We next headed down the coast from Carol’s mother’s in Waldport, Oregon, passing through the California redwoods to rendezvous with our three daughters near San Francisco. We took our girls on a tour of San Anselmo (Marin County) where they were born while Wayne was studying for the ministry at San Francisco Theological Seminary lo those many years ago now. SFTS is a wonderful old set of stone buildings on a hill, often referred to by the locals as “the castle.”
Our girls were very little when we moved to Wayne’s first ministry among the Navajos in Arizona so they didn’t really remember the place, with one exception. The twins thought they remembered the central parking lot/courtyard area of our student apartment building where they used to ride their trikes.
As we strolled past the church in San Anselmo where Wayne did his internship (and led a youth group on a mission trip to the Ute Mountain Ute reservation which became the inspiration for Native American ministry) we noticed a service going on, even though it was Saturday. It turned out to be a memorial service for the husband of one of Wayne’s colleagues. It was like we had never left: we knew the whole cast of characters there, all except the pastor who is of course always the one to move on eventually.
When it comes right down to it, a church is its members; pastors come and go. They are only there to help the congregation do ministry. On this trip we saw a number of churches in fact that are still being churches even though they have no pastor. In Indian Country as in northern New Mexico, little churches that don’t lose heart keep on worshiping, praying, meeting together and serving their communities.
After touring Marin County and having some time just to hang out with our kids we all went to visit an old friend of Wayne’s. Rick Laubscher and Wayne became friends at UC Santa Cruz where Wayne got his undergraduate degrees in history and literature. Rick later lived with Wayne’s family in New Jersey while he attended graduate school, so he is like a brother in the Mell clan. He was the Best Man at our wedding 26 years ago. We had a great meal with our kids, Rick and Nicole and their daughters and other “old” college friends on a beautiful golden California afternoon.
We left the coast behind us after one last spectacular drive through alternating fog and sunlight along Highway One from Monterey to San Luis Obispo, California. Our family visits were done, and as we turned east toward Bakersfield, baking in the dry heat of an Indian summer, we could feel that we were turning home.
From Bakersfield we drove a long day to reach Death Valley, skirting Owens Valley near Mt. Whitney, the highest point in the continental U. S., and then a steep descent over to Death Valley, the lowest point on the continent at hundreds of feet below sea level. We were instantly transported to our Yuma days, surrounded by salt cedar and palm trees in the 117 degree heat.
“Are you American?” the housekeeper with the New Hampshire accent asked as we sat eating our cereal in the porch rockers the next morning before the heat became intolerable.
“So, why did you come here?”
Surrounded by the accents of German, French, Italian and Chinese tourists, it seemed like a reasonable question.
“We’re on our way home to New Mexico.”
“That’s what most people say,” she said, confirming to herself that no sound American would visit Death Valley while it was still in the thrall of summer heat.
The next day was another long drive to radically different climate and terrain, as we ascended to Bryce Canyon, Utah, which sits at about 7500 feet, with nighttime temps in the mid 30s. Nearing Bryce we crossed a high pass with aspen just beginning to turn golden. We felt ourselves relaxing, to be in the mountains again. Maple saplings were already glowing red in the ravines. We were glad that fall hadn’t yet passed – in Yuma we used to miss autumn most of all the seasons -and we were back in the southwest to see our favorite time of year.
At Bryce City we also heard smatterings of many languages, mostly not English. About the only language that was familiar was that of the enormous black ravens strutting around the overlooks where excited tourists hovered. In the restaurant, a welcome was given in four languages. English was there but not Spanish, though we did hear a little Spanish from Spain out on the trail.
Bryce Canyon was stunning – red spires thrusting up toward a sky so blue and velvety you could touch it. We took a morning to do a hike down amidst the pines and the red-walled ravines. Here the word awesome really does apply.
Then, after another long day’s drive we got to Navajoland where we hope to do some sightseeing in places we never explored while we lived there (like Monument Valley), see some old friends, and visit with present-day ministries.
The last phase of our journey will take us to Laguna and Acoma pueblos near Albuquerque, and then a final week at Ghost Ranch to collect ourselves for the plunge back into Taos, a homecoming that we are more and more anticipating.