Convict Lake, CA October 24, 2009
We love Convict Lake in the Fall. If you’re one who loves the green of Spring, then get yourself to Convict Lake for the fire of Autumn colors. Your love affair may just be enhanced multifold.
It was in the Fall that George and I made our annual trek to the lake. We were meeting our good friends Ralph and Susan there for an enjoyable short week before they had to head back home in Orange County. Susan had their campsite bedecked with pumpkins and Halloween hocus-pocus just for the fun of it. I knew all this because we had the campsite right next door and up of them. Being situated just a little bit higher, I could look out my window and see the finery below. They had a new puppy in tow, an Aussie, a true bundle of energetic love aptly behaving to his breed. We had our Aussie in tow as well. He, however, had come of age and was pretty much settled in to just pure love as family dogs seem to do.
After the week together came to a close, we said our goodbyes to our friends and wished them a safe journey home. Being October at Convict, it was not long before Ralph and Susan’s site quickly appeared to be taken in by another group of people. George and I decided at that time to head for the creek that flowed from the lake to give our dog Toby some free run and water play time before the campgrounds became repopulated once again.
On the return to our site, we noticed a group of four men had set up their rig below us where Ralph and Susan had been. As we were passing by, one of the men literally ran out from a group of trees.
“What a beautiful dog! ” he yelled excitedly. Our Toby, being affectionate by nature, responded accordingly and begged to meet this man. It was love at first sight to the two of them, he, explaining he was a Veterinarian from Costa Mesa, and Toby, responding with wiggles and licks. Apparently, he and his buddies came up every October to fish and have man-time together. They, too, knew the secret of color at Convict Lake.
We discovered this man’s name was Joel, and we thanked him for his kindness to Toby. It was obviously just as much his pleasure.
Darkness came way too soon that evening for us. Because we could see our neighbor’s activity from above, it was kind of fun to get an inside view of what real men do when they are away from their wives. They began in much the way George and I did: Red wine at sunset, dinner preparations soon following. Joel was cooking that night; a wonderful aroma of spaghetti sauce was on the Coleman stove on their table. The others were enjoying conversation amongst each other, no woman there to tell them to add more salt or any such thing. I heard them laugh occasionally, intuiting to me that they honored their long friendship over the years. After dinner, Joel became the entertainment, bringing out a guitar and singing softly within the psithurism of pine and aspen trees. This man thing, this being with long time friends, appeared not to be an over-rated thing; Rather, it was one of those highly valued things that only happens when true friends meet not only to fish, but because they insist that it happens. Joel appeared to be a diamond amongst these gems.
Morning broke with a promise of yet another beautiful day in Paradise at Convict Lake. George had gotten up early and taken Toby for a walk. On his way George stopped at a restroom close to our rig. He met one of Joel’s friends outside of the restroom. He seemed a bit in shock.
“The Coroner will be arriving by our campsite shortly…” he began. “Joel died last night after we all turned in.” Of course, George was speechless, and so was I after he returned to our rig.
The morning was filled with silent scuffling and murmurs. Indeed, the Coroner did arrive in due time along with other officials and finally take Joel away. His wife was coming to Bishop, the closest town, to take care of business. It was such an odd feeling to know what had happened in this place I had come to love and the living movie I had watched the night before about four men and a friendship. When one is surrounded by beauty, one doesn’t expect sad things to happen.
George and I spent two more days quietly at Convict… but so did Joel’s two friends! They went about their business as if he was still there with them; they fished, they laughed, they cooked. They toasted Joel.
When George and I got home, we looked through the local paper for any word of Joel’s passing. Sure enough, there it was: An obituary one full column long, top to bottom. This man was not just a veterinarian; he was an amazing human being. It told us Joel had been a veterinarian for 30 years. He had begun several Societies and Animal Care-taking causes including The Avian and Exotic Bird Society, The Wetlands and Wildlife Care Center and The All Creatures Care Cottage in Costa Mesa. He was a Bonsai Tree practitioner and wildlife rehabilitator who once rescued a pelican from an oil spill and kept it in his bath tub until he was well enough to be released and THEN took it out on his surfboard several times to ease it back into its environment. All this on top of his leadership in several other animal related groups.
Joel was only sixty-two when he passed. He had been diagnosed with esophageal cancer and thought he had beaten it. When it returned, he believed the best victory would be living each day to its fullest and with gratefulness. It was no wonder we had the honor of meeting such a man. He was ready to learn about and love every being he met.
For us, he gave us a heartfelt compliment, that of loving Toby.
In the end, Joel gave to our world His Best. Whatever could be kinder?
For those of you who would like to know more about Joel, Google “Joel Pasco, Oct. 28, 2009, The Orange County Register.