This is heaven: two pan-fried poblano rellenos, stuffed with shrimp, smothered with creamy habañero sauce, a side of rice and pintos, a bowl of chips and some spicy salsa, fresh, homemade, topped off with a stiff house marg, con sal. That other heaven, with the fleecy clouds and the old geezer with a white beard and the pearly gates, or unlimited ice cream, or whatever, may or may not be wishful thinking. This is real.
The afternoon had been spent knocking around a favorite nearby desert canyon, a familiar red dirt trail contouring on a ledge past a series of Puebloan ruins, their walls largely intact, sun-warmed, the color of flesh, past prickly pears gone purple with the chill of the coming season, a relaxing bookend to an early spring hike along the same path.
We’d been told to get out of the house; the boss had a lot of work to finish and couldn’t be disturbed. Weather was on the horizon. Run for the sun.
A recently repaired knee needed testing; a leisurely pace was enjoyed, smooth sailing. The true test, anticipated, was when the Little One tired. In our well-rehearsed dance, no words are exchanged. She stops, and with her back still to me — she must always be in the lead — she puts her hands in the air, looks over her shoulder and smiles, whereupon she is hoisted overhead and plopped onto the shoulders. If the ensuing pace is not to her liking, she will kick the mule and laugh.
Our goal was a series of ruins rumored to be tucked into alcoves under the rim beneath our feet. We’d been this way many times without suspecting their existence. A pleasant half-hour, singing Christmas songs, was spent searching for a likely weakness in the cliff through which to scramble down. It was the time of fall when it always feels late, the sun low, shadows long. As we cast about, they coalesced into blueness, the temperature dove and the call was made to retreat; the ruins below would have to wait. Besides, the Little One was hungry.
The last couple miles back to the truck were a little creaky, but even this discomfort came with comforting familiarity. No worries. With an hour of daylight left we made our way to our buddy Farmer Chuck’s place on County Road 21 west and north of town.
At Chuck’s, we sat on the concrete step outside his back door by the lilac hedge, as is our wont, drinking Corona Familiares, catching up, laughing at the madness of the world, watching the sun melt into the shoulder of the Sleeping Ute, staining it orange and red. The Little One chased the cats around the driveway. A raccoon walked up, after the cat food, saw us, sauntered away. Bats swooped overhead in the dusk.
Hungrier now, sun gone, we bid Chuck farewell and headed back into town, to our favorite Mexican joint, for enchiladas and rellenos. After dinner, bellies full and happy, a coffee was ordered, the better to face the winding drive back into the hills. The Little One would sleep. The prospect of crowbarring her out of her warm flannel nest the following morning and dragging her to school was dreaded, as was the daily traffic jam, cars lined up three miles out of town, an experience incongruous with our usual laid-back routine, where we wave, on the drive out of the valley, if we see another car on the road.
But we are behaviorally conditioned and were ready to leave. On the wall was a calendar bearing a colorfully painted image of a muscular archer wearing an impossible lavish headdress shooting an arrow into the sky. At his feet, splayed on her back, flowers in her hair, was an unconscious maiden of impossibly mountainous curves. The days of the month marched relentlessly below them; tomorrow is Monday.
But wait! Tomorrow is Monday, yes, but it’s Thanksgiving break! No school! An impulsive decision was made. Gracias Señor Flechedor! I relaxed, ordered another coffee and the flan.
After dinner, in a blissful state, the result half of a fine meal and half of spontaneous reprieve from normal routine, we went across the street to a hotel, booked a room, called home with the change of plans and snuggled in. Soon we floated on pink fleecy clouds and were in heaven.
In the morning, a monster breakfast, then shopping, as instructed, for Christmas tree lights and gingerbread cookie cutters. We came away also with pomegranates, Brussel sprouts on the stalk and, availing ourselves of offerings tailored to our brothers and sisters from the south, guavas, pineapple, coconut and papaya. Heavenly.
At a jungle gym in the park we mingled with some local kids — “Hi! I’m Roan! You wanna be my friend?!” — and their moms — “Isn’t this great, having the day to ourselves?” — the midday growing cloudy and raw, a chilly wind eventually scattering us like birds.
Continuing toward home, an unexpected break in the cloud cover lured us back out of the truck and on a short hike up to a ridge top ruin. This place we had also visited in the spring. In a room next to a well-preserved kiva, the many sunflowers that grew from the base of the walls, bright and yellow at the birth of the season, strident, reaching skyward, were now brown and withered, dried stalks arching gracefully to the ground, genuflecting, offering their heads.
Stillness. Sitting together, the Little One in my arms, we said good-bye to the beautiful time of year. The swoosh of a swallow. Unspoken, the decision to leave for once and for all was made, and we stood. One last glance over the shoulder. There, not far away, a solid gray wall swallowing the Sleeping Ute and approaching quickly came winter.
Sean can be reached at email@example.com.