My first encounter with Little Steve was mid day on the tenth of May, 1951. There he was, a tiny man executing a “full gainer” off of a cactus needle, pinpointing a perfect landing immediately in front of me. Initially shocked by the abnormality of what I had just seen and not wanting to crush the miniature acrobat, I lost my balance and stumbled into an involuntary roll until colliding with a large boulder on the side of the steep San Gabriel mountainside.
After an unreconciled period of time, I slowly regained my senses and after a brief self exam, I was relieved to find no blood or broken bones. Looking up to the hillside above I found validation in what incredibly I thought to have seen…..an insanely small bearded man, clad in Bavarian hiking gear peering down at me.
With each step uphill his scale oddly seemed to remain extremely minuscule in stature (by my measure, not more than four inches in height!)….. as I approached the top of the bank he began a series of tumbles and flips worthy of an olympian gymnast. I managed to blurt out “what are you”? He responded (while launching into, what I must admit, was a stupendous 360 degree back flip) with a high pitched taunting-like laugh. The little man suddenly ran off, hoisting a miniature alpine horn to his mouth and played an annoying song much like an old Dick Dale surf tune morphed with an overture worthy of a Genghis Kahn calvary charge.
I spent the next half hour slogging downhill in disbelief, trying to come to terms with what had just happened, knowing that if I shared it with others, it would only build on the consensus of what many thought of me and what was already considered my intensely “exaggerated imagination”.
Days slipped into more months until the years eventually erased entirely my clarity of the encounter with the small annoying Bavarian. I was no longer certain what came first, his sighting or my head meeting the boulder that day I veered off the trail. I’d since had many treks along the same mountain path with my Grandfather without further incident.
On my fourteenth birthday, Grandfather Simon felt it appropriate that I join in the ceremony of the pipe prior to his sharing of that evening’s story. I was honored to be accepted into the ritual, feeling it somehow symbolic of being welcomed into his circle of Ancient Storytellers.
That night’s narration was unique. The sounds of the wind and indigenous creatures amongst us felt heightened and had a distinct clarity I had not experienced before. The glowing campfire took on multiple hues, adding and elevating my Grandfather’s evening share.
At the end of that nights tale, we contently sat together in silent contemplation under the stars. Before bedding down, I remember calling across the dying embers to bid goodnight to my Grandfather, to which he responded in kind before drifting off………..
Again, after an unreconciled period of time, I awoke to the faint sound of an eerily familiar alpine horn crescendoing closer and closer to our campsite on the plateau.
By now my Grandfather was deep into his “conversation with the whales” and did not respond when I nervously asked him if he’d heard the horn. I got out of my sleeping bag and went over by his side and began tugging on his blanket wanting him to please awake.
The horn behind me suddenly became so close I felt the air being blown through it onto the back of my ankle. Turning around, I looked down to confirm my fear….there was the same miniature menacing figure from that day in May before me, performing incredible handsprings off and onto the random rocks and twigs around the grounds, pointing and laughing at me. As he flipped through the air he continued his incessant high pitched cackle of a laugh, managing to intertwine it with uncanny cartwheels and the relentless tooting of his horn OVER, OVER and OVER, until it pounded into my head trapping me in his annoyance.
Unable to be the brunt of his antics any longer, I moved toward him prompting the nimble elf to tumble and scamper back into the wooded canyon just off the trail as he continued flaunting his prowess in horn blowing even while in retreat. I stood there again bewildered yet temporarily relieved for his sudden absence. Giving up the chase, I relished in the brief moment I had to enjoy the quiet.
Later that night, I wouldn’t find sleep. The combination of my Grandfather’s snoring and the random ill-timed notes escaping that intolerable horn was simply too much for me. I now felt reluctantly victimized and involuntarily hostage to the will of this uninvited guest 1/30th my size.
That morning my Grandfather awoke as usual…. silently beginning his methodic pursuit of preparing morning coffee. Together we sat by the rekindled fire waiting for the water to boil until I mustered up enough courage to share the story of my first encounter with my miniaturized nemesis and the surreal details in the events of last night.
“So”…….after a long pause, he commented…..”Sounds like you’ve finally met up with Little Steve”.
I felt exalted, “You’ve seen him too!”
“Oh yeah, he’s been running around in these mountains for forever and a day.”
In a lower tone my Grandfather leaned in and suggested in an almost whisper that it might be best if we kept this to ourselves, otherwise there might be all kinds of “opportunists” invading our plateau, trying to capture the Little Steve so they could turn some kind of profit on him like the circus people did with King Kong and Dumbo.
At the moment, that was more than good enough for me. I had thousands of questions and ideas of my own on the matter, but ultimately for now, I was just happy not to be “crazy” and alone in the matters of the Little Steve.
From that time forward, my “encounters” with Little Steve went from random at best to mundane and frequent. Before I bid my final farewell to the tiny Bavarian acrobat, I recall watching in wonderment him performing one arm handstands on and off my big toe while lecturing me on topics from the virtues of eating more carrots to the importance of regularly changing my socks.
I’m not quite clear on when it came over me that “Little Irritating Steve” (Yes, I renamed him) only appeared when I was alone or after “taking part in the pipe”, but what is important now is that he has been gone for some time. When I inquire of my Grandfather as to when he last saw Little Steve, he typically smiles and with a twinkle in his eye, subtly changes the topic.
I love my Grandfather, but to be honest, I’m not quite sure about “Little Steve”.
Now that I’ve had time to think about it on my own…. I strongly suggest that you do your best to stay away from “um pa” music and if you ever do encounter the menacing little Bavarian…….avoid eye contact, keep your balance and most of all, KEEP WALKING!!!
I am always yours in earnest,
Pablo La Boca