"Twenty years," Dreshan said, "I'm sure the settlement has been there at least that long."
"Where did they come from?" I asked. "Originally, I mean."
"A settlement further up the river," he said.
"And why do you think they left?"
Dreshan looked thoughtfully toward a tall ridge off to our left.
"I don't really know," he answered. "We can ask, but I doubt they'll have a good answer."
From the air, the forest looked like a lush green rug. The settlement was in a clearing, which looked like a small hole torn in the rug by an ungraceful heel.
As we descended into the clearing, several large rust-colored dogs with long bristly tails and pointy snouts rushed out, looking up at us and barking excitedly.
A monk with a brightly colored headband also emerged from one of the buildings at the edge of the clearing. He was crossing his long spindly arms over his head, making them sway from side to side in a broad welcoming gesture.
The car planted itself silently onto the large "X" in the center of the clearing.
I slid open the roof of the car, and as Dreshan, Jandra and I climbed out we were met by the celestial aroma of wet pine.
A few more monks came out of buildings that surrounded the clearing. They called after the dogs in vain to be still.
The monk with the headband grabbed Dreshan and hugged him with his long arms.
"Dreshan! We're glad you've come to Stray Lark's Ridge." said the monk. "You're well?"
"Well enough," Dreshan said, returning a smile nearly as luxurious as the monk's.
Later we were invited to the dining hall to enjoy some of the extraordinary food that had made this settlement famous. It wasn't the dinner that was most memorable for me, though, but rather what I heard and learned during the after-dinner conversation.
Michael Webb, August 16, 2006
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