For at least 16 years, a small air conditioning unit has worked overtime; drawing in the fresh air and coughing out the stale air of cigarettes and life. And for 16 years I have walked, driven, skated, or rode my bike past and inhaled that smell, recalling the cheap hotels of my youth.
For 16 years I have wanted to know the story behind that camper. For 16 years I have wanted to know who lived there, and why. And for 16 years I would look for any signs of life, any comings or goings, and this whole time I never give up hope.
Highland was working on modifying his Ford Explorer by putting in a 110 jack in the trunk when I just randomly asked him he had a biscuit joiner for a stool I needed to repair. He didn’t. But then he asked me if I had a hex key to fit a certain size bolt. I didn’t. He had a very strong grip for a 66-year-old who chain smoked and (I’m guessing) drinks a lot. And I “had an unusual name too,” he stated after we met.
He was modifying his vehicle for when he goes camping to look at the stars. He belongs to an amateur telescope group that gets him out in nature. “Kid’s today spend too much time on their heads in their damn phones and not sticking their nose in the beauty in the world. They’ve forgotten how to use their imagination.”
Ironically, when my kids when they were little, they used to look for fairies and elves in the small overgrown garden next to his caravan. Just as technology has changed them, so too has time altered that garden and the gnome who lived next door. With his elf-like features, I thought for a moment if Highland had anything to do with the fairies’ demise.
In a weird way, meeting Highland was like meeting a mythical character or at least someone famous. I did my best to keep my composure and not ask a bunch of personal questions. Instead I asked Highland where he learned about motors and electrical work. He cracked a three-tooth smile and shyly chuckled, “I guess you just know.”
Seemed like a fitting answer for KNOWvember, you know. While I wanted to tell him all about the challenge, I didn’t want him to think that it was the reason why I stopped. I wanted to know him. I had waited 16 years for this moment. This challenge just provided for me a way into the secret garden of his world.
My kids no longer believe in or chase after fairies and elves. But I am curious how they might respond to learn I actually found one. And not just anyone, but the one in the caravan that we’ve spent a lifetime talking wondering about.