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Friday, April 3, 2015

Cowgirl-in-My-Dreams Getaway Rating System

Cow at foot of driveway, morning light

Someone long ago – so long, long ago that who it was no longer matters – introduced me to a rating system for Caribbean resorts that took me quite by surprise. When this person said he would never stay in a hotel with less than a 4T rating, a T being the system’s equivalent to a star, I was curious and, thinking about the old lumberjack hotel my husband and I love in the U.P., where we have stayed for so many years, I asked what sort of primitive accommodations one might expect with a single T. “For instance, would you have to share a bathroom? Would you not have air conditioning or TV?”

He looked at me as if I had suddenly gone insane and then, realizing my questions were serious, stated emphatically (with a still-scandalized expression) that all of the T resorts had private bathrooms, color TV, air conditioning, etc.

“So what do you get with more T’s?” I asked, lack of experience with Caribbean resort hotels severely limiting my imagination.

He rolled his eyes and sighed patiently as he began to tick off desirable amenities. “Private beach. Golf on the premises. Shopping on the premises. Gambling on the premises.”

Indeed! It was an entirely new concept to me, and, I admit, one I did not find appealing – that of flying to a foreign country and spending an entire vacation in a commercial compound, never exploring the country or mixing with the indigenous population, seeing nothing outside of the hotel property. Realizing that people do this – and enjoy it -- was a startling revelation to me, but chacun à son gout, as the old lady said when she kissed the pig. To each his own. Just so I don’t have to do it.

Sabbatical involves work, while vacation leaves work behind, but change of scenery is key to both, along with getting away from routine, freedom from daily job or business and social commitments, and luxuriating in unstructured time, all of which I have found this winter in Dos Cabezas, Arizona. I could not have asked for more.

Morning over the mountains

Thursday morning, a calm, quiet, sunny, beautiful morning, when I ventured outdoors, there were cows down by the road, cows in the side yard, and more cows wandering peacefully through the dry wash behind the cabin. Their presence made me very happy. “How many places could we have gone this winter,” I asked David with a blissful sigh, “where cows would come right up to the house?” He pointed out that most people would not put “cows in the yard” (much less cow pies in the yard, which charm both of us) on their list of priorities for a seasonal rental, that most people would be more likely to look for a golf course or swimming pool. But I know what I like, and this is it!

So here, presented for the first time ever, is the Cowgirl-in-my-Dreams (CD) getaway rating system, applicable to sabbatical or vacation. The lowest number is a minimal amenity, with each successively higher number including and building on lower numbers by offering greater pleasure and satisfaction. My priorities would not be everyone’s, but I offer them from a full and grateful heart, happy to have found such peace and beauty here in the high desert.

Willcox across the railroad tracks

CD1: Friendly nearby town with basic necessities – post office, groceries, hardware, mechanic, library, etc. Don’t need or want to be necessarily in the town, but having it within daily reach is good. It doesn’t have to be fancy. It’s better if it isn’t fancy.

Field of blue toadflax

CD2: Open range or (in a different climate and habitat) otherwise open, undeveloped space where the CD and her dog can enjoy walks in a natural setting, i.e., “Nature in Abundance” (to steal the motto of Grand Marais, Michigan).

Last light of afternoon, Philadelphia Wash

CD3: Hardworking, unpretentious, friendly but unintrusive neighbors within walking distance and not too close for comfort. Handyman? Check! Mechanic? Check! Sources of neighborhood and historical information? Check! Happy, happy, happy!

CD4: Working ranch or farm environment, with cattle and horses part of everyday life – the closer, the better. Cows in the yard a definite plus. Horses in the yard would be a cup-overfloweth situation, but even seeing them at a distance from the back porch is pretty darn good, and having more down the road in either direction is very good, too.

CD5: Absence of Internet or cell phone signal to reinforce solitude and peace. Love it!!!

I could make a longer list, but those are my ghost town basics, and you get the picture.

Now that we have made exploratory day trips throughout most of Cochise County and forays up into Graham County (Safford) and over to Santa Cruz County (Patagonia), David and I find ourselves, as “the days dwindle down to a precious few,” spending more and more time sitting quietly in the shade behind the cabin, looking back at our “home” mountains, drinking iced tea, reading and writing, and watching cattle and wildlife. One little lizard entertained us for many hours. The lizard comes out to sun itself every afternoon; the rock squirrel was a fun surprise. “Do you think we’re finally settling in?” my darling asked with a smile.

Having begun again at the beginning with my novel-in-progress, I am no longer counting words written and have cast off that horrid Big Bird fussiness of overworked transitions (“He went here and he went there and he walked and he walked and he walked”), concentrating instead on key scenes in my characters’ development. “What are they up to now, these people you hang out with?” David asks after I’ve been writing for two or three hours in the morning. I am “hanging out” with them. They are always on my mind, wherever we go, in foreground or background, and the hardest part about going home is knowing that they will be pushed more and more to the background as normal working life makes incessant demands. But I have had this time, and I am immensely, deeply grateful for it.

More and more green comes to the high desert every day. There are so many things we will not be around to see, since we leave in a week, and so my desire to identify what is happening now grows more urgent with each passing day. Two small former botanical mysteries gave up their secrets recently, thanks to a beautiful book David bought for me, The Audubon Society Field Guide to North American Wildflowers, Western Region, my camera, and clues from the plants themselves. I can now say with confidence that the white flower from Patagonia Lake (my photograph of it more artistic portrait than clear representative of the species) was desert chicory, and that the charming tiny flowers in the yard here in Dos Cabezas (the fruits were my clue) are Dove’s Foot Geranium, a close relative of crane’s bill.

desert chicory

dove's-foot geranium

I cannot say why this knowledge is important to me; I only know that it is.

No, wait. Maybe it’s this:

I did not simply pass through this place. I did not just touch down and bounce away again. I was here. I was really here. And David was right beside me.

Click here for more new photographs of neighborhood horses.


Marilyn Zimmerman said...

This is a beautiful post, Pamela. Your happiness is palpable. I'm so glad you experienced so much of the splendor of the Southwest.
Looking forward to a hug from you in Northport! Safe travels.

Dawn said...

This is beautiful, bittersweet, so glad you've had a wonderful time, that you've had space and peace and time to sink deep into the land. You must feel torn, glad to be going home, sad to be leaving. A piece of you will always be there.

Karen Casebeer said...

A wonderful, heartfelt post. I'm so glad your stay has fit well with your hopes for a productive sabbatical. I've enjoyed reading your blog from the perspective of a cowgirl in a different part of the country. Safe travels home. Karen

P. J. Grath said...

Thanks and love to all of you! I thought this morning, if ever I were to write my autobiography (unlikely!), a good title would be COWGIRL IN MY DREAMS. Most of my life has been a long detour away from girlhood horse dreams, but this winter has brought me full circle.

Susan said...

Oh gosh! I fear you may explode with Contentment and its rakish cousin Joy!

P. J. Grath said...

It wouldn't be for everyone, I realize, but it has definitely been a dream come true for me. I've been very happy here.