My first encounter with Little Steve was on a mid day in May, 1926. While descending along a narrow trail between Chantry Flats and Wilderness Park, I sighted the tiny man executing a “full gainer” off of a small pile of fools gold, pinpointing a perfect landing not less than two feet from me. Trying to avoid crushing the miniature acrobat, I lost my balance and stumbled into an involuntary roll off the mountain trail until colliding with a large boulder along the side of the steep mountain gully.
After an unreconciled period of time, slowly regaining my senses, I looked to the hillside above, only to find validation for what incredibly I thought to have seen…..an insanely small bearded man, clad in Bavarian hiking gear peering down at me. He seemed in that moment more curious than compassionate.
With each step back uphill, his scale oddly seemed to remain extremely minuscule in stature (by my measure, he could not have been more than six inches in height!)….. as I approached the top edge of the bank, he began a series of tumbles and flips worthy of an olympian. In dismay I blurted 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 and in that instant he ran off, hoisting a miniature alpine horn to his mouth expelling what sounded like a bad rendition of an old 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 was unanimously 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 acrobat. I was no longer certain what came first, seeing him 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, my Grandfather 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 the circle of Ancient Storytellers.
That night’s narration was indeed unique. The sounds of the wind and indigenous creatures amongst us felt heightened and had a distinct clarity I had never experienced before. The glowing campfire took on multiple hues, adding to and elevating my Grandfather’s evening share.
At the end of that night’s 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 which he responded in kind before drifting off………..
Again, after another 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 begging him to please awake.
The horn behind me suddenly became so close I felt the air being blown through it against the back of my ankle. Turning around, I looked down to confirm my fear….there was the same miniaturized menace from our first encounter, again performing incredible handsprings off and onto the random rocks around the grounds, pointing and laughing at me. As he flipped through the air, he proudly projected his incessant high pitched cackle, managing to intertwine it with uncanny feats of gymnastics, relentlessly including his annoying horn OVER, OVER and OVER, until it pounded into my head trapping me in his unsolicited spell.
Unwilling to be the brunt of his antics any longer, I jetted toward him, prompting the nimble elf man/child to scamper back into the wooded canyon just off trail. I stood there, once again bewildered, but must admit being temporarily relieved for his absence and the brief pause in commotion.
Later that night, I wouldn’t find sleep. The combination of my Grandfather’s snoring and the faint sound of random notes echoing through the far off trees was simply too much for me. I now felt reluctantly victimized and involuntarily hostage to the will of this uninvited guest 1/12th my size.
That morning my Grandfather awoke as usual…. silently beginning his methodic pursuit of preparing coffee. 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 the prior 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 occurred randomly and ultimately became quite mundane.
Before bidding my final farewell to the tiny 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 Steve” 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,