The Joys of Travel and Life: Father Eleutherius

Two Trees Ventura by Jack Burleigh

by Ken McAlpine

Welcome to our new weekly blog about the joys of travel and life. For the two are one. Travel, like life, is about making the most of our moments, for we only have so many. With that in mind, our second moment together. Thank you for coming along for the ride…

Father Eleutherius

One evening, in the desert outside of Lancaster, California, I discovered a down jacket resting on a foldout chair. There was a man inside the jacket. The elfin Father Eleutherius was ninety-eight. When you are ninety-eight, it is not easy to slough off the desert’s winter cold.

Travel is often framed in places. But every traveler knows travel is as much about people. Some pass in the moment. Some stay forever.

I met Father Eleutherius while visiting Saint Andrew’s Abbey, a Benedictine Monastery on the outskirts of the tiny town of Valyermo. We became friends. During my visit Father Eleutherius told me many stories, for he was many things, among them, a gardener. He told me that when he first came to the Abbey, he decided to plant a garden in the desert. The garden, he also decided, would include a sequoia. Sequoias are not known for thriving in the desert. The other monks laughed. Father Eleutherius proceeded, planting his sapling in 1961. When I met him his sequoia was a fine tree, reaching strong and straight, seventy feet into the sky.

Many things, for Father Eleutherius, were more than they appeared.

He held up a finger and poked it in my direction.

“The sequoia sapling, the trunk was no thicker than this,” he said. “You know what is interesting? To see things grow in life. First, the family; the children, the grandchildren, the great grandchildren. And the garden. According to my ninety-eight-year-old mind, the greatest gifts are life and love and family. Do you have a family?”

“Yes.”

“Do you have a wife?”

“Yes.”

“Love her.”

The morning I left Saint Andrews, Father Eleutherius was nowhere to be found. So I did the next best thing. I walked up to the garden and said goodbye to his tree.

The desert wind was blowing again. The boughs tossed themselves in a showy fashion that made me smile as Father Eleutherius had smiled, with a touch of happy madness.

I remembered his words. When I am gone people will come here and say, ‘What is a sequoia doing in the desert?’ And someone will say, ‘Oh, it was planted by a crazy man who did not know.’
Why should we not make the most of our moments?

 

Ken McAlpine has traveled the world as a writer, from the depths of Palau to the heights of the Andes, but no matter where he goes, he can’t wait to come home to Ventura. We hope his stories remind you of why you love the place you call home, and this gift called life. For more info, please go to www.kenmcalpine.com.

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