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Giving a thief a second chance

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While camping in the Sierra Nevada, in California, I came upon a young man standing alone amid the sage. Twentysomething, he looked a few years younger than I, and was of medium height with blond hair and a hint of beard. He seemed like a decent person, but nervous and out of place. When I asked what he was doing, he gestured to the mountains behind him saying, "I'm going up there to live off the land."

I offered that in my experience hot water was a necessity as well as a luxury and one should have a reliable fire starter and pans, if not a solar shower.

He said, "I have a rifle for deer and other game and I can take care of myself." Finding him unreceptive to anything but his survivalist intentions, I wished him well and left.

Upon returning to my campsite several hours later, I discovered my backpack, sleeping bag, and other essentials were missing. Although by nature nonviolent, I lay awake that night - cold and furious - imagining what I'd do to the thief if I found him. But there was little hope of that. He'd indicated the wilderness as his destination, but I suspected he'd quickly got away on a nearby highway. Nevertheless, at dawn I started toward the mountains. Incredibly, I discovered a fresh track, followed it up to a flat, cautiously crept forward, and peered over the edge. There he lay in my sleeping bag, head resting on my pillow.

Never seriously expecting to find him, I wasn't sure what to do. Did he really have a gun?

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