Has this been my worst week since moving to Aravaipa? Up until this morning I would have said no, it’s not so bad. Roo, the horse, stepping on me and mangling my toe hurt, sure. One more week, the stitches come out and the stripped skin should scab over; a few more weeks the fracture should be healed; a year and maybe the toe nail will grow back, maybe not. Driving myself to the nearest hospital over an hour away, bleeding all over the accelerator, an ice pack on my foot was an act worthy of the toughest pioneers. Four hours in the emergency room care was painful and stressful but I got through it. All in all, I am doing fine. Then I plopped myself in the bathtub this morning. I don’t wear contacts when I get in the tub or shower. Soap in the eyes, a contact popping out and going down the drain, it is a recipe for trouble. Can’t wear glasses in there either so I go in blind, which means I didn’t see the scorpion hanging out on the washcloth. Or maybe he was on the bar of soap. Either way I didn’t see him and proceeded to soap up the washcloth and then washed my face, neck and ears. When I got to the right ear, I felt a little sting, the kind you get when a tiny sliver of wood pierces your skin. I reached up to my ear but felt nothing until a similar sting in my left index finger. Nothing on my finger, I held up the washcloth close to my face to look and there he was a squashed scorpion!
Have you ever seen a scorpion? Nasty bugs, they look like mini lobsters aiming for you with front pincers but it’s the tail that stings you. It whips around from behind lightening fast. This was not my first encounter with a scorpion. A month ago I found one in the kitchen sink desperately trying to climb out of the garbage disposal. Huge, ugly and terrifying I tried to catch him in an empty jelly jar but he couldn’t climb out of the drain. Finally I took a knife and pushed him down the disposal. The disposal was not working though so I went to Plan B and poured two tea kettles of boiling water down the drain. Later David asked why I didn’t try to unclog the drain but there was no way I was sticking my hand down into the scorpion pit. He might be scalded but who knows? Fingernails and hair continue to grow for a bit after death, scorpion stingers might do the same.
I threw the washcloth, soap, scorpion and all, out of the tub, terrified he might fall in the water with me. In a frenzy, I splashed water all over me to knock any other potential scorpions off me. But I was alone. Thank God! I squinted over the side of the tub to see the soapy green washcloth on the ceramic tile floor. I wadded up my towel and tossed it on top of the washcloth as a defensive measure, then hoisted myself out of the tub, no easy task when you have one foot bandaged to twice its size and hanging over the edge giving you no leverage. I got out and started stomping the towel with my good foot, squirting soap and water all over. Still dripping with water myself, I carefully lifted the towel and shook it out over the tub. Then I picked up the washcloth. The scorpion skittered away towards the bathroom door! Naked, no shoes, a bandaged foot, I had nothing to crush him! A piece of wood sat behind the dryer. I grabbed it, threw it down on the bug and stepped down hard! I heard the most satisfying crunch. Turning the board, there was the scorpion, flatter than a credit card, embedded into the board. I placed the board back on the floor, scorpion side down and gave it an extra stomp. Four hours later he is still there and I am scrubbing and spraying insecticide like a maniac.
I am living in a war zone. Snakes, scorpions, horses, spiders, tarantulas, gila monsters, mesquite and cholla needles, my legs and arms are crosshatched with scratches, scars and bug bites. Everything is waiting to either take a bite out of me or sting me. And why? I’m a nice person. I respect my environment, I love nature. Let it be is my motto and I spend my time watching my step so I can take care to avoid disrupting the wilderness. Exhausted I am sitting here, foot elevated and propping a bag of frozen organic blueberries with my left index finger on my right ear. If it is not the worst week, it’s certainly up there.
“What do you miss most about Chicago?”
David asked me this question as we worked together building benches to place around the grounds at the ranch. Friends and family, of course, popped into my mind but he wasn’t asking about people. He was asking about the city.
“Not much comes to mind.” I said. But I continued to think about it and came up with a few things:
· My writing group. There is something magical about writing with an intimate group of people that is motivating, inspiring and freeing.
· My granny cart. I walked everywhere in Chicago. My feet were my primary mode of transportation. Grabbing my granny cart on Saturday for a morning of shopping along Roosevelt Road was immensely enjoyable. Here at the ranch I walk everywhere and I hike quite a bit but I have to drive to get to the store. In the city there was something about the destination, the purpose of getting my exercise and groceries too that seemed so efficient and so green.
· The little Italian café on the corner of Roosevelt and Halsted and the best tuna salad in the world. But I guess I must not miss it too much since I can’t remember the name of the place!
· The health club and my daily early morning work outs. When I walked into the club in the mornings I had so many options. Some days I would lift, others I would do cardio, sometimes I would swim, the choices were endless.
A short list but these are things that I don’t have here. I live in such a remote area that it is an absolute must to keep a list of things to do or pick up when I take my weekly ride to town. If I get home and realize I forgot to buy eggs, I go without eggs for a week. I could drive back to town but that takes a minimum of two and a half hours round trip, not to mention the expense of gas. The idea of forming my own writing group is circling in my mind. I recently discovered a little center in Catalina called New Moon Haven. I might approach them with the idea and see if that goes anywhere. I have tried to recreate the tuna salad but it’s not quite the same. The closest health club I have found is a tiny little family run gym in Oracle which is an hour away. I mentioned all these things to David, not to complain, but to answer his question.
“There is not much I can do about those things but I do have a bowflex that I don’t use. I’ll bring it out for you.” He said. “We’ll have to figure out where to put it though.”
We talked and decided that it would work well in the screened-in room. Now I will b e able to get in some weight training a few days a week while listening to the songbirds and watching the sun rise.
After David left at the end of the day, I kept thinking about his question and wondering why I didn’t miss more things about Chicago. It bothered me, actually. After living in Chicago my entire life to this point, I should miss more things. Sports came to mind. A life-long White Sox fan, a diehard Blackhawk fan, Bears and Bulls—I enjoyed going to all the games, even the Cubs. I’ve worn my Sox cap when hiking a few times but that has been the extent of my fandom since coming here. It doesn’t feel important anymore.
I was a regular at the Chicago museums and tourist attractions, in particular the Art Institute. I could spend hours diving into the depths of a Monet water lily, lose myself in the Egyptian hall of the Field Museum and stroll through the zoo every chance I had. Now, living in the wilderness, gazing at a piece of artwork cannot compare to the beauty that surrounds me every day. Big horn sheep and great blue herons are my neighbors, golden finches and fiery tanagers serenade me and tiny lizards make me smile. Wading through the creek, tadpoles and mosquito fish skitter around my feet.
And there it is. For fifty six years, living in Chicago, I was a tourist. I was a spectator. I did things, to be sure, but it seemed always on the sidelines of life. Watching other people, listening to conversations, I always felt on the periphery of things. Instead of living my own life, I was in the peanut gallery, clapping when the Applause sign lit up, laughing and crying on cue. How many times did I participate in The Wave at sporting events? Never once did I initiate it. One of the herd, one of the flock, an obedient sheep doing the bidding of others, that was me.
Moving to Arizona, working on the ranch, is now my life. It has always been my life, only I didn’t know it until now. Each day I rise and tend to my responsibilities and yet my time is my own. I choose what I will do each day and whatever I choose is good. I produce with tangible results. The garden is blossoming under my care; I created several meditation areas on the grounds and built benches for each. It is gratifying to see someone sit on a bench in deep reflection. I tend the animals with joy and they respond with love. I welcome the guests, ensure their needs are met and they respond with thanks. Neighbors tell me they see a difference in the ranch, an improvement and it is good. I am focused on what is good for the earth, keeping the sky blue and the water pure. And I write. I no longer feel like a spectator. I have stepped out of the peanut gallery and taken center stage. The things I do may be small but I now realize that the smallest pebble still creates a ripple.
And so as I look back at my list, I know that my hesitation to respond was rooted in my understanding that those things that seemed to matter in my old life are superficial. Chicago life was real but my life now in Arizona is a dream. And living the dream is what truly matters.
The horses begin their carefree dance
With muscular grace galloping around the fence.
Tossing their heads as they leap and fly
With a glissade and jete they step ever so high.
The older horse leads but they dance as one
Synchronized steps pirouette in the sun.
Wheeling in harmony only inches apart
In perfect rhythm to the beat of my heart.
I hang on the fence watching the display
A golden afternoon of equine ballet.
Early evening Moon and setting Sun eye each other across the sky
Equidistant for only a moment but enough time
For fading Sun to finger the face of Moon,
Caressing her with a lingering light that brightens the night.
I watch Sun set beyond the mountain ending my day
But no sad good byes.
I need only to turn to see the memory of Sun
Reflected in Moon’s light.