Haunted Mountain

Al is a man who measures twice and cuts once. A retired NASA engineer, his life has been a model of methodical. He carefully coached each of his kids through a reasonably priced education, offered them rent at a fair price to live at home after college, and sent them off into the world of marriage with a tidy little nest egg for a house. When Al plans a vacation, the itinerary and hotel rooms are set months in advance and he’s done a comparison on whether a rental RV or a hotel room is more reasonable and never forgets to calculate the hidden costs. He is a model of how to prevent disaster in your life.

man at an overlook


But he is also a curious adventurer. Among his questions about my retirement plans and whether I am taking care of myself, “You’re maxing out your retirement plan, right?” he is eager to wander among the towering pines and peaks of Grand Teton National Park.

trees in fall color


We poke at piles of bear scat and creep up curving slopes of dirt road. As we speed down the inner park road, he surprises me.

“Do you remember the haunted mansion at Disney World?”

“Yeah.” There’s a haunted mansion at Disney World?

“Do you remember those portraits hanging on the wall?”

Crap. I was just being conversational. “Well…maybe I don’t really remember the haunted mansion.”

“Well anyway, there are these heads hanging on the wall, kind of like portraits, and instead of being concave their convex. You know, so it kind of looks like they are watching you wherever you go?” His smooth skin crinkles around his eyes as they smile.

“Yeah…” “That’s kind of what these mountains remind me of. You know, like they are watching me wherever I go…”

Oh my. This man of infinite practicality can also imagine these savage peaks

mountains with fall trees in foreground


have looming eyes and mal intent.

mountain silhouette


I think this is one of the gifts of travel. It peels back layers of the known and reveals the unexpected. I’ve known Al for years. He’s always been a gentle-voiced giant sensible love and stability in my life. And I never expected his mind to light up with frivolous imagination the way they did as we drove past those mountains. And it makes me feel lucky. Lucky to have people in my life that I know for a long time and stick with even though they are different from me. Lucky to know these people well … and be surprised by them.

What don’t you know about the people you think you know?


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