The Host

By Barbara Curtis Horton

Out of a Joshua forest rose the unpaved road zigzagging along a steep mountain face, a giant symbiosis between rock supporting trees and trees holding fast to the rock. In 22 miles we arrived at Chimney Peak campground, an arid height where it seemed both earth and soft grey pines cried out for autumn rain.

We lunched on a rise above the host's mobile home and two late-season visitors' camps, but this midday neither host nor campers were to be seen. Only a small russet-tinged bird moved away through the trees. My son, looking over his shoulder and down the slope beyond me, described something surprising -- a stone, a flag, an artificial flower, a book of some sort. A grave? A memorial?

Later his exploration revealed the monument name to be "Ken Bell (1929-1996)," the flower a red rose, the book a dozen or fifteen carefully laminated letters describing the preceding host, how he, though ill himself, had been quick to take a man suffering heat exhaustion for medical aid. He had made so many families feel safe and comfortable! One writer remarked the bears would miss him too. That these people were moved in spirit and action to create together with blade, polish, natural stone, and lined paper this remembrance of an almost-stranger's life! -- perhaps a small life as the world flows, but in the truth of this place, a giant spirit standing.

And I took away a new phrase, "A Ken Bell life," one burnished in karmic glow, a life that in its loveliness calls forth loveliness in others.

Much like the rocks and trees on our upward journey, on this mountain one man and random people had sustained one another.

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