When the lizard rises my natural instinct is to screech… After leaving Oracle, we made it a few miles past the Tiger Mine Trailhead into the Black Hills. On our way, I nearly stepped on a Gila Monster. I let out loud shrieks followed by oohs & awes and a lot of talking to this odd creature. It opened its mouth and showed me its split tongue and the bottom of one of its front feet. It was pink and black and slowly animated its beautiful body. We talked for a bit and then parted ways. I trotted off pleased by the interaction–I had just conversed with a Gila Monster!
A few miles later we set up camp in a wash. I like camping on the soft sand in the washes. We started sculpting our sleeping area, digging a divot for our hips, when a lizard ran over my bare foot …a few shrieks and a little screeching later I came to my senses. Wolverine, alarmed, asked “what, what?!?!” “I unburied a lizard from the earth and it ran across my toes”, I said. That night I dreamt about the lizards I had met, their bodies swirled around the moon and dispersed into the stars. Then Joni Mitchell’s lyrics, “we are stardust”, echoed in my dreams… “We are stardust. We are golden. And we’ve got to get ourselves back to the garden…”
As dawn broke the birds began to sing; so many birds. Right here, right now, this place… This is what’s real. I chimed in with the birds, became the daybreak. Then sang the words I sing every morning when the sun crests over the horizon, “Here comes the sun. Little darling. It’s alright…” We packed up camp and began walking. This stretch has become about finding the next water source. We arrived at Mountain View tank and had second breakfast in the shade of the large steel water tank. We watched several little birds bathe in a puddle of water leaking from the pipes. We climbed a ladder up the tall tank and found the most beautiful, clear, water inside and a lot of tiny fish swimming round and round. It was dizzying leaning over the tank watching the fish swirl around. We got water and walked on to our next water, Beehive well. Along the way I watched Neon’s feet, up, down, left, right… I was looking at all the shoe prints on the trail when a lizard popped up from the earth like a cartoon. Neon had stepped right on it, and as I approached, it did a little wiggle and took off running. “Whoa, you just stepped on a lizard and it resurrected from your footstep,” I yelled ahead at Neon. “Really?” Neon replied. “Yup, just popped up like a cartoon,” I said.
The Sonoran Desert is full of so much life, much more like what you’d think of as a tropical jungle than a desert …lizards everywhere, birds singing, snakes, and thousands of blooming cactus greet us at every turn along the trail. I’ve lived here for five years now and still everyday I am amazed by the Sonoran landscape. And it’s funny, everywhere I have been, climbing mountains and walking thousands of miles, when I feel like I’m really out there, truly in the wilderness, I realize that really it is just the land that we have used up and discarded. Old roads crisscross through designated wilderness, dotted with old cabins, abandoned mines, huge tree stumps, and pieces of old metal from canned food, cables, and machine parts. And as much as it seizes my breath, pains my heart, I still see nature in its true glory, albeit a little broken, limping along in the aftermath of our destruction. Nature is the beauty we have lost in our selves, lost in our path for more… But if you look closely, if you let go, it will share its story and remind you who you really are, what you have lost, and what is truly valuable.
The days passed like this: walking from one water source to the next, cool mornings, hot afternoons, each water with a different story, a different color, a different taste, another lizard, a different plant, and more and more blooming cactus. We made it to the bridge that crosses the Gila River near the town of Kelvin. We hitched to Kearny, warned not to drink their water as it is polluted by the mine; it tasted metallic. When we returned to the trail we got water from the Gila River, also warned that it is polluted by the mine; it was a little silty, but tasted good. Water of the earth and from pipes; it all tastes so different, some of chemicals and some of plants, minerals, and all things animal. I love tasting water. It is the life veins flowing across the earth. It imparts its story into my own. It shares its secrets and I become part of its story, woven into its history.
We hiked up into Walnut Canyon, along the old AZT and the Grand Enchantment Trail (GET). We found pools of water and a Sonoran Mud Turtle, a water turtle in the desert. We had a short chat; it seemed as perplexed by our presence as us by its. We hiked across the White Canyon Wilderness and back over to the new AZT to a stock pond. It was not full, but had water. As I got water my feet slowly sank in the silty mud around the pond. There were deer prints around its perimeter, flies buzzing about, and cow patties in the water. The water was yellow, a distillation of many stories, I thought. I was amused by its color. It tasted great. I treated four liters and wondered what story the next water would share.