In the past few days, specifically this past Sunday on the leisurely drive home along the Williamson Valley Road with my dearest friend, I had the opportunity to take a very deep breath and shake the cobwebs from my mind. As I meditated on just how fortunate I am, it dawned on me that there was something missing.

The Black Mountains of Arizona.

In the press of daily life, the rush toward pending deadlines, and the grind of making a living it is possible to be quite happy while something truly wonderful, something treasured fades away with little realization. Like a splash of water drawn from an ice crusted creek there was a sudden awareness that this will  be the fourth year without a camping trip, unless of course that I decide to remedy that.
Rest assured, that is now a goal near the top of my “to do” list for this year. After all, camping trips were once an integral part of my life. In fact, there was a time when my life was a camping trip as I lived out of doors for weeks on end.
In time, the touch of frost in the air as I crawled from my bed roll, the smell of wood smoke mingling with that of fresh coffee, the sound of a distant coyote, and an awe inspiring sunrise framed by craggy, multi hued mountains became an addiction of sorts. There was just something about a life lived in tune with the gentle rhythms of the seasons that made the normal world of schedules, of traffic, of electricity, and of life lived with people seem almost abnormal.
“There’s a race of men that don’t fit in, a race that can’t stay still..” was the first line from a poem by Robert Service that became my anthem during those years. See, I have always felt rather comfortable in my own skin and as a result never minded the solitude of empty places. In fact, I grew to prefer it over the solitude of being alone in a crowded room or on a crowded street.
As I immersed myself in a life lived under a canopy of stars with the whispering winds to lull me to sleep, my love for books deepened and through the companionship of a good dog discovered the true meaning of unquestioning friendship. My anemic social skills deteriorated in direct correlation to my growing addiction for the vast wilderness of the southwest but at the time it seemed a small price to pay.
The good Lord never intended for man to live alone as His creation was a blessing to be shared. That concept was not one familiar to me on that beautiful and cold winter morning as I hunkered by my fire as the snow fall steadily through the mist that rose from the Gila Hot Springs. And it wasn’t there on the night I camped along the headwaters of the Mimbres River as meteors streaked across the night sky.

Our capacity to lie to ourselves is only equaled by our capacity to believe them. In all honesty it seemed as though I were the happiest and luckiest man on earth to have a job that allowed me to awake to hummingbirds flitting around my face, share a good dinner with my dog high on a rocky ridge overlooking a vast desert valley, or to take a dip in a small pond lost deep in a colorful canyon of stone.
Of course that was before I met my dearest friend and was blessed with the opportunity to share these wonders with her.
In our first years of marriage money was a scarce commodity but we needed little of that to enjoy what we loved most – a star lit desert sky, the companionship of a good dog, a hint of frost in the air, vast empty places, and the heady aroma of wood smoke and brewing coffee. Times change.
The needs of a family trumped our passion for the empty places but we still found time for sharing the secret places with our son. Then with my 50th birthday, and encouragement from my dearest friend, came the sense of urgency to make my dream of being a writer when I grow up a reality. This and the need to make a living trumped the hunger for starlit skies and frosty mountain mornings.
Well, the time has come for just a bit of priority rearrangement. So, you can bet your bottom nickel that this summer we will again savor a starlit sky as dinner simmers over an open fire, a sunrise shared only with the coyote, fox, and deer, and the awe inspiring wonder of a sunset that transforms the sky with brilliant colors and the harsh landscapes with darkening shadows.

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