My Name is Eli

Chapter Four

The next few hours took Eli through some breathtaking landscapes. The highway was cut right through the mountains and every mile seemed to take him higher and higher. The roads were lined with pine tree covered slopes, and Eli noticed that even the air smelled different than anything else he had ever experienced.

Crossing into Wyoming gave him a great sense of achievement, and then the realization of what he had to accomplish today sunk in. He had already noticed several cars and trucks towing campers, people from out of state just like he was. There was sure to be an entrance gate, someplace that park rangers would stop all the traffic and notice that Eli was just a high school boy. What if they wouldn’t let him in?

By ten o’clock, Eli drove into Jackson, Wyoming, and decided he needed more information about what he was getting into. He pulled into a convenience store parking lot and went inside to use the bathroom. On the way out he bought a few sodas, some ice, and picked up a few brochures on Teton National Forest and Yellowstone Park.

He sat in the wagon and studied the information. Yes, they did charge an admission fee, but it covered both parks so that was good news. The regulations stated that a fee was charged for everyone above the age of sixteen, and that made him smile.

Twenty-five dollars for the car and twelve bucks per person wasn’t much. I’m stupid, Eli thought, this was bad planning. He should have checked before he picked this route. Okay, he could get in but he probably couldn’t stay. What a shame because Yellowstone had some incredible sights.

Route 89 seemed more crowded north of Jackson. Eli noticed that there were other interstate roads bundled into this one and so the added traffic made sense. Feeders from east and west brought more people, and the number of campers and RV’s increased. By the time they all hit the park entrance this was going to be quite a traffic jam and he really couldn’t afford to be slowed down.

Eli had a hundred miles to ponder his dilemma, and then he saw the solution walking along beside the road. Not everyone headed into the parks was in a vehicle, some were hiking that way. Every few miles Eli saw a handful of hikers and realized he might be able to take his pick at some point.

If he had the company of someone over eighteen then he might be able to stay over in the park. There were plenty of campsites, but it took an adult to make the reservation. If he paid then maybe one of these hikers could sign for the campsite. Then whoever it was could just go on their way.

He was approaching Jackson Lake when he saw two young men loaded down with heavy backpacks. A couple of college students and Eli decided it was time for some company. He drove on a few hundred yards and pulled over into a gravel roadway. The two kept coming towards him and Eli got out, walking around to the back of the wagon.

By the time these two were within speaking distance Eli was sitting on the tailgate and holding out two bottles of water.

“Dehydration is the number one cause of muscle cramps,” Eli said, and the two guys looked at him.

“David, would you look at this…an angel of mercy,” The blond boy said, and he shrugged off his pack and set it on the ground with a thump.

“This is very kind of you,” David said, taking the offered water bottle.

“I’m Evan,” the blond said. “You live way out here?”

Eli realized they could not see the license tag on the wagon because the tailgate was down, but it wouldn’t do to lie.

“Nope, just a tourist. You headed into the parks?”

“I sure hope so, it seems like we’ve been on the road for weeks,” David said.

“What made you walk?”

David looked at Evan. “Our car broke down. But it was a piece of shit so we just left it on the side of the road.”

“We have some friends staying the week in Yellowstone,” Evan said. “Despite what David says, we’ve only been on the road for two days.”

“You want a ride into the park?” Eli asked.

“How far are you going?”

“Montana by this evening, unless the traffic is really bad.”

Evan looked at the RV’s and campers flowing by them on the highway. “I think it’s going to be crowded.”

“Where are your parents?” David asked.

“At home,” Eli replied.

“I gathered that…you seem a little young to be out here alone. Where is home?”

Eli stood up and shut the tailgate. “Arizona,” he said, pointing at the tag.

Evan laughed and then gave David another look. “I think he’s running away…but then that makes three of us.”

David shrugged. “I guess you need us to get into the park, is that why you stopped?”

“I’m old enough to drive in there…are you coming or not?”

“We don’t even know your name,” Evan said.


“I guess you made it this far without a problem. I hope you drive better than my little brother,” David said.

They set their heavy packs in the back and climbed in the car. Eli made a three point turn since there were too many cars on the highway to back out into traffic. Then he waited for a break in the procession and joined the parade.

There was silence for a few minutes and then David leaned over from the back seat. “You ever been to Yellowstone before?” he asked.

“No,” Eli replied. “It was just on my way north. Where did you guys come from?”

“Down towards Laramie,” David said.

“A long trip, that’s at the other end of the state. How did you get this far in two days?”

“We managed, but it probably killed the car,” Evan said, and then he laughed. “I bet you thought we’ve been hiking forever, but it’s only been like ten miles.”

“That’s good planning,” Eli said. “I guess you were expecting a kid from Arizona to come along and take you the rest of the way.”

“How’d you know?” Evan said.

“Your friends…they have a hotel room or something?”

“Nope, big old RV and several tents. You’d be welcome to camp out with us if you don’t mind a bunch of yahoos.”

“I might take you up on that if the traffic holds us up,” Eli said.

The traffic was bad, and worse, it seems the roads were under continuous construction. They managed to reach Teton Park only to end up in a long line at the entrance. Eli had over half a tank of gas but he imagined a lot of that would be wasted just inching forward towards the ranger station at the gate.

The ranger handed over several pamphlets, counted heads and told Eli it would be sixty-one dollars. David handed over a hundred dollar bill and Eli was a little shocked. But that earned them a cardboard pass which was placed on the dashboard…and they were in, but going nowhere fast.

Evan’s friends were established at the Mammoth campgrounds in Yellowstone which was pretty easy to find on the little map in the brochure, but it was a long drive to get there. It was reasonable to expect people to slow down and look at places along the road, especially if there was something to look at. But the first time it happened Eli was shocked to see a bear sitting beside the road.

“Damn bears have become a nuisance,” David said. “If people would stop feeding them they’d go back in the woods where they belong.”

Evan chuckled. “David isn’t much of a nature lover…can you tell?”

Eli smiled but kept his eyes on the road. “Bears were here before us, we’ve become the nuisance in their back yard. I wonder if we’ll see any buffalo.”

“You will, they‘re all over the park,” Evan said. “They have herds of the creatures up on the Montana border.”

Mammoth was an area of hot springs where Evan’s friends had chosen to camp. What he didn’t bother to tell Eli was that the site was almost a two hour drive from the south entrance of the park. The slow looping parkway took them past dozens of tourist attractions until they finally saw the sign for the hot springs.

The low steaming cauldrons of boiling water gushing up from the depths left a surreal landscape in this area of the park, but fortunately the campground wasn’t nearby. Eli had to drive past the park headquarters building, a community store and dozens of campsites before Evan pointed at a large RV parked under the trees off the road.

“That’s Billie’s RV…I think you’ll like her.”

There were six tents gathered around a cluster of picnic tables in the campsite and Eli wondered where he should park. He stopped beside the RV and Evan got out. There were a dozen people at the site, all of them college age which left Eli feeling a little out of place.

David stood beside the car and Eli began to realize these were Evan’s friends, and perhaps this whole visit had been Evan’s idea. Of the two, Evan seemed to be the extrovert while David just seemed to be tagging along for the ride.

Billie turned out to be a tall short-haired blonde. An attractive young woman, Eli immediately liked her when he saw what was printed on the T-shirt she was wearing. ‘Wyoming: where men are men and the sheep are concerned.’

“Billie,” she said, shaking Eli’s hand with a powerful grip. The shirt did little to hide her natural attributes, or perhaps it was the lack of a bra. But Billie had the muscles of a weightlifter and Eli figured she was used to being admired. David looked a little stunned while Evan stood back and watched with amusement.

Billie had a strong personality and Eli decided he liked her. “So how did you meet Evan?” She asked.

“He just looked like he could use a ride and I was headed this way. I don’t think I can stay parked here, this will be in everyone’s way.”

“Yeah…put your car over there next to the trees,” Billie said. “We got two sites but everyone seems to have crowded up over here. So where are you headed?”

“Just up to Montana and then back home,” Eli said.

“We think he’s a runaway,” Evan said.

“Aw, what the hell…everyone needs a little adventure in life,” Billie said. “Go park your car and join us.”

Eli backed in under the trees, sharing the space beside several pickup trucks. The nose of the wagon was pointed downhill towards the road and so he set the emergency brake as he had been taught. He got out to close up the back of the wagon and stopped to look at the surroundings.

The campground was in a valley with mountains on one side and a vast plain of grass on the other. Across the valley floor was a smear of cloud drifting through the trees from the hot springs in the distance, and the air had a definite mineral smell to it.

It was only five o’clock and Eli knew that with the three hours of daylight left he might have stayed on the road to Montana. But even if he left now there was no sure place for him to spend the night once he left the park and so staying here made sense. He just wasn’t sure how he would be received by this gathering of people.

He didn’t want to share a tent with a bunch of strangers but there was plenty of room in the back of the wagon to spread out his sleeping bag. But now was the time to investigate the food situation. Either Billie would have something going on or he could hike back to the store up the road.

Evan was sitting at one of the tables with several guys and a few young ladies, all of them with cups in hand. On the table sat a large pitcher of something which Eli was sure contained alcohol. He gave Evan a wave and continued on towards a cloud of smoke behind one of the tents that indicated something was cooking.

Billie was standing before a large camp stove with a frying pan the size of a tire on the station wagon.

“There you are,” Billie said. “I hope you’re hungry.”

Beside her at a table were two other girls, each of them chopping away at a pile of vegetables. The smell was divine and Eli managed a look in the pan.

“Fajitas, my specialty,” Billie said. “Best dish in the world when you have a small army to feed. Oh, by the way…don’t drink the punch.”

“I gathered that,” Eli said. “I have water and sodas in my cooler.”

“Smart man…Evan says you drove up from Flagstaff. What brings you all the way up here?”

“My little summer adventure,” Eli replied. “Thought I might get out and see something new.”

“Been there and done that,” Billie replied. “I took a bus to Alaska when I was fourteen…pissed off the parents pretty good with that one.”

“Why did you do it?” Eli asked.

“Probably for the same reason you’re here…and a few others.”

Billie turned the ingredients in the pan and then handed the spatula to one of the other girls. Eli followed her over to a table and they sat down facing one another.

“I was born in Alaska but we moved to Laramie when I was little. My dad teaches at the university there so I only had the memories of a child about the place of my birth. There were a lot of things about my life that came into question when I became a teenager…things that needed an answer.”

“I think I’m gay, but I don’t know what that means,” Eli said.

Billie nodded and looked at the girl standing by the stove. “Erica and I have been in a relationship for two years. It was worth all the pain of growing up to discover I can love someone like her.”

For some reason that was the most beautiful thing Eli had ever heard someone say and tears formed in his eyes. Billie reached across the table and took his hand.

“You’ll find what you’re after, it just takes time and probably more patience than you have at your age…but you will find that special someone. Finish your adventure, Eli, because each day we’re alive teaches us something new. Just a friendly warning, don’t spend too much time around Evan and David.”

“I thought Evan was your friend?”

“I haven’t seen him in a year,” Billie said. “He dropped out of the university and I lost track of him. But he was still on my e-mail list when I sent out the notice about this camping trip so that’s how he found us. I don’t know where he hooked up with David, but I don’t trust the guy. Perhaps it’s nothing…Come on, let’s eat.”

Eli sat at the table with dozens of strangers around him. This is what he had set out to do, even if what he was after wasn’t here. Billie was right, he was learning something. He watched her animated conversation with Erica and the other students. She was the epitome of self-confidence around these people who must know about her being lesbian.

He wasn’t sure there were any lesbians in his school, but perhaps there were. Gay or lesbian, Eli didn’t think either sex could be open about their feelings at such a young age. Billie had pretty much said just that. How much patience would he need before he could find someone for a relationship?

It was all about going forward towards something because it was there. Mathias was out chasing a dream, and Eli supposed that Matt and Danny were as well. Maybe his dream would start to take shape in the days and weeks to come. At least he was willing to go find it.

Eli decided to abort any plans to spend time with Evan or Dave. They had proven to be less than objective about gay people and he didn’t think any further contact with them would be worth his while. Billie’s warning had seemed odd, but then he trusted her judgment.

With hours of daylight left after their dinner, a whole group set off to see the hot springs. Eli tagged along, camera in hand, with Billie and Erica in the lead. He was well aware that Evan seemed amused at his new friendship with the lesbians, but the guy wasn’t going along on the hike. The trail was well marked, and there were caution signs telling the tourists to keep on the path.

The steam from the hot water rose above the valley as they rounded a hill and Eli came to a halt. Beside the path was a field of grass and grazing on it was a small herd of buffalo. The animals were sacred to Native Americans going back for centuries, although there were none left in Arizona.

“What are you staring at?” Billie asked.

“The buffalo,” Eli said. “I’ve never seen one before except in pictures.”

He thought back to what Mathias had said and smiled. What kind of prayers was he supposed to say? His family was Christian and any knowledge of how his ancestors prayed to the Creator was something he had never learned. He took half a dozen photos of the animals, but Billie and the others had kept moving so Eli hurried to catch up.

The Mammoth Hot Springs formation was impressive and the layers of mineral deposits reminded him of a frosted cake. Springs like this had been around for centuries and must have been a wonder to the early natives who first discovered them. Eli took photos and included several of the group standing in front of the water.

How little he knew about nature, just the things most kids were taught at school and what he saw on the ranch. It had never seemed important before, but Eli knew that was about to change. If this journey was about discovery then the first person he had to get in touch with was himself and it had to have a context.

He watched how Erica and Billie interacted as a couple and with the other college students around them. They had something good, something shared, and Eli could see that the bond was very strong. Perhaps it was their confidence that made the others accept them so well.

The sun was beginning to sink behind the mountains as they returned to the campsite and from what Eli had overheard the group was in for a night of partying. Some of the group smoked pot, but that was only allowed inside the RV so the park rangers wouldn’t find out. But there was also another pitcher of that alcoholic punch on the table.

Eli sat by the campfire for a while, watching the others drinking and the flow of traffic in and out of the RV. Dave and Evan had gone inside, but he had already pegged them as stoners. Eli didn’t do drugs…at least he hadn’t in a while. He had smoked pot with Michael exactly once, until he figured out that wasn’t going to make anything happen.

Maybe his life would be different if Michael had allowed their relationship to become sexual, but Eli didn’t get past that kiss. At the time he had been curious and more than a little scared of having sex with a guy. He was now sure Michael understood that all too well and so nothing had happened.

Michael had found him attractive, but had only loved him like a little brother. Frustrating as that was Eli had to respect the boy’s motives. Michael wanted an older guy and probably realized something with Eli would be counterproductive. Besides, he was off to LA and any sexual bond would be broken which would have been hard for both of them to take.

But as Eli stared into the flames he understood that sex was the least of his problems. He wasn’t even sure how to go about finding a boyfriend, especially in Yuma. What a bunch of strange thoughts when last year he was denying any gay feelings. It seems Michael knew better.

Eli finally got up and left the site, walking through the darkness to the wagon. It was going to be cool overnight so he rolled out the sleeping bag in the back and left the rear window open just a crack for some air. Tomorrow he would achieve his goal at the Canadian border and turn around for home.

Home….damn, he hadn’t checked his phone all day. He crawled over the back seat and reached for his phone on the console. Nothing, not one message. He was sure Miguel would have called by now, but at least that meant he wasn’t in trouble.

Still, Eli knew he would be up with the dawn and on his way. The others would sleep until noon after staying up half the night so there would be no chance to say good-bye. Didn’t matter, he had to get moving, and besides, they didn’t really know him that well. He crawled back over the seat and lay down on the sleeping bag.

He wasn’t really tired, just exhausted from three days of driving and the concentration that required. The urgency he had felt to begin this trip had faded long ago as the miles spun out behind him. But with the sounds of the party in the distance Eli finally fell asleep.

The wagon shook several times and that brought Eli up out of his deep slumber. He focused in on the sound of something tapping at the rear window over his head, and then he heard a sniffing sound. He looked up and saw a large tongue lap through the opening.

It was real dark, with only the glow of a street light out on the road. Beyond the glass there was a dark mass, and then he heard the bear grunt as it pushed off the car and dropped to the ground. Bears roamed the park, but something had attracted the animal. Eli heard a large thump outside and sat up.

His eyes were on the same level as the bed of the pickup truck parked beside the wagon and there was a bear rooting through the debris in the back. If they had thrown trash back there instead of walking it down to the bear-proof dumpster beside the road…well, they were just asking for damage to the truck.

It was a good sized animal and looked well fed. At least Eli felt secure closed up inside the wagon and the bear didn’t seem to pay him any mind. He had the camera but in the darkness a flash would frighten the bear, and he was sitting only six feet away.

Eli watched with amusement as the bear tore into a trash bag, tossing cans and containers around until it was satisfied that there was no food left to eat. Then the bear slid over the tailgate of the truck and wandered away, resuming its search for a midnight snack.

Someone would discover the mess tomorrow morning. Eli just hoped it wasn’t one of the park rangers. He lay back down with a smile and decided nature was pretty cool up close like this, and he drifted back to sleep.

The dream seemed to seep into his mind. There were no bears, only vast seas of grass stretching to the horizon…and the buffalo herd directly in front of him. The wind was rustling the long stalks of grass around him which was a good thing. The buffalo didn’t sense his presence.

Eli looked down and realized he was on his hands and knees. There was a short curved bow in his hand, already strung with an arrow in place to…to shoot one of these creatures. He was close enough to smell the animals and hear their snorts as they fed.

Dangerous…what was he doing here? Eli felt the touch of a hand on his ankle and looked over his shoulder. There in the grass behind him was his grandfather. Walter smiled and motioned with his head for Eli to go ahead. It was time to begin the hunt.

He was only a dozen yards from the nearest buffalo, but it was a female with a young calf and he didn’t want to kill her. For that matter a mother with calf was even more dangerous because she would not abandon her offspring when the shooting began. No, he would have to choose another target.

Walter touched his ankle once again, urging Eli to stand and shoot. If he missed, the wounded beast would be angry enough to charge, but if he killed it with a perfectly placed shot then the creature would fall and frighten off the others. Kill or be killed…that was why Eli was here.

Testing his manhood this way would show others he was brave and it would assure his place in the clan. May the Great Spirit serve me well, Eli thought…and he stood up.

The herd had shifted leaving him a good shot at a young bull. He pulled back the bowstring and let go, sending the arrow into the soft spot behind the animal’s front leg and straight into his heart. The buffalo grunted and fell where it stood.

Eli could almost feel the surge of fear that spread throughout the herd. Now there were bellows of warning from some of the mothers and several of the bulls turned his way. But then there was a great din as his grandfather banged two metal pans together. It was enough noise to make the buffalo turn tail and run.

The ground shook beneath his feet as the buffalo stampeded away from the threat. Eli turned to look at Walter and saw his smile. The boy was now a proven man…

“Eli…Eli, wake up.”

He sat up quickly, all vestiges of the dream wiped away, and he looked out the back window of the wagon at Billie standing there. He reached for the handle and rolled down the glass.

“Sorry…but you probably ought to get out of here,” Billie said.

“Now…what time is it?” Eli asked.

“It’s almost three o’clock, but I don’t think you want to be here when the others wake up.”

“What’s going on?”

“I was right, David is a criminal,” Billie said. “Evan got so stoned last night he started talking. It seems they robbed a place in Pineville and David has a gun in his backpack. But Evan says they’re going to hitch a ride with you to Canada and then take the car away from you.”

“Oh shit,” Eli said. “You’re right, I better leave.”

“I’m sorry about this, but I’m going to hike over to the ranger station and tell them. If you don’t want to be around answering questions all morning then I would just drive out of the park now. It’s only about ten miles to Montana.”

Eli leaned out the window and gave Billie a hug. “Thanks for everything,” he said.

“You be careful…e-mail me when you get home so I know you’re safe.”

“I will,” Eli said, and then she disappeared into the darkness.

Aw crap, but Billie was right, he didn’t want to talk to the rangers. Eli rolled up the window and saw the smear on the glass. A good deal of bear slobber was spread across the glass. Yuck, he would have to wash that off at some point. But nature called and so Eli climbed over the seat and went out the side door to water a tree.

A glance over at the campsite showed no trace of the occupants who were probably passed out from their little party. Didn’t matter, he was outta here. The wagon cranked over smoothly and Eli released the brake, rolling down the slope to the road and turning back towards the campground exit.

They had traversed most of the park on the way in so it didn’t take long to reach the northern entrance. Eli had that confirmed when he saw a sign that said Montana was only a few miles up the road. Wow, he had dreamed of a buffalo hunt and would have to think about that later on. It was strange because the Navajo never did anything like that.

By seven-thirty Eli pulled into the outskirts of Livingston, his first major town in Montana. He needed gas and breakfast which were both available right off the highway. He didn’t want to stop anywhere for long since he wanted to reach Great Falls well before noon. It was there he would turn and make the final run for the border.

Great Falls was also where Interstate 15 intersected his route. All this meandering and scenery he had encountered on U.S. 89 had added several hundred miles to his journey, something he could avoid if he drove home on the Interstate.

If he reached the border with Canada by three that afternoon he could return to Great Falls and spend the night. By then he would have traveled almost thirteen hundred miles, leaving a thousand miles ahead on the return home. Wow, what an accomplishment that would be.

With a full tank of gas, a few breakfast sandwiches and a cooler full of drinks, Eli headed north into the mountains. Once again he reflected that traveling solo was not something he enjoyed and he smiled when he realized that was just a metaphor for the way his life had been lived so far.

He had driven through dozens of small towns by now and passed by hundreds of small houses and farmsteads. Not that Yuma was any great metropolis, but how would a boy with gay feelings survive out here in this…wilderness? If he felt alone with the feelings, it must be devastating for a rural boy to accept.

Other than his friendship with Michael, Eli had given little thought to discovering if there were other gay boys at Cibola High. The environment wasn’t friendly for anyone who felt different. But there had to be others somewhere in town and he wasn’t sure how to go about finding them.

More miles, more small towns, and with only a few stops for pictures the morning seemed to evaporate. He drove through another National Forest with the windows rolled down and the scent of mountain pine filled the wagon. He would miss that smell once he got back to Arizona, there was nothing quite like it.

The sudden roar of two Air Force jets crossing the highway in a landing pattern startled Eli and made him realize he’d reached the outskirts of Great Falls with its large military base. It would be so cool to watch the planes fly in and out, but he didn’t have the time to waste.

Unfortunately Route 89 went through the middle of the small city and that meant one stoplight after another for almost ten miles. He’d been living on egg sandwiches, fried chicken and hamburgers the past few days. Except for Billie’s fajitas and Mathias’ steak there had been no real food and so when he passed the sign for the Chinese restaurant Eli swung into the parking lot.

He locked up the wagon and took the map with him into the restaurant. Typical of these small places they had a lunch buffet, and there was already a crowd seated at the tables. Eli stuffed the map in his pocket and grabbed a clean plate for his food.

Like most boys from Yuma, Chinese was about the only foreign food he’d ever encountered. Mexican was the most prevalent cuisine around town, but that was considered local fare. Chinese might be a different taste, but it could be just as hot as the things their cook rustled up at home.

Eli filled his plate and took an empty table where he pulled out the map and studied his final leg of the journey. The border with Alberta was his turn around point and he planned to take a bunch of photos just to prove he’d been there. The map showed just a little bit of Canada but nothing in detail.

One hundred and seventy miles was all that remained of his little journey…that and the thousand miles of road to get home. Eli traced the path of Interstate 15 on the map with his finger. Heading south from Great Falls he would bypass a lot of the natural obstacles that had made Highway 89 such a scenic route.

But the Interstate would make for a faster return trip and Eli knew he had been gone from home too long as it was. He had been tempted to call Miguel all morning, but he didn’t want to answer the man’s questions. Figuring no news was good news, Eli had just ignored his cell phone.

The Chinese food sat well in his stomach as Eli headed back out to the car in time to hear his cell phone ringing. His home number stared out at him from the tiny screen. Uh oh.

“Eli, there you are,” Miguel said.

“Hi, Miguel…is everything okay?”

“The ranch is fine, but Mama called and I had to tell her you were in Phoenix.”

“Is she unhappy?”

“No, just a mother’s concern. I told her you would be back by the weekend and that seems fine. They will not be home until Monday so you still have some time to spend with your friend.”

“Oh…well, that’s good,” Eli said.

“Now you know when to come back,” Miguel said.

“Thank you, Miguel.”

“Adios…” And the call ended.

From the time he left home Eli had been concerned his parents would be unhappy about his driving all over the place, but it seems he was wrong. It was kind of Miguel to give him a heads up, but he still had four days left…except the urgency was gone.

By two in the afternoon the mountains returned to the west of the highway and Eli began to pass a long finger lake the map identified as St. Mary’s Lake. And then he saw a sign beside the road that captured his attention: ‘Babb- 8 miles’ the upper portion read, ‘Canada- 18 miles’ was printed on the lower portion.

Eli felt the thrill run through his mind and he started laughing. He’d made it, and he drove into Babb with a smile on his face. A general store, a motel and a fire department…that was it for the last town on this side of the border. He drove on and passed a small group of houses before he saw the border station.

He took his foot off the accelerator to read the signs and then turned off the road into the parking lot. There in the distance he could see a fence on either side of the road and another building, this one with the maple leaf flag on a tall pole out front. The parking lot was deserted and so he got out of the wagon with his camera in hand.

Click…and the border crossing was his to keep as a reminder of this little adventure. Eli set the camera on the top of the wagon and set the timer. Now he could stand before the lens with Canada behind him in the picture. Okay…it was done.

He completed the circuit of the customs driveway and still no one came out of the building to question him. But there before him on the road was a large sign that said ‘Welcome to Montana.’ Didn’t anyone care that he was here?

Eli parked in a slot beside the building and went inside. A bored looking customs officer sat behind a counter and looked up as Eli walked in. There on the counter was a rack of brochures and several of them were about Canada. Good, at least he could see what he was missing across the border.

“Good afternoon,” the man said. Nothing officious, just curiosity. “Are you coming or going?” He asked.

“Neither one,” Eli replied. “I just drove up here for the view.”

The man nodded. “That happens a lot. Where you from?”

“Yuma,” Eli replied.

That got a raised eyebrow. “You made a long trip for just the view.”

Eli nodded. “Yeah, maybe next time I’ll cross the border…if I can.”

“Crossing is the easy part. The Canadians would love to have you come for a visit. Getting back in the United States is the hard part. You better take that blue brochure for a list of the rules and identification you’ll need to get back in the country.”

“Thanks, I will,” Eli said.

“Are you going home now?”

“I guess I better.”

“Did you find what you were after?” the man asked.

Eli thought about that for a minute. “Not sure I knew what I was looking for in the first place.”

“You’d be surprised how many people drive up here and just turn around. Not sure what they’re looking for…maybe a sense of identity. I would guess you’ve never been out of the country before.”

“Mexico, but that was a family thing,” Eli said.

“It’s hard to appreciate what we have in our lives unless there is some means of comparison. You could drive for thousands of miles up in Canada and not notice much of a difference, but it’s there. Now to finish our little formality, can I see your driver’s license?”

“Oh…yes,” Eli said, removing the card from his wallet. “What would have happened if I had kept on driving?”

“The Canadians would have stopped you and made you turn around,” the man said. He looked at Eli’s license and smiled. “Do your parents know you made this trip?”

“No…not exactly,” Eli said.

The man shook his head and laughed. “Then you better scoot on home, but drive carefully.”

“Thank you,” Eli replied.

“I hope you find what you’re looking for.”

Eli nodded. “Me too.”