A mid-June evening finds Gabe, his parents and Trea, a sophomore majoring in art at Cabrillo College in Aptos, Calif., in the backyard at Chi Theta Chi after supper. The family relocated in 1997 to Mendocino, 124 miles north of San Francisco, on the coast, where Jim teaches philosophy and literature at Mendocino Community High. Suzanne has also taught language arts at the middle school and for the past 10 years has been writing fiction, including novels for children. She's currently working on an anthology of short stories dealing with pregnancy.
What most families might do after dinner—go for a drive, watch TV, play a board game—is foreign to the Jenningses. Gabe brings out some bongos, and soon a drum circle has formed. The beat draws others from the house, so that soon more than a half-dozen people are slapping skins. Jim plays the flute and Suzanne shakes a chime. Chants develop while, a few feet away, a mound of rocks heats in a small fire.
A half hour passes. The playing stops. Now the entire Jennings family, along with several housemates, Gabe's girlfriend and Trea's boyfriend, have shed their clothing, and they enter a "sweat lodge" tent that Gabe has erected. "Time to sweat," he cries, shoveling the heated rocks into a pit and pouring water on them.
"It is difficult," Lananna had said earlier that day, "for me to understand some of the things Gabe does. With him the ultimate challenge is to be atypical and to make every moment count. What a terrible thing it would be for anyone to temper those dreams."
Inside the sweat lodge, people sing. Mother and son sit beside each other, au naturel. For the young man whose every race is against the routine, it is all natural.