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  • My dad pulled into the gas station beside the imposing red rock cliffs of the Jemez Pueblo. There on the asphalt, beside a wide white truck carrying two ATVs in its bed, I saw a pair of brown ears and a snout sitting on top of a rumpled brown tuft of fur. By the time we parked and got out of the car one of the employees had already knelt down and was petting the bear’s head.

    “It hers!” he said, beaming. “This was the last day she could take off school. I knew this was the day.” I also ran my hand over the bear’s head, which still felt warm. The bear’s hair was thick and soft and her ears folded under my fingers like a pup’s but her eyes stared past me, milky and blank. Of course, it wasn’t a bear at all but its remembrance. After my dad gave her a pat the father picked up the bear by its ears and its rumpled remembrance unfolded. A paw fell from the folds, then another, and I touched the cushioned pads. The father beamed, recounted the hunt, bear greases’ many uses, they way its meat tastes. His daughter’s arms were folded and she stood back, looking on warily but smiling because her dad was so proud and because she knew that this event marked an occasion where she showed him that he’d succeeded.

    My dad and I congratulated the girl, bought a fry bread and a loaf of oven baked bread and continued on our path north through Jemez Pueblo, then further north into the Jemez State Park, and finally to Echo Amphitheatre, before turning south again through Santa Fe and finally back to Albuquerque.

    In September, New Mexico’s landscape is a spectacle of colors painted by daily, afternoon monsoon showers. Cacti and shrubs, normally paltry and tortured little things, burst into bloom, dotting the arid desert in tufts of distinct oranges, reds, violets, and yellows. This spectacle, together with the cottonwood’s fall leaves, made for a brilliant drive.

    It’s a rare occasion to have my father free of worry. He is a quiet, methodical man. Time weighs on his mind and his actions and he accepts this pace. I rarely do. But today, we were in the same place together and conversations meandered like the roads we happened upon. At one point, the paved roads turned to gravel. He hesitated, turned to me, and when we hit the gravel he said, “Now this is what I’m talking about!” Time may weigh heavy on his joints and mind but he still has that wanderlust.

    He finally concluded a story I’ve heard all my life about his childhood neighbor Buddy Brigs. One day, while buddy was climbing to the roof of his garage, my dad poked him in the ass with a floating fish knife. Buddy startled and fell - on the knife. And this event has pulled on dad’s catholic guilt for decades. Recently, my dad found a floating fish knife at an estate sale and decided to write an apology to Buddy. Buddy responded, catching dad up on his life, and concluded – “to be honest, Colin, I don’t remember you poking me in the ass with a floating fish knife.”

    And I told him a story from Tortilla Flats. It’s the one where Pilon and Big Joe fall asleep on the beach and Pilon wakes with a dire thirst for wine. He pulls out his pockets for treasures, then turns to his snoring friend, sunk lythward by the previous night’s dance with bacchus. He sees injustice in Big Joe’s fine cloth pants, how a more virtuous soul would make the world more virtuous in them. Convicted, Pilon pulls the pants off Big Joe, walks to town, and trades them in for a quart of wine. Incensed by the trade, he steels them back and returns them to Big Joe, confirming his loyalties. My dad says, “well that sounds familiar” and I say, “me too!”

    Our conversations inevitably turn to one place planet earth. What has defined my relationship with my father is a time past. It is a place: Moro, Papua New Guinea, located just below the crest of the densely canopied Finisterre Mountains, which means “ends of the earth.” (It’s a name fitting only for the ones that named it – failed conquerors). Dad told me how he became burdened to work there, how my mom (who is so close to me that I lack any objectivity to write about her) accompanied, and why he chose to go. We were the last of my family to leave Moro and the first to return. When we returned, in 2009, I saw how long and wide his shadow is. It’s cast from the Finisterre peaks to its valley. Truly.

    Soon, I will return to PNG. I'll live in Port Moresby and then in the Finisterres. Every month or so, I hope to introduce you to the people I encounter there. Like anywhere, PNG is a network of relationships; unlike anywhere, this network is evident.

    During meandering drives, pops is known to stop frequently. At every stop, he showed a picture of the bear to someone, anyone – the man standing next to him in line, or the family in the next booth over. One man peered into the screen and responded, “Now why’d they go and do that?” Well, I thought, she did it to show her dad that, in this way, he succeeded.
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