Fifteen years ago I discovered my most beautiful canyon in the world. I hope you have your own version! There’s a photograph upstairs at my folk’s house taken on my first visit; I am standing in the ford of the wee Tularosa river with Ranger, my orange and white Aussie dog with whom I was traveling at the time in a 24′ Winnebago. It’s scary sometimes going back to a place that I have loved deeply because nouns do change with time and so often things have gotten developed or shut down or otherwise messed up (by my standards) and 15 years is a long time! AND Gryph was coming for a visit, the ponies were in dire need of a rest and I didn’t have a plan B – nothing like a little pressure!
The canyon didn’t disappoint – if anything it was Better than my memories and dreams. The plan had been 5 days and then Gryph would return to Boulder and the ponies and I would return to the trail. Well – Gryph made it back to Boulder safely, but Finehorn sprained her pastern on the way out that day – and the best plan I had was a trailer ride back to the Canyon where we were in a good situation to rest for a bit while she healed. So, I’ve been blessed with 15 days in my earthly paradise – swinging between euphoria and stress!
How to describe the beauty of “my” canyon? The peace and grace and sense of safety in that haven – waking up at dawn to the sound of Jesse James whickering from his tether – going to him and slipping off his halter – Finehorn coming to say good morning and get her face itched before the two of them canter happily off to their “day pasture” where they range free, content with the creek and the graze and the creatures sharing the world. Evenings when I walk a half mile to retrieve them; one time passing 3 elk mamas with their fawns, one still wearing its baby spots. Another dusk there was a bobcat hunting at the edge of the field caught my eye, or the ringtail cat who frequents one of the 5 gigantic cottonwoods that have conquered time and floods and grown unique and majestic.
The amazement as the “purple explosion flowers” suddenly shot up, many growing as tall as I (sometimes I feel that very few things other than trees and buildings are as tall as I am) and started to sprout beans! The soft random blooming of the velvety mullein. The bull snakes and beetles and butterflies – and looking up from my hammock one afternoon to see a peccary on the “lawn” across the creek. The sound of the creek in the night as I sleep in my hammock, slung between two juniper trees with their identical foliage and very different barks. The part of “in love” that’s like loving Ice Cream (which doesn’t do a whole bunch for the ice cream) and the part that has to do with paying minute and specific attention to the beloved – be it human or horse or meadow – and the territorial and protective feelings that come with that. “MY Canyon!”
It’s a 2 1/2 mile hike up to the ridge where the cell ‘phone starts to function. Even in paradise there’s pragma that needs to be dealt with - at the very least the occasional call out to my sister to let her know that I’m not dead yet so nobody calls the rangers in to search for me. One afternoon as I was walking back down it started to Pour – cold rain and intense wind and I’d been sick in my guts the day before and wasn’t feeling my strongest best. A pick-up truck heading the other direction stopped and offered me a ride. Grateful, I got in the back seat with two boys and a pit bull. Riding back down the canyon one of the boys opened his hand to show me the rattle from the 8 year old snake they’d just killed – and I just felt so shocked! I hadn’t seen any rattlesnakes during the previous two weeks and it just seemed like such a betrayal somehow. Here are humans coming into the snake’s territory and killing it simply for existing on “their” planet. What to even say? So I thanked them for the ride and for the gatorade and water and crawled back into my tent to get dry and warm and wait out the storm.
Day by day as my food supplies dwindled the ponies got rounder and Finehorn got sounder. The battery ran out on my Steripen water purifier and I was having trouble with the solar recharger box so I started to boil my drinking and cooking water. I was almost out of denatured alcohol for my cook stove so had even more reason to be grateful that the fire ban had been lifted. The handle of my cookpot burned off, not being designed for use in a campfire. The yellow bandana melted when I used it as a pot holder - revealing its true nature as a petroleum product. There was plenty of drift wood left behind by last year’s floods and I went through my belongings again, finding more things I can live without (reducing Finehorn’s load) and burning paper that had outlived its usefulness.
Yesterday it was time to find out if Finehorn was as fit and hale and hearty as she was pretending to be. I woke up early and turned them loose to graze. I took my time over mocha and porridge, breaking camp and loading the packs. I fetched the ponies and curried off the mud. They seemed happy and ready to travel. We surprised a big rattler a few miles up the canyon. He warned us that we were a little close and we backed off and went around – no harm, no foul (tho we were all a bit more vividly awake for a while!) We sheltered under a juniper when a 10 minute rain storm blew through and Mr.James found plenty of his favorite prickly trail snack. We made it the 11 miles out to Cruzville in 4 1/2 hours and landed in a safe and welcoming haven, 8 hooves strong!
The water situation for over 200 miles ahead is pretty bleak. I’ve been talking to people, trying to sort a route north or east and not coming up with anything that’s viable without some form of vehicular support. The current plan is to catch a ride (sans ponies) 100+ miles down to Silver City tomorrow to pick up denatured alcohol for the camp stove and some Steripen batteries. Wednesday is a bit up in the air, and then on Thursday we’re most likely taking a trailer ride up through Quemado to pick up some mail and then on to San Ysidro. I am torn about the trailering. Obviously it’s not the first time. I’m not a purist and there are times that the health and safety of the herd takes priority over idealistic visions of the Journey. Finehorn did really well on the 11 mile trek yesterday. Does that mean she’s ready for a 24 mile stretch between water holes on Thursday? Frankly, I don’t want to risk that if there’s an alternative. By my readings of the maps, from San Ysidro we should be able to do shorter days for awhile until she’s solid again. The water situation looks a bit more viable up in that area and from all accounts it’s beautiful. My lovely canyon is unconcerned – she knows the landscapes of my dreams.