Christmas in our home was a time of blessing and refreshing in spite of the tragedies that have haunted our family this past few weeks. Grandchildren and children, family and friends from faraway, laughter and good food, made it a celebration of life as it should be.

Kingman from the Cerbat Mountains

Still, what I needed was the restoration, the deep refreshing of the soul that is at the heart of the Christmas story. To that end my dearest friend suggested a long, quiet walk deep into the Cerbat Mountains on Sunday morning.
So, with a lunch of sandwiches, oranges, rum bread, and the trusty Olympus camera in tow, we set out in the early morning chill for the canyons that shelter the fragile remnants of the town of Stockton Hill and the mining boom that spwaned it. As we drove along the flank of the mountains crowned with clouds that promised rain or snow, they appeared deceptively nondescript under winter skies of pewter.
The morning chill was invigorating and the breeze light as we began our climb into the mountains on a long abandoned mining road. Surrounded by some of God’s finest handiwork and the quiet, loving strength of my dear friend it seemed as though a heavy weight was being removed from my shoulders with every step.

Cattle in the Cerbat Mountains

We had the mountains to ourselves until we neared the summit. Here, sheltered amongst the juniper and cedar on the rocky slopes, a well fed herd of cattle watched us pass with a wary eye.
Soon, we discovered the reason for the cattle’s nervousness in the form of large, fresh cat tracks in the sandy crossings. My hopes of seeing deer were dimmed with this discovery.
My dearest friend positively glowed with the exertion, the early morning chill, and the simple joy of sharing such a beautiful morning with me. It is at times like this, as I watched her face reflect the sun that broke through the clouds to highlight our picnic spot, that the realization of just how blessed I am overwhelms me.
With laughter we shared our lunch as the clouds cast dancing shadows over the cedar studded valley and rock strewn slopes that sheltered it. For the first time in a month I felt whole and complete again. It was as though I had drank from the Fountain of Youth for these were the pleasures we shared so many years ago when we first made the decision to face the challenges of life together.
Now, it is Monday morning, and the running of the gauntlet begins anew. There are the memories of mother and my sister that fight for dominance over thoughts of work, of bills to pay, of skin cancer, of the encyclopedia, of photography assignments, and of friends that have also suffered loss these past few weeks.
Overshadowing them all is the memories of yesterday and the thanksgiving that comes with the realization I have been blessed with a very rare gift, a true and dear friend to soften the bumps and bruises of life.