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Friday, April 10, 2015

Adios, Dos Cabezas – Hola, El Camino

Morning hits the mountain

How do you feel about saying good-by to Baja Arizona? I feel sad to be leaving the scene of so many happy recent memories but eager to see friends and family along the way home. I’m curious to know what home will look like and feel like when we get there, too. Will there still be snow? Will our old things and haunts and loved ones greet us with gladness and not reproach us for the long absence? My emotions are in turmoil, mind jumping back and forth across the continent. So much to remember, so much to anticipate! Our old farmhouse, my dear bookstore, our beloved back country Michigan roads! But I won’t deny it’s hard to leave here.

What will you miss most about Dos Cabezas and Willcox? I will miss, in general, the austerity and vastness of the mountains and desert, and the way this Western land, dry and barren in its superficial appearance, holds so many secrets and so much life – the wonderful, tiny details in the vastness. And while we did not forge deep relationships, I’ll miss the easy friendliness of strangers, the open smiles of greeting, the helpfulness we encountered everywhere we went. 

Our coffee place on Railroad Street in Willcox

More specifically, I’ll miss the characteristic Dos Cabezas smell of dust and cows, the daily sight of horse trailers on the streets of Willcox, the whole ranch and cowboy culture. It isn’t empty legend out here: it’s real life. And horses and dogs are very much a part of it all, I’m pleased to report.

To focus for a moment on the sabbatical aspect, how did your writing go? I’m happy with what I’ve done and with where I am now, despite having scrapped the 17,000-word beginning from a month ago and started over almost from scratch. I can’t even call the new version rewriting, because other than keeping a couple of good sections, I truly began anew. So “happy with  ... where I am now,” in terms of word count, is barely at the 6,000 mark, which may not sound like much to show for three months, but it feels very satisfying, because I like those 6,000 words. As I put it to David, my story is no longer wandering around looking for itself. Instead of filling in some conventional form called ‘novel,’ it has found its own shape. Better to make slow progress on the right road than push ahead on a wrong road until a dead end is reached. I’ve found the right road and have started down it.

So you would call the sabbatical a success and you’re glad to have spent the time where and how you did? There is a line in one of Wilfred Thesiger’s books that I used to know by heart and can only paraphrase now, something about how he was never happier in his life than riding the train from Djibouti to Addis Ababa. The other evening, when David and I were riding in the car between Dos Cabezas and the Chiricahua Mountains, taking in the beautiful scenery we have both come to love on a heartbreakingly lovely spring evening, I told him I felt like Thesiger in the train on the way to Addis. But the truth is I have felt equally happy on countless occasions during our stay here – at the livestock auction, at the junior rodeo, visiting our old friends in Patagonia, having the cows lowing around the house at night, exploring the environs with Sarah, sitting on Beverly’s old front porch in the shade with David and watching trains go by or sitting quietly behind the cabin, watching birds and lizards, looking off at distant horses and up to the mountains -- and on and on and on.

What have you learned from your time in Arizona? Well, for someone often more attuned to impressions than facts, I’ll be taking a lot of new information home with me. First there was the Cactus and Succulent Phase, then the Geology Phase, followed by the Bird Phase, and finally the General Botany Phase. In each phase, I read hungrily for knowledge of an environment entirely new to me. Also, from the very beginning, there was a hunger for history – first, for 19th- and 20th-century regional Arizona history, and now, more recently, for the entire long history of the borderland, la frontera, the area along the border between the United States and Mexico. That last, I’m sure, will be an ongoing area of study.

Any more personal learning? Finding that wannabe-cowgirl left behind at age 12 has been an important revelation. What it has to do with the rest of my life at this stage, I cannot say, but it feels right and good to come back to my girlish love of horses. Sometimes simply being around them makes me think my whole life from the age of 12 until now has been one long detour, but that cannot be true. Each life begins, I’m sure, without a destination, and only as we live do we create our path. I am just grateful that mine brought me to a little Arizona ghost town for this past winter. And now the time has come to leave. Volver? Espero que sí, pero no sé. “The future’s not ours to see....”

El camino


Susan said...

Lovely. Safe travels. We have horses around here, too, you know.

BB-Idaho said...

I've noted among your cow photos
mostly Herefords. A few weeks ago,
I was talking to a rancher who noted that in many areas, the Black Angus (or the Angus-Hereford
cross- the "Black Baldy" seems to
have taken over, like in the Great Plains states.Since their steaks (to me anyway) taste the same, I'm wondering if the Hereford has some attribute that makes it more adaptable in the Arizona clime?.
(If you see a cowpoke on the way
out!) :)

P. J. Grath said...

Yes, Susan, I need to seek out horses at home on a more regular basis. BB, one rancher said he would love to outlaw Herefords. I forget why. The author of a book I read on black Angus was convinced of that breed's superiority to all others. What can I say? I'm just showing you what we saw while here and don't know enough to editorialize.

Dawn said...

It's a beautiful place. Thank you for sharing it with us. You'll miss it...but today we're almost 70 here, and sun..and suddenly the grass is green and the gold finches are yellow. I don't know when that happened. I hope the snow will be gone by the time you make it up to Northport. Have a wonderful trip back.

P. J. Grath said...

Dawn, we've started telling Sarah that she will soon be able to explore her own yard again, visit her dog friend up the hill, and see bookstore friends in Northport. Whether or not the snow is gone, home will look good to us.

Karen Casebeer said...

A wonderful interview...with yourself! It has been fun following your life in the Southwest, but it will be good to see your pawprint "Open" sign on again. Safe travels.

P. J. Grath said...

Karen, the great thing about interviewing yourself is that you can ask the questions you want to answer. :) We'll be back before the end of the month but are taking a sight-seeing route home....