"A few minutes ago every tree was excited, bowing to the roaring storm, waving, swirling, tossing their branches in glorious enthusiasm like worship. But though to the outer ear these trees are now silent, their songs never cease."
~ John Muir
On one of the final switchbacks before reaching the first ridgeline, Pat asked me if a particular break in the natural color scheme way down below might be our campsite. I responded that I wasn't sure but if he thought so, it probably was. We both knew his vision had always been keener than that of his oldest brother.
I squinted for a while just to the right of what appeared to be, at that distance, a rather large Sugar Pine but couldn't come to any definitive conclusion. I wasn't even sure that what I had in my crosshairs had anything to do with the particular smudge on the landscape that had caught his attention.
I once had Pat by a decade or, you could say, he once had me. At the time of the weeklong Big Sur camping trip in question, I'm guessing I was 26 to his 16. He, having overheard many tall-tale yarns of the Santa Lucia range spun by my camping tribe of the time, decided to tag along on this one if for no other reason than to give our parents, not to mention his own self, some much-needed space.
In those bohemian-drenched days, hiking Big Sur uphill from the jagged coastline offered everything from fog-shrouded riparian woodlands to dusty chaparral-covered hillsides that ended in, if you were lucky, an occasional mini-grove of old-growth coastal redwoods.
Up until this time, with Pat approaching that cusp where adolescence meets adulthood, our age differential, exacerbated by my hitch in the Army and treks through Mexico, had served to keep us, basically, strangers. So this was pretty cool that, for whatever reason, he actually wanted to spend what would later be termed "quality time" with the old guy.
The canteens we packed on the trail that day were not all that different from those that hung from saddles in all those great old John Ford movies. We also were totin' some bananas, apples, peanuts, a hip-pocket-sized copy of the John Muir Reader, a journal I had started the summer before up on the Haight, and probably, knowing me, a Snickers or two, all in this old Boy Scout rucksack that I had somehow acquired.
So about the time the ridge trail reached its apex prior to dropping away into the next drainage, we stopped to snack, admire that iconic coastline, and shoot the breeze a bit under what my long-ago-earned Forestry merit badge had taught me was a Douglas fir. As it turned out, Pat was a fountain of what we would later term "teenage angst."
The length of his hair was becoming a problem around the folks' house. Book learning wasn't resonating and he wanted to quit school. The romance of old Mexico tugged at his blossoming wanderlust. And a girl with whom he had become relatively smitten had been sending him mixed signals.
I told him that I had gone through similar stuff and that time would heal all wounds, at least the emotional ones. It was a lie, of course. Most all the messages I received from female classmates in high school were decidedly "un-mixed!"
It was just about then that the breeze off the Pacific freshened and the wide variety of conifers surrounding us on those Big Sur cliffs began to sing as the wind rushed through their swaying boughs. Pat was impressed! His load lightened and he tossed his nowhere-near-as-long-as-it-would-become blond hair back into the breeze.
Although I do recall the generalities surrounding that camping trip and that hike, I should mention here that I'm able to recount most of the particulars of the day due to a few pages worth of entries from the aforementioned journal. As Bob Dylan said, you can scribble anywhere.
I didn't need no stinkin' journal, however, to recall the image of Pat with eyes closed, a big smile across his face, and his hair tossed back into the wind. That arrived without preamble last week as I sobbed uncontrollably over the phone once my sister Mary Beth and brother McGee had informed me of his sudden passing.
He had left us out of order, disrupting the natural chronology. He moved on, leaving us to wonder if, at the end, he knew how much he was loved. He had to. When one grows up in the household of Bob and Mary Meehan, there's no shaking it. Unconditional love is part of our cultural DNA. Even when it is silent, the song remains.
Jay Meehan is a culture junkie and has been an observer, participant, and chronicler of the Park City and Wasatch County social scenes for more than 40 years.