Most of you may realize that about two years ago, I moved back into Tucson proper from my desert home in the Tortolita Mountains. Today, DF and I went back for a visit and to hike into the mountains. We’re hoping that it will feel fresh for us.
It is mid- February, so the desert is just coming out of winter. However, thanks to climate change, today the higher 70F’s have hit with an absolutely cloudless sky. It is a perfect day in Tortoltila.
Our positive revelry soon takes a concerning turn. Back twenty years ago, when a shady development business began to appropriate and cut the neighborhood off from its traditional rights to trails into the rest of the mountains, a forty thousand dollar check was produced for the county to be used to secure a trailhead and easement. I still have a picture of that check.
Today, as we head up the road toward where the trailhead is supposed to be, an electronic gate is blocking our way. We will have to go to my former next door neighbor’s house and walk an extra mile, with clothing on, to get to the trailhead.
A phone call to the dear friends informs that they are in Phoenix getting her brother back home from an operation. No problem though, we are told that we can park out front.
As I step out of the truck, I feel a sense of anger. There was more than memories of a peaceful sense of paradise left here. I look to the neighbor to the south and remember all of the rude actions and including the betrayal of trust concerning our right to our nudity and privacy. Up on a hill, another neighbor’s dishonesty about water rights had cost me tens of thousands. I thought these issues were dead in me, but they were apparently just out of mind. Brought face to face, so to speak, I feel a damper on the homecoming.
I slip on a kilt and DF her sundress. Our pack with water is loaded up and we take off marching.
DF is out for a more casual pace, until I explain my uncomfortable feelings and my hope to drop them off in the cleansing hills of the natural desert. Over the years, many times of difficulty have been dropped off in those mountains.
Already, I am catching the wonderful silence, as we walk off up the road. My new city home has all of the noises of modern man. A good brisk walk can also help work discomfort out of a system. I’ll have to come to better terms about those old issues.
On up the road, there is a more welcoming jaunt through a piece of desert, where obviously neighbors walk and ride horses into the hills behind the new gate. There is some justice in that and obviously the gate builders are not being complete jerks.
Further up the road, we make our way past the gate put up by the thieves of Saguaro Ranch Estates. This onstruction has now been there for years.
The old road behind it is still climbing into the mountain range, but obviously, it has been seeing little use. It is nothing like my days when living here. There are no marks from vehicles, or bikes and just a few footprints. That is encouraging a sense of security and I notice a disrobed DF climbing behind me. She is pointing to the ridge across the way, across where the planned trailhead would have been below us.
She has wide eyes, “Look, there’s a crested!”
I have been up this hillside countless times before and never seen this crested saguaro. There it is, with its fan tail in shadow atop the towering green stalk.
I’m astonished, “How could I miss that all of these years?”
DF speculates, “You have probably been looking down at your footing.”
It is slippery and through the years, I have had my feet slide out from under me along this stretch, on more than one occasion.
Here I am, naked, immersed in the silence, fresh air and feeling some sense of escape. It all blends to sooth the edge of unprocessed anger. Walking up into these hills is like a journey into a land of freedom and magic.
We scan the valley below. The home that I built is nearly invisible. It doesn’t disturb the desert continuity. I feel good about my sensitivity and past respect of this place. I had done the right thing here.
There are however, next to the cozy strawbale home and its lush desert plot, new markings. I had received a distressed phone call from my ex-next-door neighbor and defender of Tortolita, a year ago. Someone had bladed the ridge north of my old home and Havarock is there with my beloved stealth trail.
Perhaps, I will have the stomach to inspect the destruction later. For now, we have the peace of the desert gift to immerse into, with its magical disarming charm.
I’m surprised how little traveled the road is. When we turn off of it and up the wash, it is overgrown and only two sets of footprints are seen. “It hasn’t rained in quite a while, there should be more visitors!” While this means solitude, I wonder, “Where is everybody?” “Why is this not being enjoyed, loved and protected by the locals, anymore?”
As we make our way over uneven channels of bedrock made smooth through millennia of infrequent rains, I realize that I have not trekked here for more than two years. I am significantly less familiar with the landmarks, the curves and the footings.
Upstream, we are stunned to find moister in the sand and even more, when a small puddle of water appears. A number of small tracks are leading to and from it. Javalina have been here.
I think back to my concerns of the pack of javelin (pronounced have-alina) that I became so familiar with. Me, I was the naked being, standing with hands up, shinning the calming energy. I would sit quietly with them on the boulder that I called Havarock, or Javarock. Could this be the tracks of that group?
I know that the construction of that road had disturbed the group of hairy peccary. A friend had placed a picture of one of the tribe on Facebook, after having shot it, a couple of miles away from Havarock. Its pelt now hangs on his wall. I had encountered them wandering out there and the loud desert destroying machines blading their habitat would drive them away.
We make our way, distances seeming different than memory.
Then there is the full familiarity of the granite shoot where water rushes through during rains and where smoothed rock provides refreshing seating to lean back on and bask in sunshine.
Today, I sit down to relax in the granite and as I lean back, I awaken abruptly. The rock surface is cold. It’s shocking!
I have to dig a shirt out of the pack to insulate my back, while DF snickers at my surprise. She lays nude, flat on the smooth bed protected by that sundress she has carried up here.
We snack and talk of what life is placing in front of us and what we may choose to do, a more distant trip here, or there, or trek in Arizona. Significant events, like my Big _0 birthday this year, her mother’s centennial birthday, a grandchild’s birth and High School reunions, all must somehow fit in to the plans.
That meeting adjourned, decisions are left for later and DF wanders off. She has had a tough several weeks and sees more to come concerning family matters. After a few minutes, I grab a half full bottle of water with camera and walk her way. We embrace. There is a lot going on inside of us today. It gets close to overwhelming and a long hug helps.
We are presently in a wonderful spot on a wonderful day.
We just decide that we will go where we end up, leaving our baggage behind on the rock perch. It is a sort of metaphor, for the larger world’s concerns and taking things as they come, moment by moment. The gesture is just practicing what needs to be done. We don’t notice it, now, but later, looking back, I’ll understand.
Familiar landmarks are not in the remembered sequence. I think that I am ready to climb out of the wash canyon and realize that I am too soon. Has it been that long?
I walk on a sandy walkway and picture the rocks below that I have known.
They are now covered with the blanket of sand from the erosion upstream that was carried here by the rains.
We pass the barbed wire barrier. It is broken down. Mashed, its function to keep cattle out is depleted. Not enough people come up here to complain anymore. The ranchers who lease the land from the state don’t care for their responsibilities to the public. They resent us, as if it is their lone dominion, instead of a renters consideration to the people who own the public property.
From here, the sand is no longer firm. The heavy hooves have made it soft and the walk becomes more difficult. A walk and a climb becomes a trudge, but we could use the exercise and conditioning. A series of events have made this mid-February day our first true hike of the year.
Upon our return, we find our bag of snacks and clothing, with its extra water undisturbed. There is always the chance of a passing natural neighbor running off with it clenched in its teeth. We sit in peace, soothing little volcanoes erupting from inside, when we decide that the sunlight won’t wait and we must return.
We head downstream, looking out and down into the western valleys at the Tucson Mountains.
DF smiles and mentions “I have always loved the way that the sun shines on this spot.” The streambed at this time of day turns silver. When rains make it a stream, the water glistens.
We jump, startled. There is a sudden and loud grunt breaking the peaceful silence. I have to get orientated. What is it, a fight, an animal posturing a warning to us? It is big. It sounds like a bull ape! Another, burst of threatening noise and I recognize the sound. It is the bluster of a silverback javalina.
I quickly pull out my camera and creep ahead. There are more than a dozen dark figures assembled in the wash ahead. We are being challenged and someone has sounded the alarm. Javalina spread and scurry away in two directions north and south away from the wash. I recognize families and realize that these are my group. The little ones have grown, there are new children. They are fatter, wider than before, and looking prosperous.
There are so many! A count realizes at least sixteen. They are darting in and out of the brush and rocks in mass and it is difficult to count and identify individuals. I hope with all of my heart that I’m correct, that these are my herd from Havarock. I have been so concerned, so in hope of seeing them and then by chance, or something more magical, we’re bumping into them here at this moment.
We talk and they may be talking as well. “The naked ones! Remember, he used to sit up on that rock and watch? He hasn’t been along in many moons. I figured that the hunters may have gotten him.”
My, how a heart attaches to things.
Far down the hill, we wait until the last minute to cover up our bodies. Even then, there is probably no need, but just in case.
We make our way back through the neighborhood. There is a new Great Dane, a huge specimen. He is in a fenced yard next to a small goat with horns. It looks to be about half of its size. Two tiny little kids on stout short legs, a dwarf’s vision of a goat, are back in the shade of the barn. They are as cute as cute gets.
The huge dog barks deep and loud at us. The tiny four legged kids scamper off to hide, their tails in the air.
“Good dog” I say playfully. He relaxes and quiets.
Back at the truck, our ex-neighbors have returned, but it looks like they may be busy with situating her ailing brother. We decide to walk by my ol’ house and inspect the destruction of development.
That part of our visit will be published next.
I am on the forum of FreeRangeNaturism.com often, if you would like to converse.
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When it comes to problems in life, with other people and the memories, isn’t it a shame we can’t just draw on the wisdom of those times, without the memories coming back to us.
Lovely article. How peaceful despite the changes you saw.