Music is not only in voices, notes and instruments. Sometimes music is in places. Places we have to visit in order to feel right again.

Hard to beat the Eastern Sierra. When you live on the valley floor, and that floor heats up like Paul Bunyan's griddle, we head for the mountains like Basque sheepherders and their flocks.

I spent this week in Mammoth but healing starts on the drive up, on the edge of town, in the foothills and with the palm trees announcing Murray Family Farms. By Tehachapi, you think you might live, when you spill onto the desert, you notice you aren’t breathing like you are ready to have a baby. By Little Lake, your sense of humor has returned. By Lone Pine and Mount Whitney, you feel a sense of grandeur.

Empty space is better than any medicine. That’s what medicine is supposed to do. Make you feel better, younger and more cheerful. Some medicine kicks in with a tank of gas and the open road.

I took Charlie, the 2-year old terrier-dachshund mix. Charlie was good company. He didn’t say a lot but he looked at me as if to say, “Why didn’t you think of this sooner?”

When we stopped at the rest area south of Lone Pine, I looked around at the other dogs that were stretching their legs on the desert floor and decided I’d brought the right dog. Charlie was like a penny stock. He hadn’t cost much but he was paying big-dog dividends.

We stopped at Keough Hot Springs, a few miles south of Bishop. Keough is two minutes off the road and the best $6 you’ll ever spend. Keough has a smaller, spring-fed hot pool and then a larger swimming pool with a spray of alternately, hot, cool and warm water that will, if you stand under it, massage your shoulders, back and head.

Keough is not fancy, but you don’t want fancy. You want simple. You want empty so you can hear the music again.

An hour later, I reached Mammoth and Mom’s place. We cooked lamb chops. Just like the sheepherders.

We ate dinner. Talked about Dad. After two years, she still misses him. Over lamb chops, we missed him together. That was medicine, too.

The next day we drove to Silver Lake, the lake above June Lake. Mom and Fabi, her helper, kayaked and I paddleboarded. We paddled up Rush Creek at the southern end of the lake. There were a few fish, a few people and lots of quiet. You could talk or not talk. We did both.

All of us jumped in. All of us felt better. All of us felt like we had been baptized and were awaiting instructions on our new lives.

When we returned to the dock at Silver Lake, my rubber sandals were gone. My new life had arrived quickly and come with instructions: “You will go forth without sandals. Henceforth, you will feel every rock and pinecone shard.”

Mornings started with a walk in the meadow by Snowcreek that was waist high with corn lilies, mule ears, native grasses, lupine, white bog orchids, Indian paintbrush, wild onion and pussy paws. I dipped in Mammoth Creek and one day, in the secluded pool, I saw a grandmother, mother and her 3- and 6-year-old boys from Thousand Oaks.

Knee-deep in the creek, the boys were poking around looking for everything and nothing in particular. They found what they were looking for. You could hear it in their voices.

We went fishing. I bought a one-day license, hooks, leader, swivels, removable split shot and some rainbow-colored, garlic-flavored PowerBait. I caught two rainbow trout in a creek. Each trout cost about $13.50, before tax.

I dipped them in salt and cornmeal, fried them in cast iron and we ate them for dinner that night. They didn’t taste like much. When I went to bed, my hands still smelled like PowerBait even though I’d washed them before, after and way-after dinner.

Before bed, I sat on the deck and listened to the wind move through the tops of the pine trees. Like the sound of waves, wind makes me think of eternity. Something that will be here long after we are. Long after the stench of garlic-flavored PowerBait leaves my hands.

Empty and full. Music can do that to you.

Herb Benham is a columnist for the Bakersfield Californian and can be reached at or 661-395-7279.

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