The Charlie Bravo Story

Our Lady of the Desert

“People don’t take trips, trips take people”- John Steinbeck

Dad here, on the road with Charlie. I usually try to adhere to the Steinbeck doctrine of never writing from the road, instead giving the entire trip time to “percolate” for a time, but sometimes a day is so bizarrely incredible I can’t wait.

On one of our first trips out west, we encountered a remote desert monastery in northwestern New Mexico. We have since made it a point to stop there if traveling across Hwy 64, even dropping off some tents a few years ago for travelers that might need them. When I said that the monastery is remote, I meant it.

When we stopped at Fina’s Diner in Chama this morning, we received some bad news; the Mother Superior, Sister Julianne, had recently passed away at the ripe old age of 89. So, of course it was imperative to make a stop to pay our respects.

Upon arriving, the two convent dogs took Charlie for a romp through the sagebrush while Sister Mary agreed to take me down to the final resting place of Sister Julianne. There was something both surreal and totally natural about walking through the windswept desert scrub with a nun on my arm; you see, Sister Mary is 79, and in her own words “I realize that I’m next”. She said the the Mother Superior did not pass in her sleep, nor as the result of any disease, but simply sat down in her room after mass and closed her eyes and that was that.

How much better than unknowingly passing away in your sleep was knowing that she was pain free and surrounded by those she loved? As we stood by the simple grave, we reminisced about her love for animals and how she always walked the convent labrador “Ninja” until she was no longer able. It was a very nice, peaceful discourse…

Then Charlie came charging through the sage…

Even though she is a she, Charlie has a peculiar habit of hiking her leg to mark her territory. So I guess you know what happened next; fresh mound of dirt, upright cross, new flowers all combined to create a irresistible situation that commanded an immediate baptism. At least it was a sprinkle as opposed to a total immersion, but it happened so fast that all we could do is laugh and imagine that Sister Juliane would have been laughing as well.

When we arrived back at the monastery, we were joined by Sister Benedicta and some of the younger nuns. Of course, Charlie just had to continue “showing out”, hunching her hind end against the two older nuns in a shameless demand to have her butt scratched. I could only imagine how awful it would be if Charlie sent the more frail of the sisters tumbling like so many pins being struck down by a charking black bowling ball, so we said our goodbyes and headed west into Utah.

I don’t really know why this encounter struck me as so momentous, except that there was absolutely no tension involved. Even though we all may have been of different political, religious, racial or sexual orientation, for at least a small span of time on the edge of a vast desert, the outside world proved to be as irrelevant as it should be always. Sometimes it just takes something as simple as a goofy, majestic dog to bridge the gap.

We be of one blood, ye and I.

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