When I moved to Arizona I never imagined I would write so much about water. Water is precious here primarily due to its lack that is until I arrived. Now I am not saying I am a rainmaker or a water witch or anything like that, but I am amazed that in the two months I have been here, I am about to experience my fourth flood. These are minor floods but still they trap me, putting me in my place. Each time as the water roars by I hear it laughing at me reinforcing that I, a mere human, am most assuredly not in control. The highest the creek rose was six feet back in January. The third flood came close to that topping out at almost five feet. That was six days ago and it is raining again. I watch to see how high it will go this time.
The landscape is gorgeous. Lush and green, the cottonwoods along the creek bank are leafing out in pale yellowy green, the ocotillo is vibrantly glowing. Mexican gold poppies are popping up, the barrel cactus is puffing out its chest, and desert lavender is filling the air with scent. Everything is filling up, filling out and happy. I can see the elation in every leaf and blade of grass. If I feel the water dampening my spirit, all I need to do is walk outside and inhale. The air is bright and sharp as crystal and it energizes me.
It is Sunday morning and, after checking out the stream flow conditions online, I know the creek is starting a slow upward trend. Slow for now, until the wall of water explodes down the canyon. I know it is coming, but I don’t know exactly when. All I can do is sit and wait for it to come, to rise and to subside.
But I have a group to worry about. Several women spanning three generations came in late Friday afternoon. A few women my age, their daughters and friends, and three infants are here. I insisted all park on the other side of the creek. I transported them across on Friday and will do so today if I am able. If the creek rises too high for my 4WD, the bulldozer stands ready.
Periodically I check the online stats but as I look out the window, the stats are definitely not keeping up with the actual conditions. The water is rising quickly now. I call David and tell him that I am going to try and roust the group and get them out now as I fear that soon I will not be able to cross. I call the ranch house and Moira, one of the older women, answers. She tells me they want to stay. A group has gone out walking in the rain and no one has started packing. That worries me. I tell her to try and get folks moving. I call Pat the Ranger and ask him if he will drive over and standby in case I get stuck.
“Get those people out now. I’ll drive over and help you.” Pat says.
“Thanks so much. I have babies that I am worried about.”
“You have babies? I’ll be right over. We have to get them out immediately.”
I drive over to the ranch house. Half the group is nowhere to be found and no one is packed at all. I tell Moira that we are evacuating everyone now. She jumps to action and I get the young moms moving. I see Pat crossing the creek at the same time I spot the walkers in the middle of the pecan grove. I run outside, waving and yelling at the women that they have to come quickly and get packed. I run over to the truck. Pat rolls down his window.
“How was it crossing? Do you think the Explorer will make it?” I ask.
“Nope. My tires were spinning. I can only do a couple of crossings myself.”
I run back to the house, catching up with the walkers, urging everyone to move, move, move.
“If there is anything you do not need to take with you, leave it. I promise you I will pack it up later and drive it to Tucson later this week.” I shout.
“People first! Belongings second, if at all.” Pat agrees with me. “Let’s get the babies and moms across first.”
Everyone is rushing, throwing things together. One woman, Sabrina, gets in the front of the pick-up truck as Pat and I start throwing things in the back. One baby is ready to go, and we place her in Sabrina’s lap. Another young mom and baby get in the truck, the back is loaded and Pat takes off. A young woman comes downstairs with a bag.
“Where’s my baby?” she asks.
“Already on her way across! Get your stuff together and you’ll go next.”
A little panicked to be separated from her five week old infant, the young mom whirls around and starts to pull her things together frantically. I watch from the window.
“I can’t see the pick-up truck. I hope he’s not stuck!”
I zip my coat and step out the door, prepared to drive over to the crossing. At that moment I see the truck pull up the other side.
“He made it!”
I can see Pat throwing things off the back of the truck quickly. He is back to the house within minutes. One woman asks me if they should start loading my car so I can drive it to the crossing.
“I’d rather make this Pat’s last crossing. The water is really rising. Stuff that you need to take put on the porch. Everyone get in the back of the pick-up truck. We’ll throw in as much of the belongings as we can.” I respond.
“Who is this guy? One of your neighbors?” Someone asks.
“He’s the ranger.” I respond. “I called the ranger.”
“Wow! The ranger! This is an emergency!” She is impressed and suddenly everyone takes things a bit more seriously.
“I live in Arizona. I can’t believe I’m being evacuated!” Another young woman says half-laughing.
The mom with the baby coos to her child “I’m going to write all about this in your baby book. Your first emergency evacuation.”
Somehow we manage to cram everyone and everything from the porch into the truck. Two women and the baby sit with Pat up front, the rest of the women stand in the back of the truck clinging to the sides, belongings all around their feet. Pat takes off and I follow along in the Explorer. I park at the singlewide then run down to the creek in time to see Pat churning his way through the mud and water. I can hear his tires working through the muck. He keeps his foot on the gas pedal and forces the truck across splashing all the way. The women in the back are whooping and hollering! Relief washes through me as Pat pulls up the other bank. Everyone jumps out and starts to load up their cars.
They turn to see me alone on the east side of the creek. I wave and yell good-bye.
“Have a safe journey home!” I shout.
“We’ll be back!” Someone yells and another points her camera at me.
“I took your picture!” She yells and I laugh.
A picture of me, trapped once again, is a fitting end, I guess, to their weekend adventure.
At last a Saturday that is flood free and group free! This little piggy is going to market! The Oracle Farmer’s Market is held every Saturday morning from nine until noon at the Triangle L Ranch, a most unusual place that includes a quaint bed and breakfast, gift shop and sculpture walk featuring the owner’s metalwork. Charlie and Jeau are weekly vendors at the market and I am excited I finally have a free day to attend.
I leave Aravaipa early in the morning to finish errands first. Home Depot, a stop at the bank, a haircut and a quick stop at the grocery store are behind me as I pull into the ranch and drive up the lane, unsure of where I am going. I pull in next to some parked cars just outside the gate. I don’t see anyone but walk through the gate following the sound of voices. As I walk around the tree I spot the market. It is small, only eight vendors, but it’s a lively crowd and there seems to be an equal amount of customers and dogs milling around. I spot Jeau sitting at a table with some folks and wander over.
“Hey! You made it!” she says giving me a hug.
“I did. Finally. Is this your booth?”
She jumps up and shows me around her table. Jeau makes homemade prickly pear syrup, prickly pear and agave nectar, mesquite flour, cookies, and is taking advance orders for tomato seedlings. I am already hooked on the prickly pear syrup and eager to try her other wares. Her table is colorful and artfully arranged. On the corner is a big pot of chocolate is simmering.
“This is my hot chocolate with some chipotle spice! It’s thick and rich like pudding.”
I inhale deeply. The rich aroma seems to fill not only my nose but my belly too. There is a small wooden building up ahead and on the porch I see a smiling woman behind a table loaded with baked goods. She waves me over.
“You’re new here!” she smiles putting her hand out. “I’m Sue.”
I introduce myself and tell her I just moved to Aravaipa Canyon. I feel an arm around my shoulder.
“She’s one of us now.” Charlie snuck up behind me. I give him a quick hug back.
“Charlie and Jeau have been my guardian angels since I arrived.” I say and Sue nods her head.
“They are angels to everyone.” She says.
Sue talks to me about her wares and I am excited to see that she carries a line of baked goods made using rice flour. Gluten free cookies! What a treat. I snap up six cookies and a small zucchini bread, all made with rice flour. I take Sue’s card and tell her I might be interested in ordering baked goods for some of the groups that come out to the ranch. Sue is retired. She has a little baking business to keep busy. It sounds like her baking keeps her very busy, catering to churches and other groups as well as the farmers market. She is short and stout with a kind round face. And I like her.
“I’d be happy to bake for you. I need twenty four hours notice minimum. We can figure out some place to meet so you can pick up any orders.”
A white haired gentleman walks up and Sue introduces me. His name is Ben.
“A face I don’t know yet! What’s your name.”
I tell him my full name and he whips out a notebook and pen and writes it down. I spell the last name for him.
“Usually I take a picture of new people I meet so I can remember their names and faces. But I forgot my camera today. It doesn’t work anyway. I never forget a face but I still forget the names!”
Sue, Charlie and Ben proceed to tell me about the Triangle L Ranch. It is the definition of rustic with old wooden buildings dotting the grounds, each painted a different color. Stones are placed to form walkways and tiny Christmas lights, although not lit, are strung along the buildings and trees. Dogs roam freely, greeting and visiting as much as the people. It is a lively social gathering that people come to every Saturday to catch up with friends and neighbors. Sue tells me that today’s market is big with eight vendors, sometimes there are only two. But she always sells out.
Charlie introduces me to Sharon, the owner of the ranch. He tells me that Sharon often brings in musicians to play on the front porch on Saturday nights.
“And you don’t want to miss Glow.” He says.
“What is that?” I ask
“Glow is held every October. Sharon brings in music and opens the grounds at night for wandering. Everything is lit up and everyone wears something that glows. She passes out little glow sticks, necklaces and bracelets.”
“You can’t miss Glow.” Ben agrees. And I make a point of adding my name to the email sign up list for Triangle L events.
Munching on a gluten free cookie, I wander over to another table. Pots of curry and rice are cooking, filling the air with heavenly smells. The woman behind the table is scrambling up some eggs with fresh greens.
“I’m making green eggs.” She says.
“What kind of greens are you putting in there?”
“Whatever I grabbed with my hand.” She points to a cooler filled with arugula, Italian parsley, chard, bibb lettuce, and dill. Fresh eggs are for sale $4 for a dozen.
“These are pullet eggs.” Quentin, the farmer, tells me. They are small long ovals in the prettiest shades of soft tan and blue. They are enchanting.
“I’ll take a dozen eggs.” I say.
“Sorry. I’m about sold out. I only have half a dozen left.”
“Then I will take your last half dozen. And some greens.”
Together we pick out a bag full of arugula, bibb lettuce, parsley and dill. He charges me $2 for the eggs and only $4 for the bag full of produce. I am delighted! Quentin tells me where his farm is located and that there is a small artist’s colony across the way. I make a mental note of the directions and add it to my list of things to do.
I meander, shaking hands with more people and scratching every dog’s ears. I end up back at Jeau’s table. The morning is still cool so I buy a cup of her hot chocolate, prickly pear syrup and two bags of mesquite flour. I leave my purchases under Jeau’s table, unwrap another cookie and head to the sculpture walk, hot chocolate in hand, passing by a fenced in area full of goats, geese and chickens.
The sculpture walk meanders through the grounds. Sharon finds metal objects and crafts them into pieces of art. Old car bumpers line part of the lane, pitchforks and shovels are twisted into interesting shapes to frame pieces of stained glass. Tiny green and blue glass hats hang from tree branches. Rusted metal horses and coyotes romp near a stone lined wash, more blue bottles are used to form the branches of a wrought iron tree. Twinkle lights are everywhere. Around a corner is a little Zen garden interspersed with Buddhas and more metal sculptures. A wrought iron gazebo across the way invites one to sit, sunlight filtering through blue and green stained glass. I find it wonderful, peaceful and interesting. I finish the walk and the spicy hot chocolate at about the same time. It’s almost noon so I wander back over to Jeau to collect my purchases. I wave good-bye and head back to the car.
I can’t resist. I unwrap another cookie.
I saw her. As I rounded the corner in the Little Mule, the creature loped out of the persimmon tree and raced up the hill. I stopped at the tree and my eye followed his path. She sat under a tree on the slope, tail swirled around her like a cape. I could see faint rings on the tail and the black outline around her eyes. The round stubs of her ears pointed forward, she looked down her long nose at me, her attitude condescending. I hopped out of the Mule to stand at the bottom of the hill to get a better look. She was the first coatimundi I had ever seen. She turned and walked away.
Finishing up my work at the back of the Ranch house, I put the tools away in the shed and started walking up the lane to the singlewide. The temperature always drops rapidly once the sun goes behind the mountain and the breeze felt cool. I watched the shadows deepen on the mountain until rapid scrabbling on the pecan tree ahead stopped me short. Up the lane, the “coati” was perched in the pecan tree and her chattering let me know she was not too happy to see me. I stepped off the lane opposite the tree to give her a wide berth. She spun quickly around to keep me in sight then dropped to the ground to run ahead to the orange tree. Her sleek brown body moved quick, muscles springing gracefully like a slinky. I walked to the singlewide, ran in and grabbed my camera.
Back outside, coati was now up in the orange tree, shaking and grabbing branches to get at the oranges. Her head popped out from the leaves making me laugh. Annoyed, she jumped down and ran back up the lane to the pecan tree. Scampering up, she perched again with her back to me, her long tail flowing down. Her head wound around the trunk to look at me. It reminded me of Kitty and how she hides in plain sight by crouching under the kitchen chair. I walked slowly down the lane, camera in hand. Agitated at my approach, her chattering increased the closer I came. I snapped two quick pictures then retreated back to the singlewide. She never took his eyes off me.
I considered coati. Did she have a nest nearby? Had I disturbed it in my efforts to clean the grounds? Are there babies on the way? She looked too lean. Maybe the babies are already here and she is scavenging for food to feed them.
The next morning I looked out the kitchen window to see coati meandering in the pecan grove. Her long tail stood straight up making her easy to spot. She nosed the ground for pecans. I went outside again with my camera, standing a respectful distance away. She spotted me but after the events of the previous day, apparently decided she had nothing to fear from me. Continuing to nose around,she glanced at me from time to time but was not disturbed by my presence. It was exciting to watch her in action. A relative of the raccoon, coati is so nimble her actions reminded me more of a monkey. She is long and lanky, with feet like hands. When she looks straight at me, her expression is clownish but from the side she looks more dignified, like an English nanny. At this point I feel our relationship has progressed to respectful familiarity, so I decide to call her Cecilia.
In the early afternoon planning to work in the garden I walked to the tool shed for the hoe, wheelbarrow and rake. The garden is completely fenced in with chicken wire and netting to keep out the birds and critters. There are eleven fence posts running down the center, approximately 10 feet apart. I estimate it is about 20 feet wide. When I work in the garden I always take Kitty with me. Because it is fenced in it is a safe place for her to stretch her legs and get some sun. As I worked, Kitty sniffed and poked around the garden. I could see Cecilia doing the same in the pecan grove. She was aware of my presence but the two animals were unaware of each other. It was strange to be inside the fence looking out at her, a reverse kind of zoo. Perhaps seeing me caged gave her comfort. Fearlessly she crossed the road, nosing around the corner of the fence. It was then that Kitty saw her and in a flash, ran over to check her out. Startled, Cecilia scrabbled up the telephone pole, her claws screeching like nails on a chalkboard. Kitty’s hair stood on end and she raced over to hide under the wheelbarrow. They sized each other up from their points of relative safety.
Charlie came by and I pointed out my new neighbor to him. He grabbed his binoculars to get a better look. Charlie spent twenty years working for the Nature Conservancy and is my go-to-guy for all things plant and animal. He told me that usually coatimundis run in packs so to find one alone is unusual. He trained his binoculars on Cecilia to size her up.
“He’s got a package, it’s a male. From his size I’d guess him to be about two years old. He’s likely having a hard time competing against the older, bigger males for a mate so he’s out here on his own.”
Disappointed to have lost our feminine link, I discard the name Cecilia and decide Cody is a good fit. I related the events of our first encounter.
“He doesn’t seem to mind my presence anymore.” I said.
“He’s been around people before that’s easy to see.” Charlie replied. “If you want him to hang around, roll him an egg. Don’t hand it to him or you’ll come up missing a finger or two. But you can roll it to him.”
I decide against giving Cody an egg. We have guests coming and going all the time and while Cody will definitely be an attraction of sorts, I don’t want him to be aggressively begging for food.
It’s been five days and we fall into a routine. Kitty and I work in the garden every afternoon while Cody hangs out in the pecan grove. Like me, Kitty finds him fascinating. Cody’s long fluffy tail sticks straight up in the air like a flag while he meanders through the trees making it easy to track his movements. Kitty watches his every move. When I finish working for the day, I carry Kitty to the singlewide to avoid any animal skirmishes. We pass near to Cody and he lifts his head, but seeing me, he goes back to what he is doing. He no longer feels the need to chatter a warning at me. I realize he has moved in and I am glad. Although our relationship is at a distance, I enjoy his company and it seems he tolerates mine.
Shadows infiltrate and capture my imagination in this place of light. As I sit high atop the cliffs of Brandenburg Mountain, apple in hand and legs swinging free, my eyes sweep over the Galiuro Mountain Chain. The peaks soar to nearly 6,000 feet above sea level, small in comparison to the Tetons or Mighty Rockies, but they impress none-the-less. The diversity of the landscape amazes me. Washes of stone carved by seeps and floods create deep folds that delineate the softer peaks that are home to barrel cactus and sage. Igneous cliffs rise perpendicular to the canyon floor, impossible to climb, at least for me. The cottonwoods lining the creek change to saguaro and palo verde as my gaze travels up the mountain side and I think everything is here. Earth, Water, Air and Fire combine here like no other place known to me.
“This is your backyard.” Pat says to me sweeping his long arm outward and in that moment it takes my breath away.
Suddenly I am in it all at once. Dirt grinds into the back of my legs, a small ant tickles my knee, my hat sits heavy on my head, apple juice slides down my throat, sage teases my nose, the wind brushes my face, the low rumble of water reaches my ear and the sun colors my nose. Every pore of my skin is open, my senses fill until I feel I might burst with the beauty of it all.
Up here I can see whole clouds. They are more than mist and moisture in the sky, more than the white cotton clouds I used to see in the city. Here the clouds cast long shadows on the mountain sides, shadows that stretch for miles. I watch them move in tandem, the clouds and their shadows. It occurs to me they do not touch like my shadow which is always pinned to my foot. Yet the wind connects them, bustling them along at a steady pace, one never getting a jump on the other, one never lagging behind, a perfect balance of yin to yang. I like the shadow clouds. They remind me of the game rock, paper, scissors. Paper covers rock, scissors cut paper, rock smashes scissors but I would always choose shadow clouds because shadow clouds cover them all. Is it possible to disconnect one’s shadow side without losing it? To keep it separate but always near in case you need it? Is it possible to have the dark and the light so perfectly balanced that each stands as complement to the other?
The other morning I spent time with an intuitive healer. She held my hand as she closed her eyes to get a sense of my being. Opening her eyes, she smiled at me.
“Your spirit is a most lovely flower, a lotus, beautiful and kind. Yet I sense something pressing down at the center, pushing you down.”
She urged me to choose an animal and without hesitation I chose my totem, Swan. Next we identified my shadow side, the grizzly Bear. Bear, my shadow side, loves Swan so much he is killing her. He continually shields her, restricting her flight, keeping her out of the water, caging her for protection. Together, we explored this relationship of light and dark and how best to seek balance. Now I picture my spirit as a clear blue pond, big enough for Swan to swim gracefully at will, enjoying the comforting sight of Bear splashing in the shallows, each happy for the company and the support of the other, separate but together.
As I hike the mountainside with Pat I notice my shadow falling upon a red rock.
“What stone is this?” I ask.
“I believe it is rhyolite.” Pat replies and he, of course, is right.
Later that day I look it up. The mossy green gem quality stone ryolite is from Australia, but location changes its spelling and color. Dominant in the southwestern United States, rhyolite colors the cliffs of Aravaipa in the morning sun and is the red stone under my shoe. As I read about its spiritual properties, I finally understand what draws me to this canyon, this environment of red stone. Rhyolite promotes energetic balance, pushing one towards goals and providing strength to overcome challenges. For me this means that Swan will swim with grace and beauty, Bear will honor her and step in only when needed. It is no accident I find myself here.
The shadow clouds move on as we finish our lunch and stand up in the brilliant sun. I want to stay but we need to start back down the mountain before dark. Cholla stings my leg, piercing through my jeans, dust puffs up with every step, and sweat beads my brow. This is my backyard, but I don’t own it. It owns me.