Horton Springs

 I stumbled into the kitchen around 5:30 in the morning with three wiggling dogs milling around my feet and one meowing cat.  After plopping cups of dog food and cat food into appropriate bowls, the animals settled in to eat breakfast while I struggled to fully open both eyes, but it was enough to notice a text from last night waiting on my phone.  

“Heading up to Payson Tuesday to hike to Horton Springs just below the Mogollon Rim.  Interested? Leaving at 8 and will be back before dark.”

My body slammed wide awake, energized by the thought of towering ponderosa pines and icy running water. Backpack packed, I kissed Tom good-bye and headed to my friend Cyndi’s place and by quarter after eight, the three of us, Cyndi, her dog Rudy, and I, were on the road heading up into the White Mountains. 

The Mogollon Rim, at an elevation of 8,000 feet, is an immense escarpment of sandstone and limestone running the breadth of Arizona along the southwestern portion of the Colorado Plateau.  Visions of long ago pioneers, cattle rustlers and cowboys danced in my head for Payson was the site of the late Western novelist Zane Grey’s home.  My late father rarely picked up a book to read, but when he did, it was a pretty good guess that the author was either Grey or Louis L’Amour.  As we rolled up the highway, I thought of Dad and how much he would have loved the landscape rushing by our windows.  After a long drive, our feet hit the trail around eleven a.m. and immediately we were immersed in towering trees, climbing steadily up to the Mogollon Rim to the music of gurgling water.  The air was sharp as a fine blade; delineating the trees against a pure blue sky. 

We ambled, first along the creek then along the high trail, but always, always returning to the water.  The creek tripped along, slipping down slide stone, tumbling over boulders, spinning into pools.  I envied Rudy each time he stepped into the cold water to drink.  I plunged my hand in from time to time, wet my feet as I stepped over stones to cross the stream and reveled in the icy purity.  I couldn’t be sure exactly when we reached the spring for on this day, time held no meaning.  We reached the spring when we were meant to and marveled that the edge of the Mogollon Rim was only a few steps further, but it was the spring that drew us.  We climbed, stretching our feet and hands to grasp boulders to pull us up to the source.  The water spewed out between the rocks and we discovered a small opening in the stone that allowed us to see the spring actually bubbling up from the Earth.  With my left hand I reached in, sinking it in up to my wrist…the Source. 

I’ve hiked mile after mile across so many places, wandered around the rim of the Grand Canyon, flew over an erupting volcano in Hawaii, prayed at Kilaeau, snorkeled with sea turtles, climbed to the mission of San Sebastian in Spain and wept tears in the embrace of the red rocks of Sedona.  Each experience captivated and humbled me, yet standing on the rocks of Horton Springs overwhelmed me like nothing else.  Here I witnessed the Earth Mother giving birth, her life force churning out to bring sustenance to all.  The vibration of the water entered my feet and pulsed through my legs and up to my heart.  Inhaling deep, I knew this moment was sacred fulfillment.

The sun’s descent brought a slight chill to the air, a signal to return to our car.  I brought a bottle of the sacred water back with me.  In my youth, before entering church, I would dip my fingers in the water font and make the sign of the cross in a ritual of blessing and purification.  This day I poured the clear spring water into an earthen bowl, dipped in my fingers and scattered drops around my home with prayers of gratitude.  The blessings continue.

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