Zeb first came around – appeared/materialized/you figure it out – in the late ‘70s. Over time, we had many conversations about humans and wildlife and nature and what a screwup I was. He always said he owed me. He loved sneaking up and startling me. This was one of those times.
Up until now, it had been a pretty normal Saturday morning. A beautiful late March morning, dry and mild. Heading for home in Sedalia, I had been in Colorado Springs, doing my weekly radio talk show on KVOR.
I had a couple hours a week to interview people, and talk with callers about outdoor stuff. Anything from where and how to get camping reservations for the Colorado State Parks to skiing, backpacking, hunting, shooting and gun control. No money in it, but it was mostly fun anyhow, and advertisers would trade out meals, or fishing trips, and now and again a set of tires for my red 4Runner. I figured it was about as much fun as a guy could have if he wasn’t in the woods or on a stream, anyway. After I got off the air, I’d grab a donut and coffee and hit the road. It was generally a sweet, quiet ride north along the beautiful Front Range of the Rockies.
I was sort of sailing… drifting, really… up the through the pine-covered hills, when it began. And finished. Not really like that, but… Like one of those things that happen almost instantly, but you can still recall each piece of it. Oh, hell. You know what I mean.
Anyhow, I felt the vibration at the same moment that Zeb was appearing and he was there before I could blink. Startled. Big time.
“Dammit, Zeb!” It was all I could say. By the time the truck was back under my conscious control, he was laughing like a delighted kid.
With all the not-sure-to-be-mad-or-glad energy I could muster, I glared at him. “Damn! You almost got me killed, Zeb!”
“Aw, c’mon, Jimmy, how many times I gotta tell ya. Yer either dead or you ain’t!”…We said it in sync, laughing: “There ain’t no such thing as ALMOST!”
“Holy buff’ jump! I shoulda done this before! This thing rolls… Beats the tar outa our old hide wagons, doesn’t it? But you gotta watch how ya ‘gee!’ and ‘haw!’ them mules, boy. You could get us hurt..” He laughed and laughed at his big entrance.
“It’s good to see you, boy! And, bye the bye, that little entrance goes on MY ledger!
I laughed, too. He’d beaten me, again. I hadn’t seen him since fall, and it was good to hear the rich old voice of my teacher and his booming laughter.
“OK… OK, so it’s good to see you too, Zeb.” I was a little embarrassed. “Why do you always have to pop in and scare the hell outa me when I’m lost in some delicious place? And I thought you had no wish to ride in my ‘shiny, smelly, rubber-wheeled wagon?'”
He just looked at me with those deep, piercing eyes.
Then he chuckled. “It was thrillin’ there for a minute, wasn’t it? Like riding with the buffalo, again… You still have yer touch, though. Quick as you were on th’ Cherokee’s jump. Nothin’s lost, is it? You’re seein’ now that all has purpose.”
“Anyway, I still love to slide in on ya when your energy’s somewhere else…so pleasing ta sneak up on ya…reckon I’ll always be makin’ up for the ‘other’ time. An’ since this is the last time I get to see you, I figured I might’s well see why you like this red lightning so much. Then, too, I wasn’t so sure I could make the timing into the shotgun seat, here, what with you flying along like an antelope makin’ magic!”
I dropped off onto a wide shoulder, and stopped the truck.
“What? What’s this ‘the last time I get to see you’ crap? Zeb we’re not through yet. Okay, I’ve learned a lot, and yeah, I know I have an agreement to keep, but I’m not ready! There’s just too much I don’t understand yet. Remember? I’m a slow learner.. Uh, a ‘late bloomer.’ You can’t just pop in here, and then… It’s just not…”
My voice and all my energy trailed off at about the same time. I knew that it was time. I knew, now, that I was one of those who’d agreed.. It was my time to “remember,” as he put it. He had been warning me for a couple years that it was coming…to quit fooling around. How could I plead for more, when I’d received so much, and been loved so well? And I could see that something really important had shifted. It showed in his face, his eyes, even the color of his ‘dress skins.’ Something of soul importance. And all that knowing took about one millisecond to reach my gut.