NATHAN AND THE DRAGON
Nathan lives in Southern California with his parents. He has had some extraordinary adventures. Let me tell you about the time he met an actual fire-breathing dragon! This adventure began when he was hiking with his parents and grandparents in Anza-Borrego Desert State Park. They were all hiking up Palm Canyon to the palm grove, a remnant of the prehistoric subtropic forrest that blanketed the area when it was wet. As usual, the hike was proceeding slowly; Granddaddy kept stopping to take pictures and "...enjoy the view." Everyone knew that he really had to stop since he needed to rest. Any time he had to walk farther than from the TV set to the refrigerator was a long hike. On the other hand, Nathan had reached the age where he appeared to have wings on his heels. It was impossible to keep his feet still. His feet didn't quite seem to touch the ground when he walked. As the pauses became more numerous, he became increasingly impatient to see what lay ahead. Each time he wandered further up the trail his mother called him back. This stop was especially long since the adults were all arguing. The argument seemed to be about which of the many bumps on the horizon was Font's Point. They were pointing in all directions and getting rather noisy. No one noticed that Nathan had followed the trail on up the canyon and around a large boulder, out of sight. Suddenly a large lizard with a bright blue tail raced across the trail! It was so close it almost ran over Nathan's foot. He tried to grab it but he missed. It ducked under a creosote bush into the dry streambed near the trail. As Nathan ran after it, it skirted the trunk of a smoke bush and then into its home in a pile of boulders. He could still hear the noisy argument. Now Mommy and Granddaddy were on one side while Daddy and Grandmother were on the other. Since it was obvious that they weren't ready to move yet he decided to explore the trail a little further, forgetting that in his pursuit of the lizard he was no longer on the trail. The branch off of the dry streambed looked just like the trail to him. As the stream twisted around the boulders he was lured along by more lizards than he had ever seen. The warm sun on this late winter day had brought them out from their winter beds. He became so intent upon catching one that he didn't notice that he could no longer hear the adults arguing. The streambed twisted and turned, as the sides of the canyon became steeper. The piles of boulders became larger and impossible to walk around. More and more he had to climb over them. The steep canyon walls threw more shadows and the huge boulders created dark caves underneath. Occasionally these deep shadows almost seemed to be caves. Between the boulder piles and the water that was now running in the streambed, Nathan was having difficulty moving along. Just around the next bend, a huge wall of rock extended from one wall of the canyon. It must have blocked the canyon once, but a crack at one end allowed the water to force its way through. A tiny waterfall came over the wall at the crack. A strange odor had replaced the normal desert smells for the last few yards. It reminded Nathan of the odors from the Mobil refinery in Torrance, but it wasn't nearly as strong and didn't really smell all that bad. The jumble of rocks along the small waterfall provided a way to reach the top of the wall. The tiny pool at the top seemed to be the home of hundreds of little frogs and birds and lizards. There were even several small trees surrounding the pool. The wall rose steeply on the far side with many large boulders scattered along it. The odor was much stronger near the pool. There seemed to be a faint wisp of smoke snaking up out of the rocks and then sinking down the canyon. The occasional puffs of wind twisted it about. The odor became much stronger whenever a puff blew toward him. It was easy to cross the stream on the rocks at the head of the pool. Getting up the hill was much harder. He had to scramble up and over and around and even go under some boulders on his belly. After crawling under and between two especially large boulders he came a small expanse of sand and discovered that the source of the smoke was a cave hidden from the stream bed by the boulders and from above by a large rock outcropping. The sand in front of the cave was very dry so he could not see any foot prints, just a lot of stirred up sand, like a bunch of people had gone through. The whole sandy expanse seemed swept clean, as if by a strong wind. Little boys like Nathan are very brave, or perhaps more curious than cowardly. Anyway, he walked across the sand into the entrance of the cave, his feet scrunching in the sand. He could see a small flame deeper in the cave. As his eyes adapted to the darkness he saw a rather large dragon, resting on his tail, and toasting a large lizard tail in a small flame that came from his mouth. He had stuck the tail on one large claw. "Its really not polite to come into someone's home without being invited, you know," said the dragon. As he spoke, the flame went out and some smoke came from his mouth. The flame came back immediately after he stopped speaking. "I'm sorry," apologized Nathan. "I didn't know this was anyone's home." (Perhaps I should point out here that few people are aware that dragons are able to speak. This is probably because few people see dragons these days since they are not nearly as plentiful as they once were. And dragons always have been a little secretive except when seizing princesses or stealing treasure.) "Would you like some lizard tail," asked the dragon? "Its really quite good. The lizards are especially fat this year. I wasn't able to catch the whole thing last night, just his tail which broke off." "No thank you," replied Nathan. "I had 10 pancakes for breakfast." Actually he was a little hungry but lizard tail didn't really appeal to him right now. As his eyes became more accustomed to the dark, Nathan could see some of the cave's furnishings. It was quite neat, except for a pile of small bones in a corner near the entrance. The walls were hung with tapestries and a few metal plates that looked like gold. An ornate bed with carved wooden posts and a rich woven cover was the only furnishing. There were also several chests, which looked just like the treasure chests Nathan had seen on TV. The dragon had finished his snack and was cleaning his teeth with what appeared to be a small animal rib. "Well, sir," the dragon demanded, "do you have a name?" "My name is Nathan Ross Wendel," Nathan replied. "What is your name?" "Well, actually I've forgotten my name. It's been several hundred years since anyone has used it. Also it's a little hard to translate dragonspeak into your kind of words. Since there's only the two of us here, you don't need a name for me, do you?" The dragon's flame went out when he finished eating but the cave wasn't dark since sun was now shining into the cave entrance. Nathan sat on a small rock closer to the entrance than to the dragon, both for warmth and because he still didn't quite trust the dragon. "What brings you to my cave?" "I'm on a hike with my parents and grandparents and came this way ahead of them. I saw your smoke and wanted to see what it was. You have a very nice home. Have you lived here long?" "It's a little hard to answer. Dragons don't have clocks or calendars. We just go by seasons. I started putting a mark on the wall every time the winter rains came but I got tired of the bother. I must have been here for a couple of hundred years. "I moved here from England. The knights there liked to hunt dragons at that time. Although a single knight is no match for a dragon like me, they used to get together in armies and come after us. I thought it was easier to leave than mess with them. "My uncle had been in this part of the World long before I hatched and he told me about it. It sounded nice, with all the palm trees and swamps and large animals to eat. How was I to know that it was going to dry out like this? I used to be able to catch one oris and eat on it for a week. Now its mostly lizards and they just don't fill me very well. Sometimes I go up into the mountains and catch a deer or sheep but it isn't too safe for me to go out." All the talk about a hungry dragon bothered Nathan so he moved a bit closer to the entrance. "How'd you get here," he asked? "I flew, of course," said the dragon as he flexed his wings a bit. "Didn't you know that dragons have wings?" The walls of the cave prevented him from opening them fully. Nathan could see that they were huge! They seemed to be covered with thick, dark, grey leather. In fact, all of the dragon's skin looked like grey leather. Overcoming his fear, Nathan said, "May I touch your wing?" He had to know what it felt like. "I guess so," replied the dragon. Nathan moved close to the outstretched wing and reached out a tentative hand. The skin was as smooth as one of his mother's nylon blouses and quite flexible. There were no scales. Another surprise was that his skin felt warm, not like a lizard's. "May I see what's in all the boxes and chests?" "I knew it," roared the dragon. "You're just another thief trying to get my treasure." Flame began to come out of his mouth. Nathan jumped for the cave entrance, moving much faster than the lumbering dragon. "No I'm not," he said from behind the protection of a large boulder. "I'm just a little boy. I don't even have a knife." The flame had begun to singe one of the wall hangings which distracted the dragon. He closed his mouth and used a wing to beat out the flame. "I'd better be more careful, I can't get wall hangings like that anymore. Sorry I got so excited. You don't seem to be dangerous. Come back in, I won't harm you." "I'd like to but I had better get back to my family." Actually Nathan was still a bit frightened and, also, he just remembered the sack of fruit snacks in Dad's day pack. "Before you go, let me ask you a favor. Please don't tell anyone about me. Most people don't accept dragons living around them." Nathan saw no reason to tell anyone. Besides, if he told it wouldn't be a secret anymore. But someone should know. "Would it be alright if I just told my dad? He won't tell anyone." "Well, I you think you can trust him, I guess it would be ok. Before you go, I'd like to give you a little present. Its a dragon jewel that only dragon alchemists know how to make. If you hold it in your hand and concentrate it will bring you pictures of strange lands and people. But you must not show it to anyone or share it." Nathan thought that it sounded a lot like TV and thought it would be nice to have his own portable. "Thank you very much," said Nathan as the dragon placed a very small yellow jewel in his hand. He placed it in his pocket for safekeeping. "It's a tough hike back down. I'd be glad to help you back down. Just close your eyes," suggested the dragon. Nathan did as he was told and immediately fell into a deep sleep.
* * * *
The "adults" had finally ended their argument and Granddaddy had finally had enough rest. They were ready to move on up the trail. "Where's Nathan," Dad asked the group. "I saw him move on up the trail when we you got confused about Font's Point," said Mom. Dad gave her a dirty look and went up the trail, calling "Nathan." The other three straggled along. There was a huge brown boulder that had fallen down the hill years ago and come to rest against a smaller one, forming an arch over the trail. As Dad was passing through, he was sure that he heard the sound of a giant bird flapping its wings, but he looked up and saw nothing. Just beyond the arch was a large flat surface covered with indian mortars. There was Nathan, curled up in the middle, sound asleep. "Nathan, where have you been," asked Dad as he gently shook Nathan awake. "Oh Dad, I found a dragon! I talked to him! I was in his cave!" "Yea, right," laughed Dad. "I think that you have been having a nice dream while you slept." Here in the bright sun with the family and all the other hikers passing by it was hard to believe that he had really visited with the dragon. Nathan decided that he had been asleep and drempt it all....until he felt the jewel in his pocket. He knew where he had been and what he had done. No one else really needed to believe.