TWO YEARS IN THE FUTURE
Susan Murphy was
exhausted. Admittedly she was out of shape, but the
gorgeous morning had inspired them to keep going.
Supposedly it was going to be a walk along the winding
riverbed trail that runs through Miller Canyon. But as
soon as they started out, Mark couldn’t take his eyes off
the snow-capped mountains jutting high above the canyon
rim. Moved by their magnificence, he exclaimed in a moment
of spontaneity—“Hey, let’s do Miller Peak, the big one
there in the distance!” And so off they went.
Decades earlier the canyon bed had been the location for
narrow gauge track used by mining cars. Although mostly
removed years ago, a few rusty sections of rail were still
visible, protruding from the underbrush of this riparian
region. As they hiked, Susan had the strange feeling that
she knew the place, yet she was quite sure she’d never
been there before. It wasn’t a déjà vu sensation as much
as a feeling of familiarity that she couldn’t put her
finger on. A little over two hours into their ascent they
reached the summit where Susan stood on a rock ledge and
looked back into the huge cavity below. From this
perspective, based on the now barely perceptible roadbed
that was mostly worn-away through decades of abandonment,
she could see that at one time a network of train tracks
crisscrossed the canyon floor.
Then it came to her.
When she was a preschooler her parents had taken her
to Disneyland where they rode on what was known as The
Mine Train Through Nature’s Wonderland. The ride featured
a so-called “living desert” that included cacti, buttes,
waterfalls, teetering rocks, a lake, and tunnels that
permitted the train to go deep inside the dazzling caverns
beneath Rainbow Mountain. Illuminated with black lights,
the caverns were spellbindingly beautiful with shades of
glowing purple, green and orange.
Deep inside the
mountain was a feature that became Susan’s favorite. At a
certain point the train came to a stop in the pitch-black
tunnel. From seemingly nowhere emerged a full-scale
diorama depicting a gold rush boomtown. She could see
miners, mules, an assay office and a lively saloon
interior complete with the rhythmic sounds of “Oh My
Darling Clementine” pounded out on a honky-tonk piano. The
scene was bathed in brilliant golden light. When the train
moved again it soon exited the tunnel, piercing its way
into bright daylight, but only for a short minute. The
train chugged its way into a second dark tunnel. Once
inside, again it stopped. Another scene emerged—this time
a ghost town.
She soon realized she was looking at
the same town that appeared in the previous tunnel, but
now it was abandoned. Infested with decay, covered with
cobwebs, skeletons strewn about, there were even several
ghosts flying around courtesy of hologram technology. This
second scene was covered with a cold white light, giving a
hauntingly macabre aura to the now dead town. The message
was clear: the gold rush had ended; riches are fleeting.
Over the years of occasional home movie viewing, Susan had
come to call this portion of her beloved train ride—“The
Tunnels of Warm and Cold Lights.”
Of all the theme
park rides, the mine train also became her father’s
favorite, so much so that at the ride’s conclusion he
declared that his dream upon retirement someday was to be
the engineer for the Lilly Belle Locomotive, named in
honor of Mrs. Walter Disney.
Taking a second train
ride before they left late that evening, they were treated
to the best view in the park of the nightly fireworks
display. Throughout the day her parents shot plenty of
home movie footage, which due to her age became the actual
basis for Susan’s Disneyland memory.
In the years
ahead, Susan’s father built her a toy train set modeled
after the Disneyland ride. Paying attention to detail, he
even taught his daughter what the locomotive’s various
whistle patterns were intended to communicate. Late in the
’70s when the Disneyland train was replaced by The Big
Thunder Mountain Roller Coaster, Susan’s father
experienced such a deep sense of grief that, at the time,
it was a significant concern to his wife.
there’s still a Disneyland train today, most would agree
it doesn’t possess the charm or the allure that surrounded
that original mining train ride.
And now, as she
and Mark took in the grand vista from atop Miller Peak,
Susan was overcome with the urge to revisit those
treasured old family movies. Not having seen them in over
twenty years, she vowed to herself to watch them as soon
as they got back home, hoping her mother hadn’t thrown the
old reels away. Lately Susan had been wondering if she’d
ever see her father again, and right now she was excited
about the prospect that at the very least he would
re-appear to her in those nostalgic movies from her
childhood, a time when her father was so happy.
From the summit, the two hikers were afforded Arizona’s
best view of “The Sky Islands,” more officially known as
the Huachuca Mountains. Below them they could see the
natural reservoir called Heaven’s Mirror as it reflected
inverted peaks and cumulus clouds that looked like large
cotton balls. The cobalt sky reflected by the pristine
reservoir appeared even bluer in the still water. The
views all around them were breathtaking, but there would
be a price to pay for the privilege of experiencing
nature’s grandeur on their arduous hike.
worn to a frazzle, just as the sun was setting they
finally made it back to The Old Caretaker’s Bungalow,
where they were staying, and where they found Susan’s
mother in a dreamy mood, a state rather uncharacteristic
for her. She explained that the majestic views from the
bungalow, the cool mountain air, a glass or two of wine,
the stunning little hummingbirds, and some enchanting
music coming over the radio, had all converged to create a
“happening” of sorts, putting her into a transcendent
mood. When pressed by Susan for more information about the
so-called “happening,” all Millie would offer was that she
had experienced “a mystical communion” with her husband
Murph, Susan’s father.
After a bite to eat and a
glass of wine, a very tired Susan excused herself and
headed off to early bed. Knowing she would awake in the
morning with aching muscles, she took two tablets of an
over-the-counter pain reliever. In her groggy condition,
she failed to notice that the label on the bottle stated,
“sleep aid.” Soon she began to fall into a deep sleep.
While drifting off, she thought how fortunate that her
mother had so many good memories of her husband. Surely
those early years make up for those difficult last years,
and that horrible last week.
“Dad left us so
suddenly. It’s all such a mystery.” As drowsiness quickly
took hold on her, Susan wished she could visit him and get
some answers to her questions. But that was simply out of
the question, for now anyway. She prayed that one day they
all would meet up again for a grand family reunion. This
put a smile on her face as she fell fast asleep.
Thus the stage was set for Susan’s vivid dream. Like her
mother that afternoon, Susan would have her own
“happening” of sorts. But there would be a distinct
difference between the two encounters with Murph. Millie’s
thoughts of her husband on that day had left her with a
sense of comfort about him and his whereabouts. But
Susan’s dream would be quite unsettling as it presented
her father struggling with a degree of mental anguish.
The dream would take the surreal form of an old movie.
More specifically, she would see her father in a film
resembling one of those home movies her parents took
during summer excursions and every Christmas morning.
Adding to the eerie nature of the “visitation” with her
father late that night, Susan would be able to clearly
hear her father’s thoughts coming to her from a far away
and undisclosed location.