Eight Months

As I sit in the darkening kitchen, I watch the wind that leads the storm shake the weeds outside the window.

It is hot, hot, hot – each day, every day – and we need this rain, but it only teases.

And the expansiveness I feel as I wait reminds me of driving across Arizona almost eight months ago. Like then, I am alone. Like then, I listen to quiet music. Like then, I am mostly still, only moving in small increments. Like then, the wind whips in rushes and gusts, very visible and barely audible on the other side of glass.

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I left Tucson, taking my time towards home, shortcutting into the mountains through Clifton and the Morenci Copper Mine as quickly as possible, heading north on AZ-191.

It wasn’t fast at all.

What with construction through the tiny mining town and being routed through a section of the working mine, it took over an hour to go just a few miles. Just when I could see open road through the tight underpass of some giant metal equipment, a gust of wind blasted the sweet smell of fall away through my driver’s side window at the same moment that an acrid wall of  peach-colored dust blew in through the other one. Coughing, sputtering, and wiping grit off my right cheek, I maneuvered through the lattice past the tailings and machinery, tasting freedom mixed with coppery dirt.

It was in hour six after leaving the mine – when my accrued driving time should have meant that I was two hours from home – that I realized my scenic shortcut through the Apache National Forest had gone awry.

The map in my head matched my trusty friend riding shotgun – Rand McNally – so why wasn’t I in Eagar, AZ yet, only a few hours from my cozy trailer? . . . Had the mine tailings I’d breathed rotted my brain? Had they destroyed the many years worth of geographical knowledge I’d built up every time I lovingly pored over maps and atlases, tracing my finger along roads! rivers! canyons! mountains! – learning and imprinting them into my mind? . . .

Either way, I was only halfway along the winding, curving stretch of 191 that needed traveling, the sun dropping with the temperatures to ice another November in the mountains.

I stopped to pee on the side of the road, ducking behind a juniper out of habit. It didn’t matter that in just shy of six hours, I saw only four cars – making the ratio of humans to turkeys 1:5 and the ratio of humans to javelinas 1:2 – I had a modest reputation to retain among all those myriad homo sapiens strangers who might unwisely decide to drive great distances in the growing dusk and wilderness like I had!

Eventually, I topped out in a meadow before heading down hairpin turns as the sun finally set. The golden light breaking through boughs of pines and aspens turned the pines gold and the aspens whiter than the snow trapped in patches on the ground under them.

Driving the final two hours through the thick pitch black up NM-60, 36, 117, I made it home after a deep, grueling, beautiful 12 hours.

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Now as I sit in the complete dark of storm and evening, all that I saw – the cotton fields outside Safford, the rocks and crags towards Clifton, the pinks and oranges of the mine, the heights and trees of the mountains – seem removed and gone, too far from this time and this place.

Eight months ago, in two hours from now, I was walking up the steps, legs and mind both sore and stiff from the length of the drive and time in my own company. Like then, I am tired. Like then, I am thirsty. Like then, I will let the dogs out one last time before I fumble and trip through the dark to my bed.

Be well, and sweet sleep.

- SAWK

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