The Springs Market was a general store in every sense of the term. They stocked everything from apples to zircons, and advertised that if they didn't have it, they would get it for you. It had started as the usual smalltown general store. Later, when Arrowhead Springs became the most accessible town in the desert area for miles, due to proximity of a new highway, it soon became a mecca for marketing to all outlying areas. By the time adjacent areas had shopping areas, The Springs Market had an established clientele which remained faithful. It was still the choice of most desert dwellers.
In a little over an hour, Carl had the truck packed with supplies. Aside from a good food supply, he also bought a tape recorder, large quantities of typing paper, folders, and other supplies needed for working on the book. He even purchased a small radio to keep informed on world events. All a part of 're-entry'.
He stopped to fill the truck with gas, and have it checked out for any problems which might linger from long inactivity.Then he headed for the cabin. He was feeling good as he attended to these minor activities. He had a goal now, and every act was a movment of meaning. Any routine activities which had before been monotonous duties, were now transformed by purpose.
After the food had been put away, he made a makeshift desk in one corner from a card table he'd purchased. Here he set his typewriter, stacked paper in a wooden crate next to it, and assembled smaller supplies in handy position. He could set the table lamp on a nearby shelf when working at night. At length, he stood back and viewed his handiwork with satisfaction. Tomorrow - he would start to work.
He had time to change clothes, and have a light snack before starting back to town. No telling how long business at the oasis would take. A wistful longing came over him to again be sharing lunch with Encampment friends. He wondered where they were now, what they were doing, and if they thought of him. He glanced toward the little desk in the corner, and wondered what they might say about that simple arrangement. It seemed that something of the Encampment air wafted past him for a moment. He suddenly knew they would think it ingenious. What was important was that the drab little table in the corner would serve to radiate light, if he could express what was to be expressed. The Encampment had answered.
A little after three, he started back to town. The cafe` was evidently in the midst of afternoon lull. There was only one diner at the counter, and one waitress behind it. Both looked sleepy. He sat down and ordered coffee.
The jukebox was delivering a soft folk ballad about wandering. Carl sipped his coffee and listened. He liked the poignant, poetic quality of Country and Folk Music. Like the people scattered across the land, who lived close to the land, it came in all varieties. All had a haunting quality of life woven into the land and the people. It came straight from the roots, and reached into the sky. Like the Earth, humanity living close to the land had a music distilled from ages. It was as if the 'soul' of the land spoke in the soul of the people, and came forth as the Folk Music of the world. Even though Carl's background had been citified from the beginning, this had always been his favorite form of music. He had used it many times to soothe his soul in the ancient fellowship of humanity.
Deep in the tributaries of thought the music opened, he didn't realize Alex was there till he heard him order coffee, as he sat down next to him. "Get your business taken care of..."? he asked. Carl nodded, and offered a brief summary, telling him last about the meeting with Hayes, and that he too had suggested talking with De Alberca. Then he asked Alex something he'd been wondering about. "If De Alberca is so protective of the oasis, do you think he'd really be interested in selling the adobe ?"
Alex took a sip of coffee before answering. "I think so - if the buyer met his approval. Mostly he just wants to be sure they have respect for the land, and understand how valuable a spring is. I think you're that kind of person, and he'll see it". Alex paused, and leaned toward Carl. "You see - to De Alberca - this Earth is a living being. And should be cared for as such".
Carl nodded in understanding. He'd met people before who had expressed such feeling for the land. They were usually people who lived and worked close to the land. People such as he'd been thinking of as he listened to the music. He realized some years ago that he too shared this feeling. It was in discussion with an Indian leader, when he'd been doing a story about the plight of the American Indian.
Alex waited patiently, watching the subtle changes pass across Carl's face. When Carl finally returned his gaze with an expression of full understanding, and quietly stated -"Yes - I agree", he spoke again. "He may question you a bit, but it will be to feel you out."He stood up and placed his money on the counter. "The only way to know for sure, is to talk to him - so - let's go." As they walked out the door, they agreed Carl should follow in his truck, so Alex wouldn't have to bring him back to town.
They headed out Southeast. Even from a distance, when approaching along the dusty road, Carl quickly saw that the oasis was a green haven amid miles of rolling sand. How beautiful it must have appeared to the fleeing refugees ! Alex had told him that Indians in that area , though using waters of the oasis, had chosen to settle further South, in an area surrounded by huge rocks and sand hills. This provided a natural fortress. They had no hostility for the fleeing pair. It was plain that they too sought refuge, and did not come armed.
Alex led him down a narrow dirt road into the lush green shade of that miracle of the desert, the oasis. They passed enormous trunked date palms, a variety of desert plants, and many thick, flowering shrubs not normally found in deserts. Something of the Encampment area seemed present. There was a variety of many-colored birdlife. Trees were alive with birds calling to each other and singing. Had the white wading-bird come moving toward him with that slow, measured stride, he would not have been surprised.
Alex slowed as they entered the oasis, so there was ample time to view the surroundings. Suddenly, Carl caught sight of the Springs, glistening with dappled gold of filtering sunlight. Three-quarters of the way around it a natural rock wall had been built. It was a low wall, about two or three feet high, designed only to keep waters free of drifting sand and leaves. From an open side, it trickled gently, in a slow stream, through shallow courses into the lush, surrounding vegetation.
Just off the road, on opposite side from the Springs, was a surprisingly large, rambling adobe house. From the way it spread loosely, and in odd shape, among trees and other plants, Carl guessed it had been added to, a little at a time over a long period, always adapting to the environment, rather than disturbing it. A sign on a low stone wall in front read : OFFICE.
Alex pulled into the narrow parking area in front, and Carl followed. As they got out, the Doctor came over to the truck, and told Carl to wait there until he found out if De Alberca was in the office, or out in the oasis. A moment later, he reappeared on the porch, and motioned for Carl to come in.
Carl's first sight of De Alberca confirmed something he had halfway expected, but had carefully avoided entertaining as factual. As he looked into the deep, penetrating eyes, and watched the flashing smile light up the familiar bronzed features, he knew he was again face to face with Andrah !
"Welcome !" The Gita's resonant voice greeted him with genuine warmth. No mention was made of their previous meeting. Carl knew it was silently acknowledged, but otherwise would not be mentioned. Carl returned his smile, and extended his hand, which De Alberca shook with firm grasp. Uncertain as to how to begin, Carl simply said - "I suppose Alex has told you that I am in need of a small house for my wife and myself"? De Alberca nodded, still smiling as he answered, "Yes - we'll go at once to look at it. Then we'll discuss it, if you think it is suitable for you ".
The three piled into Alex's car and drove still further to the Southeast. Approximately a half-mile from the office, still in the lush oasis, they stopped before an adobe house. Carl noticed that the road stretched on further through greenery. He wondered just how large an area the oasis covered.
As if sensing Carl's question, De Alberca explained. "The most dense part of the oasis covers an area of about three square miles, but it has been extended over the years by channeling the Springs in irrigation courses - to whatever degree is not harmful to the Springs. Water is a precious element, and we protect the Springs from overuse very carefully. Much of the plant, animal, and birdlife here today, is not normally found in the desert. It has been brought here, and is quite happy in the oasis." He smiled, and added, "As I hope you and your wife will also be - if the little house pleases you, my friend."
Carl felt relief. Evidently De Alberca had no reservations about letting him have the property. They entered the house, and were greeted with a cool, clean scent of good earthy aura. The oasis had seasoned the walls. Altogether there were seven rooms of moderate size. Just about right for comfortable living. He loved it at once, and felt sure that Julie would too. It was a real gem in a fine setting.
"It's perfect !" Carl exclaimed. "My wife will love it as much as I do ! If you think we'll make suitable neighbors - let's get to the arrangements." He was uncertain as to how to address De Alberca, so had avoided using a name so far. Again, De Alberca seemed aware of his uncertainty, and immediately put him at ease. "Please - just call me Andy. I'm sure you'll be very fine neighbors, and take care of the land and Springs as we do - Carl. Quite frankly, you are a Godsend ! I've been wondering if we would find someone who shared our attitude about the oasis, and I'm sure you do. That is a great relief ! It's been unoccupied since our son and his wife moved to the city, two years ago. It's lonely to stand idle and empty, when even a house likes company !"
They returned to the office and settled terms, which proved to be much less than Carl expected. It was agreed that Carl would make the down payment as soon as the funds were transferred. After the sale of their house, he would pay the remainder. Andy assured him that however worked best for them would be alright with him. He placed only one restriction on the transfer: should they ever decide to sell it, De Alberca would buy it back. It was not to go to another buyer without his consent. He said this clause would be in the legal transfer agreement. Carl readily agreed to this, as he well understood the reasons for it.
De Alberca then invited them into the house, saying his wife had refreshments for them. The house was a true reflection of its inhabitants. The sitting room was long, running at least three-fourths the distance across the building front. Divided from it by an archway, was a large dining area, running at right angle to the sitting room. The two rooms formed an L-shaped area.
Both were tastefully furnished with an interesting variety of objects such as a world traveler might have collected. Carl thought that surely every nationality, and every part of the globe must be represented. Andy explained that most had been collected during his travels as Civil Engineer. He told them interesting stories about several items. Carl discerned a warm inclusiveness in his host, which enfolded various cultures of the world. Here was a man too inclusive to harbor even a hint of prejudice. There was a virile interest in the many ways Life expressed itself. Truly - the Ulathai attitude was here on this island of the desert - the oasis.
A tall, graceful woman entered the room, greeting them with warm hospitality. She put one immediately at home with her. Her quiet, almost shy manner, in no way detracted from the obvious warmth of her welcome. Her name was Mira. De Alberca informed them, with great pride and affection, that she was his wife. He said - "I had to travel half around the world to find her, but happily, I found her. And early in my life !"
Mira glowed beneath his words, with natural unaffected response. She was of golden complexion, with dark hair, shining with reddish highlights. Her eyes were large, slightly almond-shaped, and of a deep blue-grey shade. Her features were fine and gentle, but she exuded a robust vitality greater than her appearance would suggest. When she spoke, Carl detected a slight accent, but not one he could identify.
They spent more than an hour with their gracious hosts, sharing easy and friendly talk on many things. Carl learned that De Alberca had 'found' Mira in a quaint little village in the Pyrenees". When at last they parted, Carl felt as if he had known these people all his life. On the porch, saying goodbyes, Carl turned to De Alberca. "Please don't let anyone else have that house before I can make the down payment" ! The Gita laughed heartily. "Don't worry, Carl ! That is your house ! I'm sure you are the one it was waiting for !"
Carl followed Alex to his turn-off, then with a salute of the horn and a wave, continued into town.
Indeed - the 'door' was not locked.