Jonathen Mogley has dark tanned skin and bits of dried leaf entangled in his thick, blonde dreadlocks. His beard engulfs almost his entire face, leave his forehead and glassy blue eyes. He catches bees and eats ants and grasshoppers and knows most of what is edible in the Arizona desert, and more importantly what is not. He has lived primarily outside for the past three years but describes himself as someone who used to be consumed by capitalism. He wonders from one beautiful place to the next, making friends as he goes and trying to reteach his body how to follow nature’s natural rhythm but stays only in Arizona to be in close vicinity to his 15 year old daughter who lives in Pheonix and whom he sees on occasion during her school breaks. He talks about the importance of oneness and universal consciousness, “we must love each other, it just doesn’t work otherwise” and thinks Canyon has a good soul and approves of how we are raising him. He is soft spoken and sits cross legged in the dirt. He is generous with what he has and quickly offers us some of his salt and pepper carp that he caught less than an hour ago from the river. Mycroft declines. I happily scutter to my feet and to the other side of the campfire and accept. I take a piece, and then another and feed a bite to Canyon. We’re both delighted by the fish.
While the rest of the world anxiously follows election day, we have inadvertently found ourselves tucked away in a forest along the Verde river. The area is teeming with life. Fish jump out of the river in plain site, birds chirp and sing from all directions and dragonflies buzz through the air. Just several hundred feet away the Arizona desert takes hold and life becomes a lot more challenging but here along the river it is a different world. The warm humidity engulfs us and reminds me of a summer’s morning where I grew up, out in the country in New York state. Although it’s well into Autumn, it is still in the 80s today. This morning we strapped Canyon to our backs and hiked along the river with a sweet man named Brian as our guide (a guy in his 60s who has been living out of his 1969 wagon for the past 20 years taking only short interruptions to do things like travel with a lamma on the Colorado trail).
Our destination is the Verde hot springs, the last remnants of a motel that occupied the area from 1922 to sometime in the 1960s when it burnt down to the ground under mysterious circumstance. It was later blown up completely to keep anyone from trying to reside there. The motel, 25 miles down a dirt road and wildly isolated, boomed during the time of prohibition when liquor flowed heavily there. It was said that even the oldest of ladies would hike down the treacherous roads in their high heels just to get a bit of what the motel had to offer: an abundance of liquor and two natural hot springs shrouded in gorgeous river views. Now all that remains are two wayward palmtrees and the hot springs, still perfectly intact. The springs are maintained mostly by the visitors who lovingly drain and refill the two pools. Every so often the rangers come and do some maintenance but from what we are told they mostly try to leave the springs, and the people who visit them, alone. The rock walls of the springs are covered with poetry and artwork, above the source from which the hot water flows someone has written “there is a place in Arizona in which peace flows right from the earth.”
We have been in Arizona for nine days now. Not because we had planned on it but because we are at a standstill as to which direction we will go next. And so we stay.
Arizona has delighted us. Starting first in Flagstaff in a haunted hotel and devilish Hallow’s Eve, we then took the scenic byway, Oakcreek Canyon, down to Sedona. The beauty of driving down Oakcreek Canyon tore through our senses; a scenery painted with cliffs thousands of feet high, plunging into canyons that housed a whispering creek. Hairpin turns had us holding our breaths while Ponderosa Pine trees engulfed us from every side. On the drive through the canyon, I cried. So did Mycroft. It was too beautiful not to. This was the second time in just two days that Arizona knocked us over with emotion. The first time was evoked by the national monument of Walnut Creek Canyon, the remnants of a majestic cliff dwelling civilization of the Hopi and Supai Indian tribes that inhabited the inner walls of the canyon 1000 years ago.
The town of Sedona is a wildly entertaining place; a town known for its magic. Psychic readings, aura photography and crystal shops line the streets. Maps direct you to all of the hikes that will lead you to energy vortexes. Gongs, wind chimes and xylophones make up what are called “musical parks” and are scattered throughout the city so that visitors of Sedona can create their own ethereal tune on almost every block. The city is surrounded by tall golden cliffs and red sandstone canyons. Dramatic grey clouds split open with sunlight in every direction. We feel the magic here too.
We have been deliciously sucked into this place. For days we have been exploring the allure of Sedona and the surrounding area, bouncing from place to place as passer bys recommend to us. We have prayed upon a Buddhist Stupa, kissed giraffes, swam through waterfalls, laughed with strangers, drove down long dirt roads and searched for crystals.
We are falling into our life in the truck with a pleasant oomph. Sometimes we don’t know what day it is and generally we find it doesn’t matter. Slowly we are making small improvements to our home. Our once terribly uncomfortable bed now has a thick memory foam pad and navy blue sheet set. We’ve installed a blackout curtain to help Canyon nap. We now affectionately refer to our sleeping space as “the nest,” and ourselves the squirrels who inhabit it. It continues to be an olympic sport to try to get out of bed to go to the bathroom in the middle of the night (unlatch Canyon from my breast, unclip baby net, struggle to pull open curtain, crawl over Mycroft, hop down four feet to the floor, hush Canyon as he inevitably starts to cry, open camper door, jump down three feet, pee and repeat) but we continue to adjust.
Canyon has learned to walk with confidence this past week and amazes us with his off roading ability as he lunges himself over rocks and rough desert terrain. He spends a lot of his time smiling and vying for our attention in order to show us the things he’s discovered (pinecones, crumbled leaves, a colored pencil, water splashing in a stream…).
I have heard many times that the entirety of a person’s personality is developed within the first two years of his or her life. Although I know Canyon won’t remember this experience, I love envisioning that this crazy adventure of ours is seeping into the grey matter of our little boy’s brain and creating the foundation of who he will become. Every day he is developing into more and more of our companion and making us acutely aware of his needs and desires. His ability to communicate with us is flourishing. Today he pulled on one of Mogley’s dreadlocks and used his primitive sign language to ask Mogley for more chilli powder dusted pineapple, “more (claps hands), please (rubs chest with palms), food (touches mouth).” He is becoming sweet, silly and inquisitive and unhindered in his exploration of the world. Despite his biting habit, I really quite like him.
A few days ago, Canyon toddled through the sand, over to a new friend of ours (Josh, a 36 year old inventor/engineer who sold his million dollar home to live out of his camper with his lovely fiance Jen). He solidly placed his hands on Josh’s knees, pulled him to his level, looked him directly in the eyes and let out a big, toothy, toddler grin. That was it, it seemed that his whole and only intent was to smile at him.
So if nothing else, this journey seems to be teaching our little man to communicate a bit of happiness to the world and if that’s the only outcome at the end of this, I’ll take it…