“All the kings and queens of England, France and Russia should be so lucky,” wheezed the old codger, “to enjoy a meal in such a magnificent setting.” Indeed, a last blaze of sun lit the line of cliffs to the east of their campsite afire in neon orange, the sandstone pulsating, emanating warmth, the palisade receding in the distance to the south, growing ever smaller, a vision of infinity. 

The black bare trunks of the cottonwood grove in which they were camped stood in stark contrast against the orange rock, sharply defined, as in focus as anything on this planet gets. The limbs writhed like the wrinkled fingers of old crones, their fingertips tumescent with springtime buds.  

A campfire of desert cedar crackled, sheltered from the evening breeze by a low corral of massive cottonwood logs. The old coot poked the coals and adjusted the angle of the Ball Park Frank, whose juices crackled and popped with promise, on the end of his willow wand. A batch of beans in an enamel pot the color of a speckled robin's egg bubbled happily away in its sauce of molasses and bacon. Everything's better with bacon. 

“Yes, all the kings and queens of England, France and Russia would consider themselves fortunate to have the opportunity, the privilege, to taste such a delectable meal,” our fellow, warming to his subject, continued, “they're over there eating some terrible fish, some white bread crap. They don't know what they're missing!” A burp. “Buncha hosers.” 

His young charge was uninterested in his commentary. “Is that hot dog ready yet? I'm starving.” 

“Why yes, it is quite perfect, and here you go,” and the girl inhaled the dog, along with a big plateful of beans, and another plate, then requested another, but passed out, snoring lightly, before it could be presented, little angel, carried to the tent, nestled into her Big Agnes sleeping bag, night creatures stirring, orange cliffs faded to gray, Orion twinkling in the desert sky that connects the past to the future. With each hot dog, the girl had formed her mouth into an “O” and there was the sound not unlike that of a canister disappearing into the pneumatic tube at the drive-in bank, then the dog disappeared.  

The girl could be forgiven her exhaustion, her hunger, as the afternoon had been spent spinning cartwheels on a bench of soft sand adjacent to their campsite, affectionately dubbed “The Beach,” and floating the creek's rapids on a blue foam sleeping pad, around the big bend of The Beach, in what normally is a dry wash. Long winter + hot sun + cold water + lots of exercise + coupla hot dogs & lotsa beans = little angel. 

And maybe, in the haste of consumption, a little upset tummy. 3:00 a.m., cold predawn air invades the tent: “Daddy, I don't feel so good. I think I'm gonna throw up.” The thought of a dash to the disgusting public outhouse was horrifying. “I'm sorry, sweetie, would it feel better if I rubbed your belly?” “Yeah. Please. I think so. Maybe.” 

Twenty minutes of half-awake circular massage on a furiously gurgling belly sent the lass back to dreamland. Troubled dreams. Cloudy morning. 

“Why, the kings and queens of England, France and Russia would be better people, and more compassionate, if they could awaken in such a wonderful – ” “Enough with the kings and queens, already!” The girl still felt bad, but agreed to a bowl of oatmeal. It didn't help settle the matter, and in short order, the old geezer was holding the little girl's hair out of the firing line while what remained of the hot dogs shot forth onto the desert sand. Those dogs came out faster than they went in, a tall order. 

There hadn't been hot dogs moving through the air in such profusion and exuberance since Bob Dog's weenie cannon at the put-in on the Salt River, down in the dusty canyon by bad old Show Low, in March of '89, but that's another story. 

Unburdened of her troublesome cargo, the girl napped and recuperated, while the codger sat in his camp chair by the ashes of the fire and thought great thoughts. They were epiphanies, these thoughts, and cathartic; he just couldn't remember any of them later. 

In the afternoon, the girl revived. They hiked to some Ancient Puebloan towers looking over the head of a large canyon and contemplated, amidst the abandoned homes, their future. On the walk back to the truck, crows wheeling overhead, they saw it: a lonely gravestone, middle of nowhere, of red sandstone, surrounded by cacti. No name, no letters, no nothing. About as lonesome as it gets. 

This desolation they could handle, though, with a shrug, for on their journey to the desert they had been confronted with a spectacle so diabolical, so confounding, that their skins were toughened, leathered to the level of rhino hide.  

In front of the library of an old ranching town along the way, they had found a plastic Easter egg, the kind that holds chocolate and candy, nestled in the grass. They shook it, and the ensuing rattle promised great riches: jelly beans perhaps, or malted-milk-speckled robins' eggs. 

What tumbled out, though, was a dried old dog turd. This was the day after Easter. OK, who would do this?  

Presented with the opportunity to address the perpetrator of this abomination, the sage advice of a third grader, overheard recently on the playground of the grade school at home, would be offered: “Dude, you are in need of some serious therapy.”  

Back to camp then, grizzled warriors, with a light step, for mac-n-cheese. 

“Why, the kings and queens of England— ” “Shut up with the kings and queens; is it ready?” 

Dinner. Starry night. Slumber. Peace. Forget the hosers; we forge ahead. 


Sean can be reached at: seanmcnamara58@gmail.com.