It is very pleasant to open sleepy eyes to overhead gnarly oak trees above my head. The overcast that has been clinging to these high mountains has melted away. I remember the full moonlight from the night before. A grey moonlight, that I thought might keep me awake, didn’t stand a chance after such an active day on the trail and climbing around through and over the plethora of rock formations. DF lies beside me. I turn my head as she turns hers. Her eyes are peaceful.
The waterfall sound of the creek rushing through the boulders, washing away its channel through the Earth continues on. A few birds call out. A turtle dove, or “tortolita” coos. Nothing wrong here. We stretch.
I’d forgotten the foam mattresses, which keep the air mattresses from sliding, but we agree that we slept well, even though not tight spoons as usual. We’re ready for a wonderful day, a celebration of life, a birthday. The sun is nearly exactly where it was the day that I was born. This old tree is shading us today.
We are thinking about heading back today. We have put off the decision and brought extra food, just in case. We are feeling the effects of our first backpack foray of the year, a groan here and there. The day and circumstance are beautiful. We would have to leave early to make the 4:30 shuttle, or walk another four miles on pavement. We have appointments the following day and would have to get up and away early….
I ask myself, how would I like to spend my birthday? Pushing a timetable, or making the most of now and putting strife aside?
I climb up upon the large black boulder next to the tent. It has been a wind break, when the gusts churn up making their way down the canyon. It has a gentle slope and is the largest flat surface around our camp. I spread out a towel and sarong and begin pulling on stiff muscles. I ultimately find myself cross legged back straight, calm. My eyes are closed, hands resting softly in my lap. Nothing is going on particularly. Just breathing and being natural.
I hear DF’s footsteps and open one eye. She is below with her camera, scouting for shots to capture. I feel a smile coming on. She tells me that she is getting the Buddha on the rock. I see that and begin to chuckle. Already letting go and relaxed, the chuckle lets go into laughter.
This morning is going well.
On With the Day:
We gather up what we need for our outing at Hutch’s Pool, shoes and a hat. I place a sarong under my camera strap for my comfort. DF needs her white shirt to protect from the sun later and does the same with it. We decide to open end our wanderings, by taking snacks for a longer stay.
We had heard voices on the trail earlier. Two females had come and gone. They had met two male voices as they crossed paths near us on the other side of the bushes. We expect company at the pool, but decide that there is no need for clothing. This is Hutch’s pool, we’re miles from most of everything. Odds are nil that anyone would object. It is a Saturday and there will be day hikers. Hutch’s pool is famous as a skinny-dipping spot.
It’s a short walk to the beach. We hear a ka-pah, that sound of a body hitting water in a plunge from a high position. There will be people there already. There is a fork in the trail. One leads past the pool and further into the mountains. This connects with the Wilderness of Rocks and the trail to Romero Pools. I want to see what is beyond the bend.
We take the switchbacks up the side of the grassy slope. We can hear voices below and occasionally see the revelers. They are commenting on lost “Mama.” Soon we are greeted by a middle aged woman, smiling.
“Hi, you must be Mama.”
She wanted to see what is around the next bend, too. She is heading back to her family.
The walk brings us to a lookout point.
I see where the trail goes. It will be uphill and a couple of miles. We look for clues as to what peak we are looking at from the rear face. It would also face Tucson, which is to the south.
To the north, there is another canyon. High above, we see pine trees and Mt. Lemmon. In front of that is jagged rock, the Wilderness of Rock.
That is where the water source for these pools originates. Those are called the Lemmon Pools. I know that there are other swimming holes from satellite images. I look for clues as to how difficult getting to them might be. I begin to form future hikes in my mind. A long downhill walk, leaving a car at Sabino Canyon. Taking a couple of days, stopping at swimming holes along the way. Later….
We return back down the thin grassy trail to the big pool. There, perhaps a dozen people are sitting along the rock surfaces in the shade uphill from the pond. They seem to be a group. One lone woman sits on a rock near us, as we cross the sandbar to the water. I feel somewhat on display as I walk nude with everyone’s attention quietly on us. I have to remember that the focus is on the pool, the activity of the pool. They would be watching us clothed or not.
We strip our belongings and step cautiously into the cool waters. This is snow melt and we have had a cool Spring. It is cold water. I try getting in, getting out and getting back in to acclimate my body. DF just stands there to her thighs.
She tells me that the tradition is to be baptized into the pools. She had done so on her previous trip and swam to the end and back. She turns to get her camera. I remind her to speed up, as I’m cold.
I dip deeper, deciding to continue with each increment. I finally take the plunge to my neck. My breath has been taken. I jokingly let out a high pitched groan. No way that I’m swimming to the other end and back. This is some cold stuff.
I do stay a bit, invigorated. A fit young guy in board shorts is above on the cliff side.
I ask, “Are you the one who jumped?”
He has obvious pride within, “Yes, that was me.”
We have a short pleasant conversation with now two men. Obviously, as anticipated, there is no problem with naked people in the midst.
The sun feels very good when I get out. We gather our belongings and walk by the gallery, minding our own business and then head up the trail that wind’s along the pool cliffs. There was that peaceful spot upstream. Everybody always stays down at the big pool. It is again, a climb down the twelve, or more, foot escarpment.
We bend around tree branches as we step-stone across the flow to the other side and the sheet of bedrock.
Just to Be:
We sit and lunch in the sun on a perfect granite bench. DF has placed ziplock bags of rehydrating refried black beans and spicy humus in the sun on a rock to heat up by solar radiation. We place the results in tortillas. It is filling.
We just sit and look out at our surroundings, the huge egg-like boulders, the way that the stream flows over the bedrock and down a shoot to the pond below.
We stare amazed at the way that the trees defy odds and cling roots to the surfaces filled with water.
If I had a bivy with me, I’d place it right here next to this stream and spend days.
On one of those egg shaped boulders a pair of lizards are courting. He is doing extreme pushups, and she is playing hard to get.
A blue dragonfly and then an orange one cruise by. Soon, by the shoot, the orange one is flying with another. We can’t be sure if they are challenging each other, or courting.
We take our discarded shoes into the fast water and clean the sand from the beach out of the socks and toes. They are then set out to dry in the sun. We realize that we won’t be needing them for a while. There is no reason to leave and nothing pressing here.
I lay flat out on the slab as DF wanders away to the pond below.
She finds herself standing ankle deep in water doing Chi Gung.
I find myself.
I sit and write. I do my hernia exercises dutifully. I place my feet in the cool water rushing by, watch and play with the flow over my feet.
I dampen my body, spreading refreshment over my nakedness, heightening the sensation of the light breeze. I relish the sun.
Hours pass by swiftly. I am told that I have color. I drape the sarong over my shoulders and come to be called teepee man, as I sit. There is a small cairn next to the stream, a few rocks that were collected on the slab. I take my turn to stack the collection. The Zen and patience of balancing passes more time, a simple fascination in the moment.
DF is sprawled out, seemingly melting into the granite.
As I begin to lay down on my back in the sun, under the cover of the sarong, two figures are climbing above us, not far. It is the two backpackers from yesterday. They are the ones who stood in our campsite and asked us where the pool was. We greet them, and pass quick pleasantries. I lay back near to sleep.
At 4pm, we decide to head “home” to celebrate.
We wander naked in the evening air. We are surprised to discover oleander growing by the creek. Not indigenous, it has made it’s way from the city.
Back in Celebration:
The camp needs a fire. I gather wood as DF takes care of the kitchen.
I methodically stack sticks in teepee fashion around a bed of dry leaves and some laundry lint that I have brought from home. I enjoy fire and the acts of preparation. I take pleasure in squatting in a primitive manner and banging my tomahawk into the sticks to shape them into the parameters of the fire pit of rocks.
We gather freshly filtered water from the stream. Reflections and color are lit up by sunbeams through breaks in tree canopy.
We are trying a new twist to our dehydrated concoctions for camping. Before leaving, we took the “S” blade of a food processor to the dried vegetables, producing a powder. Although tasty, many types of the veggies have been rubbery and chewy. Instead of masticating, the reduction of an entire head of cauliflower can be turned into a small baggy of nutrition. Placed into a solution of spaghetti mix, which rehydrates into a tasty soup, it becomes mushy. We can add Parmesan cheese to this, as we care to.
This is working out well. DF quips that she has broken out “the fine china” for the celebration. We are eating out of ultralight styrofoam cups with plastic spoons. Some rice noodles are in the mix. I’m pleased. DF suggests a stick match stuck into a bar of chocolate for a birthday cake. I opt out. My wishes have already come true.
I place one match under the prepped fire and watch with satisfaction as my creation grows to flame.
The sun falls behind the tall mountains. An hour later the sky begins to look like it is setting in the west.
Soon the full moon rises to give more light.
Like the previous evening, the bull frogs begin to croak and chirp. They sound like sheep or goats all around in the canyon with its constant sound of rushing waters.
The air is good for a lack of clothing, but soon enough we are in our sleeping clothes by the fire, watching the burn.
We are awake early as the sun comes over the hillsides to the east. If we are to get to our appointments, we have a schedule and a tram to catch.
We have a blessing that we didn’t anticipate. There is overcast. This will make our push to make time on the trail much more pleasant.
We pack more quickly and efficiently than usual. We take off down the trail at a determined pace. This is different from our usual stopping to look, to smell, to photograph. This is a march and exercise. We stop and continue at an even pace. We encounter only a pair of young people in androgynous cartoonish garb.
Before we know it, we have shaved an hour and fifteen minutes off our time of the two days before. I put the swimming shorts back on and we find ourselves rushing to catch the next waiting tram. We have an extra hour to sit down and eat and then shower, before splitting for our appointments. It’s perfect.