For a woman who did not go outdoors on dry land between childhood and the age of 50, I have made up for lost time since 2002. In addition to camping and hiking and walking many miles every day of life, I go on the occasional outing. I have visited many a backwater on the backsides of California, Arizona and Nevada, sometimes walking or hiking while waiting for the cyclist to catch up to me, sometimes on a solo voyage for the pure enjoyment of it. The places I visit are not likely considered destinations by many, but I rarely fail to be charmed by something I see or experience. I rubberneck while driving in on the highway or down the main drag (if there is one), taking in all that I can. And I've become adroit at discovering the answer to the question of the ages: "What's shaking in these parts?" I am indulged in requests to stop the car so I can take a picture of something that makes me laugh out loud or scratch my head. Once I was a world traveler. And now I simply get around. Yeah, it's a Beach Boys song.
It was a gloriously warm, not hot, day. The sky was full of smeary looking clouds and some other junk, so the light was poor and flat, but I didn't complain. The air movement could only be categorized a breeze, not hurricane force. It was as good as it had been for a long, long time. The drive to the speck on the map was a fairly long one, but pleasant. I didn't feel rushed. I didn't feel cold. No phones jangled in my ears. I relaxed and enjoyed myself tremendously, savoring time spent away from the two different sets of four walls where I dwell most of the time. I felt all of my senses come to attention and my brain sharpen up. I drank in everything I gazed upon, and some of it was damned funny. I'd welcome the reader to join me and experience some of what I saw on my pass through just the latest little hamlet.
There are three tiny towns (with population of 5,784 in the 2000 census) situated in the 40-mile long valley that sits at 1,265 feet above sea level. I wouldn't have thought it would be so low. And it is greener than I would have imagined. Parts of this valley have been used for agriculture and I can see why. Obviously there is water available here and I saw lush green growth everywhere. There are huge and ancient trees both standing and downed, with petrified root systems gnarled in the air. Scattered across the valley floor are enormous date palm trees with dead fronds hanging so thick they look like lion heads. Approaching from the highway, I crossed the Muddy River and craned my neck to see if it actually was that. Yep! Muddy.
Reader, it has been suggested that I am easily amused and that is true. I can have a good time with whatever is at hand and my eyes were scanning the landscape looking for fun. It didn't take long. I saw the spaceship from a long way off. The sun was glinting off of its silver dome. Spaceship? This is not Roswell, New Mexico! What the . . . ? I gawked out the window looking for aliens hiding in the brush. None ever showed himself, and as the spaceship drew nearer, I spotted the sign that told me that was no spaceship at all. But it did tell me why the valley is so green and why it can support agriculture. There is water here!
Absent any spacemen to amuse me, I continued toward my destination. There was only one viable business to be easily seen - The Muddy River Bar & Grill. Business did not appear to be booming. I saw about ten other commercial buildings and suites, almost all vacant. They were contained in a one-block area that I suppose is the commercial center of this place. There was no grocery store, no gas station, no convenience store. I'd seen a sign by the side of the road that made me sorry I'd spent so long in the chair with Christine the previous evening. I'd have been pleased to do my part for the local economy and I'm sure Stephanie of Styles by Stephanie would have taken good care of me and my hair. It didn't seem there would be a long wait for service.
Rolling down the highway a bit farther, I spotted the sign that pointed me to the place I aimed for. It had a soft, sweet name evocative of newly arrived spring and I was to spend a soft, sweet time there. I did what I always do first - I drove in a big circle taking in the sights and clocking distances between things. I did this twice. After the second time, I knew what I wanted to get out and see. I knew where I would set out on foot to put some more miles on myself for the day. I knew where I would eat my picnic lunch and I spotted a public restroom which is a rare commodity in some of these places.
My first stop, now that I had the lay of the land, was an unusual one for me. They looked lovely, so dark in their pen with the light blue sky and the green, green grass. They drew me, but there was a problem. I am afraid of horses. They are very large and they have big teeth and I have a scary horse story to write about sometime - an unintended childhood event that rendered me forever frightened of horses. I stepped out of the car and watched these animals from across the road. One can always jump back in if any sudden, menacing moves are made. I spoke quite softly. "Hey, horsey home dudes, it's spring." They moved! Closer to the barbed wire fencing. They were interested in me. Just not for dinner, I hoped. These animals made it so clear they found me intriguing, I couldn't stay on the other side of the road. I'm all about connecting with others, including animals, so I took a deep breath and crossed. I talked to them for a long time. I wasn't brilliant, but they won't tell that. I felt deeply peaceful talking to animals, looking into their (enormous) eyes and they into mine. I decided. I was going to do it. I touched each of them, stroking their hair softly while continuing to speak to them. They touched me deeply. I don't think I'm afraid of horses any more. At least not all horses.
The sign was posted at the end of the horse pen. It made me muse because I'd already seen the size of this community. This was no imposing monument sign, but rather one that put me in mind of a piece of metal patio decor. I drove at about a 25% grade up a road that was better than a Jeep trail, but still a dirt road. When I got to the top, I thought, "There's no cemetery here." It was just a bare mesa with natural formations, rocks, sand and the odd bit of scrub. No emerald lawn anywhere in sight. Why would anyone put up a nice metal sign like that? Just to trick city girls who find cemeteries peaceful into driving up a mean, sharply angled dirt road? I'd already put the car in reverse when a little fluttering red and blue object caught my eye through the brush. I got out to explore and I found the cemetery. For here, right in the natural desert setting, were eight residents and holdmarkers for two wives who have not yet expired. Tiny American flags fluttered (the red and blue that had caught my attention) and slightly faded artifical flowers in every hue were in abundance. I was struck by how many of the departed were young - younger than I. Three out of eight. The graves were spread far apart, so I wandered awhile, reflecting that to be placed in the desert once I have left my body would be OK for me. I'd rather have my ashes spread at the petroglyphs, but interment up here on the mesa in the sun would not be a bad final resting place at all. It pleased me that Mickey has a bighorn sheep's skull placed near his headstone. In fact, nearly everything about this quiet, sunny, slightly breezy place pleased me. I stayed a long time. Peacefully. Contemplative.
Reentry to the ho-hum, ho-hum is highly overrated. By midday Monday, I was harried. Eaten alive by an unappreciative general public. I had to force myself to concentrate from time to time as I wanted to slip back into my daydream about a quiet, warm and peaceful time spent "away". Not "here". There is much more to show and share, but I believe I will do this in chapters. I want to savor it a little longer.
The wind came back last night. It screamed through the "breeze"ways in my community. Perfect name for those channels that amplify the noise as the gale rattles the windows. The blinds in my bedroom rattled all night, despite double paned windows with no known breach. Virginia Woolf trembled as she is terrified of the wind, so I made her a little bed in the bathtub and closed the bathroom door. At 3:00, I got up to walk. The chinook was terrifying. I plunged out into it and walked more miles than many would attempt, but fewer miles than I expect of myself. I have a triggerpoint in the arch of my left foot. I learned I have a little health worry to address and, although I had not felt any symptoms before I was told about it, now I suddenly felt tired and weak. It's in my head, I am sure, but it's bloomed. I became a little depressed, a little whiny. I was glad that I was by myself when I spun on my heel and headed home because I do not feel very good about myself when I am less than intrepid. Today I was a wind wiener. But I will dream of beautiful days to come. And tomorrow will be a better one.
In my ears right now: An old favorite, rediscovered. Terence Trent D'Arby.
Something that charmed me: That little glimpse of gentle spring charmed me. Perhaps it charmed me a little too much, as I'm having trouble dealing with just slight annoyances. One gets crotchety.