Sabina has a certain knack for memorizing license plates. My daughter wants to climb the fourteeners before her ultimate mountaineering goal of summiting Denali. Due to a string of tragedies, both personal and observed from a distance, over the recent years, my belief and tolerance of the fantastical has become less embracing, instead favoring chaos. All three of us go on walkabouts, and quite often.
All of these little incidentals have a part to play in this story...
The silver sedan was unremarkable, something you would see anywhere. Seeing it at the trail-head did not really register. We noticed it along with a host of other vehicles at the summer lot. It was a good day for a walkabout, which Sabina, my daughter, and I took full advantage of. We went, had our adventure, encountering a few other trekkers along the way, and then headed back. The sedan was still there.
"There are some campsites around here," Sabina remarked to my daughter. "Chances are, if we looked, we'd probably see a tent."
Our dinner conversation drifted toward my daughter's desire to climb the fourteeners. I think her mountaineering interest might ultimate turn her toward Nepal, which she has an affinity for, not unlike mine for Africa. There was a particular peak that she and Sabina wanted to research whilst I was doing dishes. I was outside covering the grill when I heard Sabina all but screaming my name.
"That silver car," she began, and she recited the license plate. "Does that sound right?"
"I'm pretty sure," I said. "Especially the last three letters."
"Fuck!" She exclaimed. "Thanks."
And she quickly marched back into the house, leaving me a little confused. I merely shrugged and went back to covering the grill. The other dishes were done and there was a glass of after-dinner wine waiting for me. I was tired from the eight mile roundtrip walkabout. Whatever Sabina was on about didn't register.
I came into the parlor to the sight of my girls riveted to the 'puter. On the screen was a page set up to find a hiker who had gone missing three days before. Sabina was furiously typing in a message;
We believe we saw his car...
"Tell me you're fucking with me," I said.
"We came across the link at the fourteener's site," Sabina said. "I don't know why, but I clicked on it, and, sonuvabitch, if they didn't have a description of his car and it's the same one we saw up there."
"It's just creepy," my daughter put in. "I don't know if I'm going to be able to sleep."
Within an hour of Sabina's message, she received correspondence from a family member, giving a phone number and imploring her to call. They chatted for just a few minutes, but Sabina explained her quirk of remembering license plates, numbers in general, and it was enough to prompt other family members to drive at high speed into our Sahel to the trail-head she named. An hour and a half later, she received another phone call, confirming it was the missing hiker's vehicle. Sabina was thanked over and over, and called an angel.
"I don't have a good feeling about this," she confessed.
"Living in the hills long enough, hiking like we do, something like this is bound to happen," my daughter mused.
She was right; a few years before, whilst hiking the Bull's Head, we were in proximity to where woman had overdosed herself. The body was recovered a day or two after our walkabout. Her vehicle had been parked by the cantina for a week.
The next morning, a search was organized at the trail-head. Within a few hours, the body was found. Suicide. He had been dead at least three days.
Since then, Sabina has received correspondence from friends and family members of the deceased, thanking her. Stories of prayers and fasting and how this stranger up the mountains with knack for remembering license plates was nothing short of angelic. She's taken this a little hard, because he was still dead, so there's so little to be thanked for. All the same, she wonders if perhaps something didn't guide her to click on that link when she and my daughter were researching the fourteeners.
I mention the roll of the bones chaos. It was a matter of odds that we were there on that day, and noticed what we did. Sabina once compiled coroner notes of flood victims, we both danced with the dead for money once upon a time, and she's got an interest in cemeteries, thus, showing a certain sense of morbidity. Between Miguel Loco and myself, she's heard a fair amount of stupid hiker stories, which leads to schadenfreude. Add this to the alchemy of the fourteener research and being instilled with something humans made up to maintain pack order, commonly called morality, upon the realization this was happening in our here and now, and there it is; a set of random factors all coalescing at the same time. Chaos, nothing more, although perhaps fantastic in its own rite.
Despite the macabre, I still suggest that trail to hikers because it is an amazing trek. I will do that walkabout again. An acquaintance of ours, slightly flaky new-agey in her countenance, told me we shouldn't let that person's unhappiness taint our enjoyment of the bush, and she's right. We still go to the Bull's Head, even though it's milk run of a walkabout compared to what we usually do.
I have mentioned the Confirmation Bias before. Simply put, as a species that seeks patterns to cope with the chaos that permeates the cosmos, we find facts to fit our particular world view. One example I came across was that political pundits are not listened to because they might be right, but because they validate a certain set of opinions. What happened to us in the outback shows this theory in all its glory; a family and set of friends who believe someone was guided by the hand of a god, and someone who thinks it was all pure roll of the bones chaos made manifest. It probably doesn't matter which is right, just choose your superstition.