab.
Cory Jacobs had an excavation business that Sam’s engineering firm used often for some of the work that they did. He was a stocky man, shorter than Sam and built like a wrestler; Sam thought he was a good guy to have in his corner when needed. Cory also went to Seven Mile Community Church where Sam and Robin attended. Cory was dating Monica Anderson, one of the worship leaders at their church. Cory was a prominent and the couple was well liked.
Ben got out of the pickup and said “Hey Cory!” Cory grabbed him and gave him a bear hug. “Dad said you got a new dog! What kind is it?”
“A Vizsla” Cory said “He is a motor with a nose attached to it!” He opened the kennel and a long legged, long eared slender dog burst out. Picking up the kennel Sam put it in the back of the truck and strapped it to the sides so it would not slide around. “I brought an old sleeping bag along to put over the kennel if you need.” Sam said. “Or he can ride in the cab with us. It is pretty cold out and he doesn’t have much hair!”
“Oh, I think he will be okay in the back” Cory said. “I have a coat for him too. That sleeping bag is a great idea!”
It was beginning to get light when they hit the back roads. It was heavily overcast and the wind was blowing steady out of the east which meant more snow was on the way. There were no tracks in the fresh snow ahead of them and the truck burst through three foot drifts in swales where it was allowed to collect.
Cory was telling Sam about how slow it was at work and how the economy seemed to be slowing down. “It is just kinda crazy out there. They say the economy is back to normal but work is awful slow. It doesn’t make sense to me. Maybe it is the weather.” he said. “Something in my gut just isn’t sitting right with everything that is going on in the world right now. It’s not just the economy either it’s everything. Everyone seems to be at war or threatening war and then it’s like everyone is against Israel too. That is such a podunk little country it doesn’t make sense why the entire world is surrounding them!”
“Ya, All the Arabs are against everyone. I just don’t understand those Muslim countries. They even hate each other. I say let them all go at it and let them shoot each other.” Sam replied.
“There has been a ton of earthquakes over in Japan too.” Cory continued. “It seems like the whole world is falling apart. This isn’t the same country we grew up in. It seems like it is like backwards. What’s right is wrong and what’s wrong is right. It’s very bizarre, definitely not the country we grew up in that is for sure!”
Ben was listening from the back seat and piped in saying, ”Did you hear about that earthquake yesterday in Oregon?” Susan said she felt it. “It was like standing on a waterbed. Stuff was falling off the shelf at her grandma’s house. It was kind of scary she said but it sounds cool to me!”
Cory answered them saying “Well you know what the Bible says about this? When you see wars and rumors of wars, earthquakes in various places with all these other things happening too, start looking up!”
“Oh ya, the Rapture” Sam said “Do you think it will really happen in our lifetime? I think they have been saying that for every generation since Jesus died! We will probably see the country collapse before Jesus comes back but I don’t know about the rapture.”
“Ya, crazy times. “ Cory said. “Hey can you pull off somewhere so I can unload some coffee?”
All three and Marty got out to relieve themselves. The snow was a at least six inches deep and all of them wrote their name in the snow except Marty.
Sam decided to throw the tire chains on the front tires of the truck. “It’s better to have them on before we get stuck!”
With all three men working together they had the chains secured on the front tires in matter of minutes. The wind was blowing hard and it was cold on their hands even with gloves on and the heater felt good when they resumed.
“If we can find them, the birds should be sitting tight with all of this snow and wind.” Sam said. “There is a place up this road that Robin and I looked into buying up this canyon a few years ago. She doesn’t want to buy the place but I sure feel drawn to it for some reason. Do you mind if we stop by and check it out?”
Cory agreed and they turned up the remote road driving deeper into the canyon. The chains on the front end added much more traction and the truck cut an aggressive path through the fresh snow. An occasional jack rabbit left its signature occasionally crossing back and forth across the desolate road.
Sam pulled up to a gate with the resemblance of a road behind it. An old “For Sale” sign dangled off to the side of a post whipping in the wind. The phone number was faded but readable. Sam got out and took a picture of the number with his cell phone. He cupped his hand blocking the wind to look up the hillside at a rocky bluff three quarters of mile away up a steep hillside. Going back to the passenger side of the truck he motioned Cory to roll down his window. Both Ben and Cory rolled down their windows. Marty stuck his head out too not wanting to miss out on anything. Sam pointed up to the reddish colored bluffs and said “I bet there are some birds up there at the base of those bluffs. Do you want to give it a shot?”
For you girls, this is a chukar
“You bet!” Both Ben and Cory agreed looking into the bleak snow covered high mountain desert landscape. Ben wondered how anything could live in this country but he was ready for a good hike even if it was going to be a cold one. He had been cooped up since football season and was ready to test his knee.
They loaded up their daypacks with extra shells. Robin packed a nice lunch for both of them individually marked and wrapped up. Sam told Ben “Your mom is amazing!” and Ben agreed wholeheartedly shoving the remains of a chocolate chip cookie in his mouth.
They hiked up an old road which wound its way towards the bluff. The snow was deep but fluffy and the climb was steep heating their bodies rapidly. The cold wind stung their faces causing them to pull their coat collars up and the wool hats tighter over their ears. When they got closer to the top Cory suggested splitting up and walking three abreast side hilling across the mountain about fifty yards apart. Sam agreed and Cory volunteered to take the top position and Ben took the bottom. Chukars typically flew down hill using gravity to aid in their escape advantage. Ben and Sam waited for Cory to climb higher up the hill before splitting up and working evenly across the mountainside. The wind was at their back howling louder the higher they climbed, the cold brutally cut through their winter coats.
Suddenly Cory shot above them. Both Sam and Ben looked up as a flock of at least twenty Chukars dove over the top of them like bombardiers on a sortie. Both of them raised and fired missing cleanly the first shot. Sam lead the next shot by a country mile and the bird rolled as did the next. Ben fired one more time, connecting with a bird which set his wings and sailed down in the bottom. Marty excitedly headed for the first bird that Sam hit. Sam was digging in his pocket to get more shells when two other birds flew overhead. His gun was empty and he yelled at Ben who whirled around and dropped one on the first shot. “Nice Shot Ben!” Cory exclaimed from on top of the bluff. Ben had a big smile on his face. That shot had surprised him too! Ben picked up that bird and told Sam that he was going to take Marty down to the bottom to find the bird that had set its wings. Cory hollered at Sam letting him know that he was pursuing another covey that had flown up above him and would catch up in a little bit.
Sam wanted to check out the spring at the base of the bluff and told Ben to meet him there after he found the bird in the bottom. The closer he got the more interesting protected area looked; it was a cove hidden in the rocks. The wind was whipping the snow causing his face to sting and his eyes to water. Visibility became nearly impossible. As Sam approached the edge of the spring he was surprised to discover green plants growing at the edge of the spring, even covered by several inches of snow. He blinked his eyes struggling to see clearly.
Suddenly the wind stopped. Clearing the tears from his eyes he looked around. He had entered a windless protected area at the base of the rocky bluff. He turned and took a couple of steps back only to discover the wind nearly knocked him over; one step made the difference between a fierce wind and perfect calmness. That was so cool he thought. The semi-circular open area was about seventy five yards across and there were five recessed caves into the base of the bluff. They didn’t go far back into the bluff, only about ten to twenty feet. The top of the bluff was sixty feet above and the face was red sandstone. He walked over to the largest cave and realized that there was water trickling down from the roof at one end. The water formed a small pool before seeping over the slope down to a freshwater spring that formed in the center of the cove area. Standing back he surveyed the landscape and determined that the spring in the center probably created the cove by eroding from underneath the bluff collapsing the material down the steep hillside. The caves themselves were formed by springs eroding the sandstone through a process of ice wedging in the winter forming the room sized caves. What amazed him the most was the green grass and water cress growing in the water and how lush it was for being the first part of January. The green in contrast to the deserts harsh winter surroundings was amazing. He set his gun down and took his pack off to explore a little closer. He crawled into the cave and sat down looking out at the valley floor below him. He could easily see for twenty miles. On a clear day he could expect to see fifty or even a hundred miles.
He couldn’t quite stand upright in the cave but with a little work this could actually be livable if you were a cave man kind of guy. He walked around to the other caves. They were smaller and had similar attributes. There was no evidence of human activity like black soot against the rock or trash lying around. Taking a closer look at the spring he noticed how clear the water was and it was actually moving forming a stream that eventually disappeared a hundred yards down the slope. There were fresh deer, rabbit, chukar and coyote tracks. He wondered how safe it was to drink. He went over to his pack and sat down rummaging through it until he found a small pill container with a couple of Ibuprofen in case of emergencies. He put the pills into and extra plastic baggie and used the bottle to get a sample of water. As he was putting the pill container back he found his compass and checked the coordinates for the aspect noting that the hill side faced south southwest. In his mind he imagined what and where the sun would be like in the summer. He was amazed at how the plants could grow protected inside the cave where the water dripped. The rock face collected heat during the day and prevented the plants from freezing at night. He went out in the center of the semicircle and kicked the snow out of the way to reveal a rich black soil. A garden would grow well here provided you could keep the critters away. The soil on the hillside along the bluff was rocky and not good for growing. The little area created just enough wind break that the soil being carry by wind depositing it right around the spring and over the years of natural recycling plant material it had built up the sandy loam into a rich fertile soil. The sixty foot cliffs surrounding the cove would provide adequate shade from the searing summer heat. Upslope drafts from the valley floor would cool the summer temperatures and generate wind power. By the way it was howling only 30 yards away electricity would not be a problem. His engineering mind kicked into gear taking in all of the possibilities of this little paradise. If a person got in a bind they could use this as a shelter; especially if there was any truth to what was happening in the world outside this small paradise This fortress was only an hour from town and very secluded. He wondered how many people knew about this place. Cory’s discussion earlier that morning about the rapture came to mind. If “shit really hit the fan” as he was hearing so much about lately, this would be a great place to ride it out.
He heard Ben shoot twice and watched as he and Marty searched excitedly for something. A surge of pride swelled up in Sam as he sat on a large boulder and watched. Ben was a good son. He worked hard at whatever he did. It had been only a few years ago that Sam had spoken sternly to Ben about the laziness Sam was beginning to him. Sam recalled his words, “That may be okay for your friends but no son of mine is going to be lazy!” Ben matured the following summer when Sam was able to get him on the survey crew at work pounding stakes. The survey crew worked long hard days and that was good, but the downside was, he had brought back some language from the job. Robin insisted Sam have a talk with Ben and nip that bud immediately. Ben respected his parents and did his best to honor them but it was tough when he was working with the survey crew. They cussed like sailors and were always checking women out downtown. They made it a point to eat their lunches at the park to watch women in their short shorts walking and jogging on the greenbelt. For a teenage boy it was hard to stand against that peer pressure. Sam had told him that he couldn’t save Ben from that and he was getting old enough now to start making those hard decisions and living the way God desired him to live; not like the rest of the world lived. He explained to Ben that it wasn’t going to be easy but that he needed to stand up at some point for what he believed in. Sam thought Ben responded well to their talk but did notice how the crew teased him afterwards. It was hard for Sam to watch but he also knew he couldn’t step in either. He didn’t know how well Ben would do under that peer pressure. Honestly Sam was relieved when that summer was over and Ben was back in school. Ben was a good looking young man and the girls took notice which was altogether another problem. Sam had experienced the same problem when he was younger, and still did. Women had always found him attractive and often approached him aggressively. That temptation was tough for any man. Since he had met Robin twenty four years ago nothing could make him waver for the love he had for her. He thought about her and her sense of humor. It brought a smile to his face. He remembered seeing her the first time she walked into the Broken Lives Recovery Fellowship group at Seven Mile Community Church. He knew the minute he laid eyes on her that he was going to marry her. She, however, was not ready and had no interest in any man. Period. She had recently gone through a nasty divorce laced with brutal physical and mental abuse. Her ex-husband had been a jealous controlling type that constantly accused her of cheating. He had been intensely insecure and after living under that canopy of fear, she was not about to test the water anytime soon!
It didn’t matter to Sam; He would wait forever for Robin. He just knew that he knew and when it came down to it, Robin was the only reason that Sam went to Broken Lives. Broken Lives was a unique recovery program that had found its way into every Christian church in the country. It was similar to the AA program but had nine steps. Rob Landon, a renowned pastor and author from Bridal Ridge Christian Church in northern California had developed the program. It was a revolutionary new approach to healing broken lives that was almost an epidemic in society as a whole and eroding even into the church. Every church in the nation used the same material and Broken Lives was very proud of the fact that any person could go into any church in the country that was in “the program” and the material and the curriculum would be identical. No other material was permitted to be introduced so that Broken Lives would maintain its successful reputation. Bridal Ridge Christian Church was one of the largest churches in the nation and every Christian had heard of Rob Landon. He had written a book called “A Well Designed Life” for a teaching tool that many pastors used in almost every church and bible study group in the nation. In an interview Rob Landon had humbly reported that A Well Designed Life was said to be the most printed Christian books second only to the bible. Rob Landon had become a household sensation overnight and had speaking engagements globally with some of the most influential people in the world. His church at Bridal Ridge supplied all of the printed materials for Broken Lives distributed to all of the churches nationwide and the income from his book had blessed his community church to the point that they could afford to purchase a Lear Jet and an on staff pilot to fly him to all of his speaking engagements. The structured Church program that he had created was so successful that it grew Bridal Ridge Christian Church into one of the most prosperous churches in the country. He began teaching other pastors how to use the same concept curriculum and material that he used at Bridal Ridge to make them just as successful. It was almost like a well-designed business plan that was proven to be prosperous.
At the end of the Broken Lives program Robin finally agreed to go have coffee with Sam. The rest was history. Sam was so thankful for Broken Lives Recovery Fellowship.
Ben was almost up the hill. Sam shouted down to him “Did you find the bird?” Marty hearing Sam’s voice, headed up to him at a run. Ben held up two birds proudly. “Yes and then some!” he replied with a huge grin across his face. Sam stood up and moved over on the rock he was sitting on to make room for Ben to sit.
Suddenly a large orange dog intercepted Marty rolling him over in the snow. Sam turned around to see Cory working his way along the base of the bluff.
“How did you do?” Sam yelled.
“I got a couple.” Cory responded “Man, I sure got into a lot of birds but my shotgun must be off!” he said smiling.
“Ya these little rockets are hard to hit! Are you ready to eat lunch?”
“Yes, I am” Cory said setting his shotgun against a rock and removing his pack. “Wow, this is a nice little spot! The wind isn’t blowing in here at all!”
“I know, isn’t it?” Sam said.
Ben was already eating his sandwich and chips with Marty at his feet looking up at him intently. “Mom, wrote me a note.” He said smiling.
Sam and Cory looked over at Ben holding up a small bag of Fritos. On the wrapper in black permanent marker it read.
Hope your having a good day!
I love you Ben!
Cory smiling said “That momma loves her son!”
Sam pulled out his sandwich and looked at his bag of chips. There was no note on it. “Yes she does!” he agreed.
Cory unwrapped several pieces of chicken from aluminum foil that he had bought from the store and was eating baked beans out of a plastic container with a white plastic fork.
“How’s it going with Monica?” Sam asked.
“Pretty good. We have been going out over for over a year now and she wants to get married.” Cory said and tossing the skin of the chicken to his dog who caught it nosily.
“As you should! Make an honest woman of her.” Sam replied.
“Ya, I don’t know… her kids and are almost grown but she doesn’t bring much to the table and has nothing to speak of really. My business is doing well right now and I am putting a lot of money in the bank. I have my retirement all set up, you know? What if we get married and it doesn’t work out? Then she takes half of my income. I don’t want to take a hit like that at my age.”
Listening, Sam took a bite of his sandwich. As he bit down the texture didn’t feel right and he took the sandwich out of his mouth looking at it. There was something in between the two pieces of lunchmeat. He reached in and pulled a small piece of paper out between them. Written in smeared blue pen was a note that he read to himself:
Thanks for being a great husband!
I love you honey!
with a smiley face.
Ben started rocking back and forth laughing, slapping his knee. Corey and Sam joined in. “Your mom is something else!” Sam said to Ben.
After lunch they agreed to hunt a small circle back to the truck. Ben’s knee was starting to hurt a little and Sam didn’t want him overdoing it. When they reached the truck Cory had picked up a couple more birds and Sam had got one more.
Sam decided to gut the birds while Cory was loading up his dog. Ben helped him remove the feathers and put the cleaned birds in a couple of gallon Ziploc bags that Sam always kept in the truck.
“Can you wash them and clean them real good for your mom when we get home?” Sam asked Ben.
Ben nodded his head “Yes sir, I will!”
Sam ruffle his hair and said “Thanks, son.”
It didn’t take long before Ben was asleep in the back seat of the truck. Sam looked at him through the rear view window and smiled. Marty was asleep right next to him.
“I don’t know what to tell you Cory. I know for me, my family is my greatest asset and I would take them over all of the money in the world. It is a pretty lonely life with just you and your money”
“ I know all too well Sam.”