Some people believe they are drawn to a place for a reason, even though that reason might take some time to show itself. Joel Brokaw, 58, knew the moment he saw the ranch house in the foothills of the Sierra Nevada in California that he was meant to be there. For him, it was like a lightning bolt, the message was clear. He had to live there. And, as with these kinds of fateful messages, the whole move went so smoothly he was there and settled in no time. He had moved from the glitzy clamour of Los Angeles to this quiet mountain retreat to start a new life as a writer. In the Sierras, huge boulders dropped from the mountains above as the glaciers of the Ice Age retreated and came to rest in meadows and on slopes. Up above Joel’s house were many such boulders, some the size of a small house, others as small as a pebble.
One night in late January 2008, around the time of the Superbowl, Joel and his daughter were hanging out. Joel is not a fan of American Football so he and his daughter were watching ‘Puppy Bowl’ instead. A pack of puppies are let loose on a field the size of a football pitch and a webcam captures their every move. For two hours. After watching this, Joel’s daughter said, ‘Oh Dad, let’s get a puppy!’ Seeing as she was twenty at the time and Joel already had a dog, two cats and two cows he responded with a no.
That night they heard sounds coming from up amongst the boulders and thought it was probably coyote pups. The following night they heard it again. The next morning it was clear to Joel that what he was hearing now was a serious distress call so he decided he’d better go and investigate.
He climbed up through the boulder strewn wilds and eventually came upon the source of the crying. A small puppy was wedged and unable to move in a crack in a six foot tall boulder. People often dumped their unwanted animals in the mountains for someone to rescue or adopt them or let them either die or fend for themselves. So it was no surprise to Joel to see this little, brown mite in such a predicament. With some effort, he got the puppy loose and brought him to the house.
They warmed him up and fed him but it was clear the puppy was banged up and somewhat in shock, so Joel headed down the mountain to the local vet. This vet was someone he’d been to before but he had never had cause to stay longer than was necessary for an inoculation or minor check up. This time he had a chance to see the vet, Birte, in action. The way she cared for this fragile puppy whose claws had been worn down to nubs from trying to free himself from the boulder, really struck a chord with Joel. Her tender care and nurture of an animal that someone else had thought worthless enough to throw out made him look at her more closely and he saw there a woman of depth and worth. Not to mention that she didn’t charge him for the treatment and threw in some free puppy food, too!
‘I think animals which have been traumatized and rescued often very special. They’re honest and direct and have a certain look in their eyes’, says Joel. ‘Everyone says that Harvey is a magnificent dog, a special dog with a great spirit.’
‘If I were an actor and needed to cry for a scene all I would have to do is think of going up that mountain to save a puppy’.
The puppy was named Harvey and became part of Joel’s household. So too did Birte, the vet.
The day Joel had brought Harvey into Birte, the receptionist at the practice had noticed how he had looked at Birte and, fancying herself as a matchmaker, suggested Joel get to know her better. Joel needed no prompting and, not long after, asked Birte if she’d like to go hiking some time.
Joel had divorced several years earlier and then spent some time working on himself and he now felt it would have to be someone really special if he were to consider a new relationship. After three months of going for hikes together, romance kindled. It was clear to Joel that Birte was that special person and a year after their first hike, they moved in together.
Four years later, on December 27, 2011, Oliver was born to Birte and Joel.
There is no doubt in Joel’s mind that the strong calling he got to live 230 miles away from Los Angeles, in this fairly remote and beautiful place, once a sacred spot for native Americans, was so that he would rescue Harvey and thus meet Birte and become a father again at 58, to Oliver.