The small hole in the earth expanded with each thrust of the Mestolio’s now healthy beak. The cave which had been his embryo for the past two decades had become too confining for his revived frame. Each demolishing peck outward opened the desert starlit sky he had known since first nest, familiar scents returned to his dusty nostrils. Mestolio now longed to breakout and expand his wings. He wanted to glide again along the vertical cliffs of the San Jacinto and feel the warm air caress his feathered wings. His strong beak and claws worked frantically in sync, pushing aside the rock and dirt, making way for sweet flight.
In the early spring, my beautiful bride of forty years and I began our annual trek inland from the edge of the Pacific until reaching the trailhead leading up to the shaded lakes of the San Grogornio. We climbed the ribbon road until everything below was miniaturized. I took joy, fishing in the perfected art of conversing with her, looking for the rewards in her infectious smile. Every year invited this venture out, to feel the mountain chill of the last snow melt until we would ultimately defer to the warmth of the Coachella Valley below.
After two days and nights we descended back down the mountain towards the desert floor below until the tiny landmarks again found proper scale. The highway east, would again bring the kiss of the desert sun and new fishing grounds for conversation.
We travelled past the billboards along highway 111. Signs promising heaven, directing how to get there. Signs in the middle of nowhere, promising paradise amongst the dirt and tumbleweed…..so many perishable signs.
After the first big bend in the road, the majesty of the San Jacinto came into full view. Flowered below the base of the enormous mountain, between the signs and yucca trees, was a large farm of wind fans dotting the landscape. As we passed through the twirling swath of fans, our sense of normality shifted.
Several of the fans had been severed or torn along a true straight line as if by a giant ruler. A quarter of a mile further east we were slowed to a stop near the banks of the Whitewater River. The authorities instructed all to remain calm. Within seconds a military convoy was waived through, as all others bewilderedly watched trying to explain the commotion to whoever would listen.
Everyone’s eyes drew upward towards an incredibly amplified echoing koooooo on the side of the mountain to behold a giant bird trying to maintain its balance on the steep mountainside 2,000 feet above. Some of the onlookers screamed as if for their lives, others hooped or yelled, some actually seemed to be angry for being inconvenienced. The dust trail behind the rushing convoy lead straight to a plateau near the wondrous creature. As the convoy began to establish position, the great bird drafted into a glide eastward along the jagged cliffs towards Cathedral City until out of sight.
Earlier, with the rising sun, when Mestolio sat perched atop the San Jacinto all appeared normal. The vast Salton Sea, the San Grogornio, the Paseo, all laid before him, innocently extending invitation. Now in desperate flight towards the refuge of Tommy’s second story patio, simple geometry displayed the futility of his effort. Mestolio’s wing span exceeded the width of his memory, he now clipped buildings on each side of the paseo as he had inadvertently done with the wind fans earlier. When trying to land on Tommy’s patio, one extension of single claw caved in the railing on the second story balcony. His heart beating faster and faster, the Mestolio mustered his might to maintain flight, but he knew he would soon need to land. He yearned for water to sooth his hardened claw and feather. He needed to slow down his heart to find space between the beats to understand what was happening.
Above the Whitewater River, the sky filled with thin vapor trails, lining up behind a dozen rumbling, fast moving shadows. Their speed defied imagination, the loudness pierced one’s very sole. The shadows efficiently merged from different directions to form a hive that would follow the giant creature’s flight east.
The sky cleared with the diminuendo of sound. Being temporarily removed from the immediate drama of events my bride and I stood by the banks of the Whitewater not understanding anything, but that we were being included in something we could never have imagined. Our hands separated when we heard an incredible explosion downstream toward the end of the mountain range. We were ordered to turn back and head west toward the sea. At that moment, the cool ocean breeze by the Pacific was more inviting than ever before. We gladly turned around to follow the late afternoon sun home.
Legend has it that once a year, every year until twenty years ago, the Great Mestolio would glide down from the high alpine lakes, past the giant wind fans, signs and yucca, along the vertical cliffs of the San Jacinto until finding his domain on the outside second story patio of Tommy’s casa on the Paseo.
Today, legend requires that a freakish huge bird was successfully destroyed while sitting on a perch above the main stadium at the Coachilla Valley Tennis Garden. After what was left of him was swept up, the blood stains on center court could never be washed out or painted over.
His confiscated heart is still rumored to faintly beat inside a massive vacuum sealed, stainless steel room, at a laboratory in New Mexico, not more than five miles from the village center of Santa Fe.
Many say it is the heart of an impostor.