Thursday, April 19, 2018


A Church of the Open Road
‘do unto others’ project

Long time readers will understand that the Church of the Open Road is not so much a church as it is a state of mind; a state of mind achieved when touring the countryside on a nice motorcycle (or in a car or on foot.)  This non-churchiness does not preclude the church from engaging in missionary-type activities toward the betterment of others. 

Case in point:  The Redwood Valley fires of October 2017 were less reported than those, a few miles south, that ravaged Santa Rosa.  Still, individuals in that bucolic valley fled from terrifying flames through blankets of smoke in the thick of the night only to return two days later to ash.  Ironically, the neighbor’s house may have been untouched.

Such was the case for parishioner Brother Randy’s cousin Ken.  “One day, I had wealth,” he says with a chuckle.  “Now, after the insurance settlement, all I have is money.”

We surveyed the acreage where once stood his hand-built home of fifty years.  Charred oak and pine towered above the site.  Excavators had removed polluted top soil, and with that, remnants of foundations, remains of out buildings, access to a wine cellar once carved out of a hillside and stuff.  That stuff is the wealth that once was held.  Photos.  Collectables.  Rugs from around the globe.  Wines.  Tools: the tools necessary to live self-sufficiently on a small plot making your own food, your own wine, your own garden; and the ability to adapt and change the house as children are born, raised and depart.

“I had wealth.  Now all I have is money,” he said, standing outside the rented cargo container flush with borrowed and donated tools.  “I’d like to get back to having wealth.”

Randy deftly backed the rental trailer onto the driveway next to a newly constructed fence.  The olive trees we’d secured at Santa Rosa’s Urban Tree Farm had survived the fifty-five-mile ride north, as had my old New Braunfels Smoker.  The agenda was easy: fire up the smoker, throw on some ribs, and start diggin’ holes.

The day was post card perfect with an azure sky arching over verdant green hillsides.  Vast stretches of distant trees leafed green, untouched by a half-year-ago’s conflagration.  Splotches of standing deadwood made it appear as if the fire whimsically hop-scotched down the hillside, sadly placing one fiery foot on this square for a moment.

The digging wasn’t easy in the dense clay soil, but then again, I don’t spend a lot of time digging holes.  (My wife might disagree.)   

But as the designee for tending the bar-be-cue, I could climb into the back of the rental trailer, where the smoker had been leveled, and tinker with fuel and oxygen and rotate the rib racks – much lighter duty than hole-digging – while the others labored in the dirt.

As work progressed, the woman living across the street – hers, the house untouched –  parked her Mercedes mid-road and climbed out to check on her neighbor and offer a bottle of wine to enjoy with the meat.

A cousin showed up, then another with a guitar.  Accompanied by some blues and some yodeling, and after a coffee break where the ‘coffee’ was actually a nice, local Pinot, the work became lighter.

Word travels pretty fast in Redwood Valley.  That explains why so many escaped October’s terrible disaster.  That also explains why, by the time the trees were planted and the ribs and potato salad about to be consumed, the crew had expanded from three or four to nine or more.

Being the only non-relative, non-once-Sacramento-area-Church-of-Christ Sunday School attendee, I enjoyed an outside-looking-in view of a warm, informal reunion: Wine and potluck victuals.  Music.  Memories.  Laughter.  Love.  Five decades old remanences seemed only as distant as yesterday.

Too soon, the sun settled over the rim of a western hill.  Our trailer was repacked with equipment and our work was done.  As we rattled away, I realized that the day’s product was not that of a small orchard of olive trees.  Rather it was a new and healthier meaning of the concept of ‘wealth:’ A meaning I would be wise to embrace.

Ken, I knew, was well on his way to ‘getting back to having wealth.’  But maybe it was something he had never fully lost.

© 2018
Church of the Open Road Press

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