We’re wandering around the Desert Botanical Garden. A pleasant day in May in that Summer is Just Around the Corner kind of way. The cactus are blooming, the baby quail are scurrying, the butterflies are flittering. A good day.
We came here for no particular reason. It’s just down the road from us, and strolling through narure makes for a nice morning outing. But we weren’t really looking for anything. So naturally, as we’re walking down a little one-way path that ends at a pond, we see a guy sitting alone with a camera and binoculars. I prepare to turn around for a quick escape. Did I ever mention I’m not a people person? But the guy is staring at us.
And he says, “Amanda!”
We’ve come upon a Ripley.
We last saw him around six years ago, when our newspaper decided to go out of business and we wandered off for parts unknown. The last thing he said to me was “I’ll never see you again.” And here he is, seeing me again. He must be annoyed.
He was my boss and mentor and idol and friend. A True Believer of journalism and doing the right thing and making the world a better place, back before we realized the sad reality. He’s retired now and pursuing a more rewarding career in the bird paparazzi business.
We stare at each other in that “is that really you” sort of way, and mo and a I plop down next to him. Where to begin? I tell him about how we ended up here again and what it was like there. We talk birds and Texas and journalism and where to find a decent meal in Fort Stockton. He tells us how he and Pam went to the Alamo, and upon his daughter’s suggestion, asked around about seeing the basement. We agree it’s a good thing hummingbirds are not big or else we’d all be dead. He admits melting his wife’s most beloved CASA cup but says it was an “accident.” He will say this was taken out of context.
I lean back in the shade and ponder. We’ve been here a few months and he’s one of the first people we meant to look up. But you know how life is. You get caught up in stuff. Still, I think about him all the time, and lament every day I walk into the office at the competition, feeling like a traitor. I never thought I’d do that. I never thought a lot of things.
We talk forever. I realize I could sit and listen to him all day. Such a kind soul. Amanda asks him why he never ran for mayor. He says birding makes him happier. Did I mention he’s wise?
I always wonder about life after journalism. His advice: Walk away. Don’t try to hang on to the ghosts. Find something new. He’s the best journalist I’ve ever worked with. I should listen.
And then we say goodbye. It’s still surreal. After all this time, we stumble upon one of our favorite people sitting quietly in the shade in a place we only decided to visit a few minutes earlier. This is likely why people go birdwatching. If you’re patient enough, where you least expect it, you just might spot a Ripley.
Life is funny …