One Night in a Cave

DSC_0048
Goldfield Mountains, A. Sato

This was the first time I had backpacked in years, and I could feel it. These muscles haven’t been in use in some time and, while I consider myself to be a decent hiker with good stamina, one mile with 30 pounds strapped to my back felt like ten. It didn’t help much since I had been impatient and packed quickly, and, of course, hauled in the water I would need for the night. I felt terribly inept, but stubborn enough to press on.

The cave wasn’t too far from the truck, maybe a mile or so. Besides, I had included my day pack for canyon exploration and would have time to trek around the side washes and rock outcrops I have come to know. The Goldfields are surprisingly isolated for being so close to the city and adjacent to the popular western Superstitions.

DSC_0007
Still Life, A. Sato

I am a wilderness snob, preferring wilderness to actually be wilderness. The western Supes feel much like the National Park atrocity of eager hikers waiting to break in their REI accoutrements and the endless number of Subarus and souped up jeeps in the parking lots. In a way, I kind of prefer the miners and ranchers. It’s sad to know that wilderness areas must be regulated now. Great efforts to keep their wilderness criteria intact is all but lacking. I have a feeling we’ll see ticket purchases and cotton candy at the gates soon.

Enough of my curmudgeon speculations…I am here and the sun is a strange orb of orange behind a microwavey cloud. This light makes it feel hotter than the 82 degrees, but I press on down the wash, careful to not tumble over with this damned pack. Lizards dart across hilltops and rest their one-two, one-two positions on hot rocks. A single red-tailed hawk floats overhead and behind Blue Ridge. A lone ATV sits parked in the wash. This, unlike the Superstition Wilderness, is strictly public land and there are numerous old jeep trails and abandoned mines all around. I’ve found that the OHV riders tend to stick to the popular roads and ignore much of the rest of the range.

DSC_0029
Mesquites, A. Sato

The Goldfields span from Usery Pass to the west to the Apache Trail to the east, north to Canyon Lake and south to the city of Apache Junction. To traverse the Goldfields, it’s approximately 14 miles in distance, east to west, which you can hike in a full day if you’re motivated to do so. I prefer to take my time here.

Winds and rain have swept out great crevices in the rhyolite and conglomerate along the canyon walls. The walls also contain polished chalcedony that shines in the right light, making an ordinary sandy wash quite lovely. Once into the canyon, the only noise you can hear is the jets going over. It is quiet in terms of man-made noise, but the ever-present songbirds and occasional raptor give way to another music.

Here, I am most content. The mindless chatter of my own thoughts dissipates and I settle in to noticing everything around me: small traces of a snake’s journey, the patterns of a thistle plant in full bloom, the intricacy of ironwood roots. I could get lost in reverie here, but know that this is not my place. It has its own hardships.

DSC_0001.JPG
Home for the Night

The desire to live outdoors is often fairytale. Realistically, after a few nights sleeping on rock, I am all too happy to return to my cozy bed. The voyeur in me is short-lived and the romance of the simple, off grid life is too often laced in self-deception. We are animals used to dependency, and rightly so. We need each other and the help that a community provides against our ego bravado that says otherwise. We die on our own. Sometimes horrible deaths. And being simple isn’t going to change the course of this civilization’s rush to destruction. It’s illusory, at best.

I lean down to inspect a piece of rusted pipe from former gold mining efforts. They must have pumped water down the wash for their operations. I suppose you could learn more about the short boom here at that little tourist town, Goldfields, along the Apache Trail. You know I won’t go.

DSC_0037

The sun is starting to set so I make my way back to the cave. It’s not really a cave, in all respects, but an overhang with a considerable amount of room in its three distinct caverns. I choose the one that is most exposed because it is dry and because I can actually see the floor. Of course, I will be sleeping amid mouse turds and guano, but it appears dry and I have my ground cloth. I chose the lightest pad and can feel the stone beneath me as I crouch down to make my dinner. The evening wind picks up and I feel chilled and grab my flannel. Heating up my soup, I hear the low murmur of an owl and see antelope squirrels emerge and run alongside the cliffs above me. They use the small holes in the rock as refuge during the day and are now out comically inching along the vertical steppes. I wish I was so agile and swift.

I had  plans to write tonight, but pick up a well worn copy of Plants of the Sonoran Desert field guide instead. I settle in as the wind picks up and moves around the contours of the cave. The thermals bring warmth from the sun-touched stones below. Could I live here? It seems like a viable option. I have little money and no plans, which is a combination that can lead to great adventure, or a deeper level of despair.

DSC_0019

I once gambled my life on bottles of whiskey and beer. A life that seemed well spent at the time, but now that I have emerged from that…I am chagrined to accept that I like a hot shower and a nice bed.

The night is a calm force. The bats resonate as they come into the cave and back out, devouring mosquitoes. I hear the soft hoof-steps of deer.

Oh, and crickets.

What do I know of sleeping in caves? It’s an easy venture when you know a truck awaits. I can dream of danger. Danger like a whisper, a concept I am not afraid of. In a few hours, after restless sleep, I will boil my coffee and head out. A night of quiet solitude, I can say, is as soothing as the touch of a lover, and just as fleeting.

DSC_0058
The author’s feet

If you enjoy my writing, please consider donating to my One Wild & Precious Life Campaign. Thank you. ❤

 

Ghosts in the Camera and Lion Caves

DSC_0167
I wanted to show you photos and videos of today’s exploratory journey into the Goldfield Mountains – and specifically to Sunrise Arch. Alas, I came home and attempted to transfer my images off of the photo card to have something curious occur. They were wiped. Nada.

After having a small cry fit, I will tell you about my amazing morning in the rough-riding reaches of miner’s country.
****
I got to the Bulldog Canyon OHV Trailhead about 7am, and meandered down the forest road, past RVers enjoying their primitive sites and fresh cups of coffee (or, in some cases, beer).

It was a brisk 52 degrees but sunny, and the flowers started to pop every which way, bejeweling the hills with the brightest golds and amethysts. It was quiet, without any ATVs along the way. I knew they’d be coming later that morning, but it was still too early for all of that nonsense. Gambel’s quails darted to and from palo verdes and five hungry coyotes were out on the prowl, looking for the cottontails who were also out in droves.

Spring in the desert is a good time for all. The cactus wrens warbled their songs and the distinct metallic chirps of thrashers resounded. Can there possibly be anything more welcoming than birdsong?

I was on my way to Dome Mountain, which appears in the distance from every direction. I wasn’t quite sure what to expect, since I didn’t have a topo or my phone, and was relying heavily on memory of the maps I perused before leaving. One thing about the Goldfield Range is that it is hospitable for anyone who has the basics of navigating by compass and landmarks.

Overall, my recollection was pretty good, so I didn’t bother much with old mining roads or the few trails. Instead, I decided to wing-it. I had been walking for a few miles when I noticed some cairns off to a wash and along the side of a hill. To my surprise, it led to Sunrise Arch. A window to the world, or rather Saguaro Lake and the distant Mazatzals.

There were so many wildflowers…lupine, scorpionweed, blue dicks, poppies, woollystar, clover, salvia, various asters, and AYDLFs (another yellow daisy-like flower). I scrambled up to the peak above the arch and pirouetted around the 360 degree view of the Goldfields. I think I sang some Eagles while I was up there, and probably offended the local rodents. Why is it I get Eagles songs stuck in my head while hiking? I need a new soundtrack.

From there, I dropped down from the Arch and through a wash with deep pools of water from recent rains. Loads of flies, honeybees, dragonflies, and butterflies of all varieties floated alongside me as I hiked into a deeper cavern of polished rhyolite. That’s when I spied a possible cave in an adjoining canyon, hidden behind the ghost of a former stately saguaro.

Oooo, a cave. Should I explore? Of course!

The blasted out tuff formed an overhang, which was larger than I thought. Bat guano and owl pellets lined the floor and to the side, a bigger, deeper cave with a bed of dirt and debris that was obviously well used… Yes, home to a mountain lion (or two), its entrance covered in lion scat, some old and others disconcertingly recent. From another ledge under the cave, I sat and had my lunch and pondered lions, who also must look across the valley below the Orohai.

I thought to myself, “I am so lucky to have found this place, to be alive, eating peanut butter sandwiches while looking at mountain lion scat!” Really, this is my heaven.

The way back to the car was long and rocky. I found Deer Creek Tank, the result of efforts to encourage desert bighorn to stick around. No sightings of these much adored creatures, but I always look for them when I gaze up at the ridges and spires. I suspect they ventured into the Superstitions, displeased with all of the OHV use that cuts through this range. I would love for the Forest Service to shut down the off-roading access and leave it to hikers and horses. It’s such a special place, full of history, prehistoric and historic, and offers an array of geologic features and desert flora. ❤

On the way back, a kindly old man on an ATV made sure this Little Missy knew where I was and had enough water. He was a chagrined that I had been off trail and had a good knowledge of the layout after looking long and hard at topographic maps each night. Still, kindness goes a long way, and I was happy to chat with him about our mutual adventures.

What a day! What a life. There is nothing better than a spring day in the desert, complete with scat, tracks, and a whole lot of flowers. Too bad about the lost images, but at least I have all of the memories, and it just gives me more reason to go back and explore!

Happy tails and trails.

xo
Aleah

 

If you enjoy my writing, please consider donating to my One Wild & Precious Life Campaign. Thank you. ❤

 

New Poem: When I Start My Beginning with Water

When I Start My Beginning with Water

I dove but I cannot surface

I stay with the sea’s pull

though my mother’s face appears

between the glass of tourmaline

I know the earth is red agony

I want to be spared

So, I leave deeper, deeper

until the ache of the sea dissolves me

Keeping laughter in the depths

sorrow surfaces

No man brings his anchored goods

words that tear at my sister’s face

I want her to have this

wordless freedom of waves

The singing is my companion

but not my commitment

The wonder, not possession

just curiosity

Mother, if I could give you

this innocence, would you dive back

to the beginning, where we are set loose

into the sea, the call of our true names

The Anger that Consumes Me

Khairzul
Painting by Khairzul

To be mad as a hornet. To be at the boiling point. Hot. Seeing red. Anger is so poetically expressed that it is a gut-punch to see and feel it. It can burn with the hottest lava and remain for days among tumbled embers.

They say that anger is actually fear. It’s suppressed fear over something, at some level, that manifests as anger. Usually it triggers our feelings of lack of control. It disrupts our security. There is always a perceived threat that lies beneath the surface of anger’s object.

I woke up yesterday to its small flames under my pillow. This little flickering friend likes to ignite Angereach day. Sometimes it waits patiently for midday; other times, when it is especially cruel, just as I am about to sleep. It’s there, and I don’t like its presence.

I have tried to rival it with logic.
Love has tried its best to hold the anger, tight as a fist wrapped in metal.
God has been asked to enter in and sweep it out onto the street.

It remains.

Yes, I have asked my friends how to expel it. There good words of wisdom, I have tried, but it remains.

Now, I walk with it uncomfortably.

Each day I start my practice. I get out my list. I name the pain, the fear, how it still hurts. I call it into being and I give it my own name, my part. I hurt myself in the absence of the offender.

It’s an old wound, this anger.

Like a friend, I must ask its true name. What is it I need to face? If it is something to be changed, I ask for the willingness to change. If it is something that is outside of my control, I ask for the ability to let go.

It’s practice. Anything hard takes practice and a simplicity of repeating steps. I’m not sure when the anger will be lifted. It will, though, eventually. It reminds me that pain, like pleasure, is fleeting. But when the pain is self-made, the first realization must be one of choice. Do I let loose this small dragon, or do I continue to stroke it?

Today I am choosing to let it loose. I always have the option to pick it up tomorrow. For my serenity and recovery, I hope not.

***

If you enjoy my writing, please consider donating to my One Wild & Precious Life Campaign. Thank you. ❤

https://www.gofundme.com/f/one-wild-amp-precious-life-seed-money

Familiar Landscapes

DSC_0069

“We are a landscape of all we have seen.”
– Isamu Noguchi

There are particular landscapes that stand out in the recesses of memory. Driving down the I17 for the first time and seeing the Sonoran desert come into view…the saguaros, the palo verdes, and brittlebush, and realizing I would live there some day. The wide fields and hollows of soybeans, horses, and oaks are the places of my youth. The steep granite cliffs lining river gorges and pine bring to mind my days in the north woods. And now, I walk among volcanic rock, crumbling welded tuff and ash, a blaze of sunlight lining the cliffs at first light.

DSC_0208

Place is the indicator of safety, and that familiarity of place soothes the fearful animal.

I’ve always felt the flora and geology to be family, places I could gather and listen to ancient stories about how to live in a manner this culture contradicts. To this day, I take my knowledge from the elder trees and the mentor species. There is never a moment I feel isolated from being a part of, because I am so intricately a part of them.

DSC_0007.JPG

Friends, too, share this passion for landscape. Their backyards consist not just of green grass to mow or a small garden plot to tend but the unruly weeds and beetles. Many have the privilege of living in a wilder terrain where they can hike at will and never see the same path. Fellow explorers spend their time wandering the Southwest, uncovering their unknown history, writing up bones of forgotten days.

DSC_0187

When I walk a new landscape, I prefer to walk it alone. Like meeting a new friend, I must respect this space and listen intently. The phainopepla reminds me to honor the new day. A quick “qui-qui” shout from a familiar friend, the thrasher, tells me to watch my footing. It’s nearing spring, and after heavy rains the wildflowers abound – the most obvious call to renew, readjust, and most importantly, stop being so serious.

The most meaningful lesson is that the earth is not here to provide lessons, or to owe me a thing. It is not an object of worship, a peak to “bag”, my mother, or my playground.

IMG_5695

While I may glean from place deep lessons and gifts, it is my duty to know my place as an animal among animals, and to live life as not to disrupt this reality. I am called to be a fierce daughter of one loyalty. It is to the saguaro I bow, the lion, the rock, the soil. I am called to be a protector of place, when called, but not the instigator of outcome.

To know one’s place in the most meaningful sense is to be humble. My nameless journey, I am here to serve.

 

***

If you like my writing + photography, please consider making a donation. ❤

***

Total Fail…But With Fancy Socks

DSC_0164
Recently I came face to face with failure. It didn’t seem like such a big deal because it had to do with a hike. I have headed back on a trail without finishing before, but this was something I was determined to accomplish…and didn’t.

On Saturday I set out to hike Picketpost Mtn on the Tonto National Forest, close to Superior, AZ. Those who are familiar with this hike know that it is a hard one, mostly because you have to rock scramble on loose, crumbly rock and steep terrain. I was woefully unprepared.

Loaded up with water, my camera, lenses, and lacking the right shoes to keep a grip on the boulders, I set out on the trail. I’m used to quick elevation climbs at this point, so the gain wasn’t causing me any issues. I thought, this must be why so many people turn back, because of the steep climb. Who knew? As I climbed, the views became more dramatic and expansive. The weather swirled in the distance and the wind swept the desert scrub and tiny wildflowers.

I stopped at several key points to take some photos and realized that I had too much weight on my pack to be balanced. I had to be especially careful not to slip and to move my weight from back to front, as not to pull myself backwards.

DSC_0171.JPG

Why did I want to do this hike on an impulse? I knew that it was a challenge and I have known a few of my friends to do it, but it was much more than that.

I wanted to set out to find some reserve within myself to make me feel good enough again.

Again? Have I ever?

There are times in my life that I have felt on top of the game – what game – the game of feeling better than or at least equal to. Mostly, I have always felt like I never measured up and related to anyone, like I missed the instructions that allow me to finish things with confidence and success as I saw my peers do.

I’m what you might call a Jill of All Trades. I am just okay enough to do many things, but never that superstar that gets kudos. As I get older, I don’t get the attention I used to get from men, and the women I know are so wrapped up in trying to work and raise kids, few of us can do that bonding to help bolster each other up.

We all struggle with feeling like we’re lacking something. The hole of the soul we might fill with the thrill of the chase, alcohol or drugs, a winning streak, that final triumph of a pursuit that goes well. Now that I am sober, who or what can fill that eternal void of the restless soul? What can define me?

These are the questions of an unprepared woman looking for answers.

DSC_0174.JPG

On the nasty precipice of that mountain, I had a fast fall when my footing gave way to loose rock.

I slid down quickly.

It all happened and I had NO control. Gravity did her job.

My blessing was a strong Manzanita tree who cradled me, cut and bruised, but still intact. I was able to gather my wits and crab-crawl my way to a safer bench.

You would think I would have thrown in the towel after that, but no. I climbed and tripped, cried and inched my way up and away into the setting clouds until I could no longer take it. I was hurting and scared. The storm was coming in and dark would soon be upon me, and there was no way I wanted to navigate that mountain in the darkness.

I came back down to the ground without completing the climb.

I am still disappointed, but I realized some lessons through all of this.

  1. Failing means you actually are doing something that challenges you. I am willing to take a risk.
  2. Stubborn pride and unrelenting ego are formidable foes. Being humble is being teachable.
  3. My worth is only defined by me. What you think of me is none of my business, nor should it be.
  4. If I act as if I am someone who is already whole, I am. What a paradox! Thinking about the ways I am not *there yet* only result in mental gymnastics. My actions change my thoughts.
  5. If it isn’t required and doesn’t bring me joy, don’t do it. Life is full of necessary pains, so why add to it? Have some fun.

And, on that note, I bought myself some fun socks:

DSC_0150.JPG

 

 

 

White Canyon Wilderness Wander

DSC_0147
Canyon Mouth, A. Sato

I spent a lazy Sunday wandering through White Canyon Wilderness, a hidden heaven not too far from Phoenix. No goal. No fitness hike. Just a lot of puffy clouds, silence, and the chance to soak in another beautiful view.

DSC_0115.JPG
White Cliffs, A. Sato

The best part of slowing down is taking the time to notice what you don’t when you are keeping pace on a long hike.

DSC_0082
A. Sato

Small flowers, delicate blades of native grass, unusual markings etched among rock, moss, and lichen, a hidden petroglyph…these are the findings that can only emerge into vision in idleness.

DSC_0131

I am taking the time to find God in small things. Her beauty is in the intricacies and eloquence of the understated and unnoticed.

 

 

***

If you like my writing + photography, please consider making a donation. ❤

***

Last Worthless Evening that I’ll Ever Spend (with apologies to Don Henley)

1200px-Crying-girl

I find myself sitting on my bed today ugly-crying while listening to a Don Henley tune. You know things are bad when you pull out every loser song you can think of to drown your sorrows in the finest pop of the 1980/90s.

Broken hearts. They suck, don’t they?

My expectations got a little grand over something that wasn’t real. It probably never was real, but being a fanciful creative, I thought it was. This is why magic can get in the way. I was talking to my dogs about what a great life they have not having to worry about crushes and broken hearts, confusion and angsty lust. They seem to be so contented, why would they bother to delve into the disgusting world of modern romance? Why do I continue to do it!

It’s ok, I say to myself. Everyone gets hurt from time to time, and what was I thinking? It’s ok, I say, but it is not. Being in the first year of recovery, my heart is an open wound. “Don’t go there,” wise women warned. But I did. I lost face.

This is not the morose post I intended it to be, because I still find some humor in my circumstances. At 45, I should know that wishing muddy water would become clear by wading in it just won’t work. Still, we wish. I wish.

I think there is humor in pain and wisdom in wading. Instead of crying, I compiled a sweet list for lonely hearts on what to do when your heart is broken. Here’s to us! xx

50 Things to Do When Your Heart Is Broken

  1. Listen to Don Henley songs.
  2. Dress like Ozzy and say it’s your new look.
  3. Send him/her queen size panty hose, an emu, double-headed dong, rank cheese, or whatever you fancy – it’s the thought that counts.
  4. Practice slipping on banana peels so you can do it authentically.
  5. Compose a limerick.
  6. Get distracted.
  7. Find a hobby, like Irish dancing or ghost busting.
  8. Become obsessed with Fran Drescher.
  9. Make your own pasta.
  10. Get fat.
  11. Yodel.
  12. Know that this too shall pass (like stool).
  13. Try on bathing suits (that hurts worse than the broken heart).
  14. Grow your armpit hair.
  15. Flirt with everyone. (That 79 year old mailman is looking less decrepit these days.)
  16. Go to the movies alone.
  17. Make a collage of hateful thoughts.
  18. Listen to your mother.
  19. Grow weeds.
  20. Laugh at inappropriate moments.
  21. Get to know your home town.
  22. Put lipstick on a pig.
  23. Go gay, or a little gay, or straight, or just be gay. It’s all good.
  24. Get new underwear.
  25. Use 80s slang in the office.
  26. Adopt a shelter dog (just do that anyway).
  27. Volunteer (stop thinking about that asshole and volunteer).
  28. Reenact Casablanca with puppets.
  29. Fart more.
  30. Tell everyone he or she is dead to you, then wear black to every gathering.
  31. Get more sun. Energy vampires probably don’t like the sun either.
  32. Do that thing you always wanted to do, but were too scared to do it.
  33. Don’t drown your sorrows…dry them, like beef jerky.
  34. Lend a listening ear.
  35. Be the sexy mofo you are.
  36. Rebound.
  37. Laugh again.
  38. Change a habit.
  39. Be grateful.
  40. Make a list of why you are a great catch. Believe it.
  41. Get your heart broken again.
  42. Pan for gold.
  43. Collect aluminum.
  44. Take lots of bubble baths (water is cathartic).
  45. Stick with your friends.
  46. Pump iron.
  47. Focus on creativity, whatever it is for you.
  48. Make a mixed tape of empowering songs.
  49. Buy yourself some toys (you know, wink*wink).
  50. Love more, not less. Because you will get way over this, sweetie. You will.

 

❤ xo from the lonely-hearted Aleah

New Poem: In Hindsight

DSC_0059

In Hindsight

Where you go,
the language of never
plunges into dust.

Beneath the sun,
a blind man’s eye,
we gather up words.

I expect miracles,
but the river runs backwards –
the coyote inhales its long song.

Who walks like this
for so long the veins
dry up into forgotten wells?

The bones bleach beneath skin
and the bored moon yawns
a miserable sigh.

Who you are –
the thorns that I must walk through,
a mirage, a tiny truth.

You said it was a hawk
that passed so close to us
that day.

But I know the truth
of those hours
and what we had to find.

When decay lingers,
it is stark but honest.
A beak drops its stone.

My fingers are skinned
from digging down to you.
Now I stop.

What we saw that day –
different between us –
a vulture, a hawk.

***

If you enjoy my writing, please consider donating to my One Wild & Precious Life Campaign. Thank you. ❤

https://www.gofundme.com/f/one-wild-amp-precious-life-seed-money

Shattered and Joyful

img_20190114_082815

The woman I was four months ago was close to death. From her bed, she watched days pass, nights eclipse through the shadows. I see her now as I would watch someone moving down a long hall. Her contorted face forms a silent howl.

She comes to me when I hear a song, or remember a moment lost in a blackout. When someone reaches out for help from the grip of despair, I know that grip that constricts everything.

Being new again, to life, is more difficult that I can convey. Light and sound pierce me, like I was rescued from a mine shaft after spending days in darkness. Life itself seems too loud and too close, but I am learning to live with the fullness of it.

As a sober woman, I look at the past as shattered glass – and the fragments do not have to be my weapon. Each one holds a precious mirror of what moments are like if I choose to return to them. Instead, I hold them gently and whisper that something else is being pieced together.

I live my life by hours. Hours are easy. Each one is as full as I can make it, and made fuller when I hold my dog, or watch the Cooper’s hawks at the park, or talk to friends. The road to recovery is hard, but it is full of unexpected joys, small moments where I can actually be present and alive.

Not everyone gets to experience a complete breath without pain.

To be free from pain; that’s a type of happiness.

I want to return to the woman in that long hall and hold her until the howling stops. But for now, I live my hours and nurture them.

********

If you appreciate my writing, please consider a gift to help me achieve my dream. ❤

https://www.gofundme.com/one-wild-amp-precious-life-seed-money?utm_source=internal&utm_medium=email&utm_content=campaign_link_t&utm_campaign=welcome&fbclid=IwAR33keGEDJOJDqJP5J0BznoYiaO5YYx2Yw9YyrUoWB-EFxYRHivLSpZlMw8