At this point in Act III, everything that will crash and collapse in New York City on 9/11/01 has already happened. Pedro and his birding crew have left the Central Valley location and are headed toward Azucar Mountain, the highest peak in the mountainous coastal region northwest of Los Angeles (actual location was Mount Pinos). In the rolling isolation chamber of the bus, no one is yet aware of the devastation that has happened on the East Coast…Until now.
Bus 477 has been retracing its tire prints for a while. We climbed back nearly all the way to the ridge of the foothills on Route 33, and we are now turning east onto Azucar Mountain Road. The climb will continue for about twenty miles on a narrow switchback trail. We are just a stone’s throw from the San Andreas fault now, and the gentle undulations of the land have morphed into a seemingly endless series of mogul-like hills and gullies –too steep to climb head-on, so we will spend many miles in second gear, traversing back and forth in ascending corkscrew turns.
Before it gets too bad, and while we are fairly close to civilization, I decide to call Nadia, for I imagine we will soon be out of cell phone range. Bird #1 [one of the group leaders] also calls one of the conference higher-ups for the same reason. Nadia does not answer and I get our machine. The signal is already very choppy and she probably gets every other word of my message, but at least she will know I thought of her before disappearing for the day. There have been too many times that I have not thought to check in with her, and that is a fault of mine I need to fix. It suddenly feels much more important to me that I never forget to see her beauty.
Bird #1 is still on the phone when I hang up. She is evidently straining to hear as well, but her overall reaction to whatever she is hearing is unusual. I can’t afford many backward glances, so it is hard to read. She says very few words, but they have a tone of incredulity that is not quite right. When she hangs up she immediately begins whispering with her husband, adding to the intrigue. I imagine, though, that it is a private, family affair, and judging by their reaction it could be anything from a child taken ill to something dreadfully wrong with their prized cockatoo.
Upon closing their mini-conference, however, Bird #1 gets up and approaches me. She leans down and whispers into my ear with calm, calculated precision.
when we get stopped up here, you might want to turn on the radio. there’s a national crisis.
Something inside me sinks when I hear those words. I don’t know what it is but it goes straight down and stays there. There’s a national crisis?!? What a perfect non-sequitor! We are also headed for another Ice Age, someday. Words without meaning. This will not stand. I ask her to please, pray tell.
someone’s been hijacking airplanes and crashing them. they’ve hit the World Trade Center and the Pentagon.
OK, now that has meaning. Yes, national crisis, yes. OK…OK……