A week ago Friday we got the call that a body had been found in Portola at the rock pile, near the railroad tracks. There was a good chance it was Michael Mowrey, who’d been missing for nearly a month. Our Portola reporter was unavailable, so I drove out there from Quincy, hoping I could find this rock pile that I had never heard of.
The snow flurries I ran into at C Road should have clued me in that it really was cold outside, despite the sunshine and the warm weather when I left.
As I neared the city, I kept one eye focused across the river, looking for the rock pile and the swarm of sheriff’s department vehicles I expected. But I didn’t see either.
As I drove across the Gulling Street Bridge, I stopped my car and asked a pedestrian if he knew of a place called the rock pile. He said the only thing he could think of was Rocky Point, by the Jehovah’s Witnesses church at the far end of town.
I continued across the bridge, made a left and drove down toward the recycling center, parallel to the tracks, just in case. There was no rock pile anywhere. I turned around and drove back over the bridge toward Rocky Point Road. I turned onto the road and drove into the picnic area. No luck.
So I headed the other way on Rocky Point, which I had never been on. There were some very pretty sights along the winding riverfront road (including the Jim Beckwourth Museum I never knew existed) and I thought about taking pictures, but I didn’t because I had a mission. I kept driving.
Soon I was back on the bridge. This time I turned right through town toward the railroad museum. And then, as I cruised around slowly, looking for some sign of a rock pile or sheriff’s vehicles, I saw a couple cars on the other side of the tracks, peeking out from under the railcars.
I parked, threw on my jacket, grabbed my camera and began walking toward the vehicles hidden behind a long row of railcars.
A couple of search and rescue volunteers were coming toward me with their dog, and when they saw me, they angled my way. I told them who I was and why I was there and they directed me to the scene.
The sun was shining bright and warm as I reached a couple of deputies and detectives, who were waiting for the rest of their team to arrive. They said I couldn’t get close to where the body had been found until the site had been cleared.
The longer I stood around, waiting for detectives and then the funeral home people to show up, the colder I got as the sun sank behind the clouds and the wind kicked up.
Eventually Manni Funeral Home came with their gurney and I followed them past a gigantic rock pile to where a bright yellow body bag lay on the frozen ground. I was struck by how small it looked. Is that what happens to us in death — we become that small and inconsequential?
To think that such a short time ago the body inside that yellow bag was a living, breathing, loving and caring man with a job, a home, friends and a purpose.
What twist of fate occurred to end his life at the age of 51? What circumstances conspired to lead a man to shed his clothing and curl up naked on a patch of frozen ground just a few hundred yards away from warm cozy homes?
We might never know exactly what happened to Michael Mowrey: the particular twists and turns of fate that stole his last breath away will remain a secret.
Is there a message for us amidst the apparent senselessness and mystery of a life cut short? Is there a lesson to learn, a moral to the story?
Or is this just one more unknowable mystery that defies logic? If somebody knows the answer, please drop me a line. In the meantime, I’ll keep pondering the strange, incredible and often heartbreaking mysteries of life.