Return to A Deliberate Year
Roosevelt Lake, Arizona
Tuesday night I stayed, for only the third time in my life, in a commercial campground. The Spring Creek Inn and RV Resort. I wanted to charge up the batteries and watch the election coverage. Seemed like a good idea.
This campground in Roosevelt is on something of a low hill, across from the post office. While I was checking in, I admired an framed aerial photograph of the area. Vivid in the foreground was something I had not seen from the road: the green oasis of a golf course. Right across the street.
"Our golf course? It's closed. Got flooded."
"Flooded? From the lake?"
"Sure. We got 7 inches of rain. Closed down the road. Left big rocks all over the place."
My God. It's several miles down to the lake.
"Does this happen often?"
She laughed. "Often enough. Around here, it never rains. Then it rains all at once. And the Salt River brings it right through here."
The Salt River. Impressive. That settles it. I'm headed up to Show Low, and down that canyon. Unless, of course, it rains.
Then she told me the cable TV was out.
"From the flood?"
"Nah. The guy just shut it down. One night his wife died, and he said to heck with it. He drove over to the shop, shut it off, locked up, and left. That was right in the middle of the second Presidential Debate. Didn't say nothin' to nobody."
"I bet that made people real happy."
"Lots of complaints, but he don't care. We've been scrambling around ever since. The motel's on antenna, but the camp ain't hooked up yet."
What the hell. It's only TV. This place looks quiet. I can get PBS and NBC on the batwing. There's power. Twenty bucks. That's good enough.
I gave up on the election before it was over. About midnight.
"Looks quiet." Did I say that? Right. Looks got nothing to do with quiet. At 5:30 in the morning somebody started up a big diesel and ran it for 25 minutes before finally rattling out the front gate.
Then, just as I was getting back to sleep, somebody cranked up a stereo...boompbaboomp, boompboompbaboomp. About ten minutes of that. Seemed to come and go, like through a door. Then I noticed the air bed was almost flat. Great.
Tick. Tock. Tick.
Dawn came slowly, gray and gritty. Or maybe it was just me.
After breakfast at Ma's Kitchen, I dragged the trailer down here to Bachelor Cove. Waaay down to the end, away from everybody. After listening to Kerry's graceful concession speech, I wanted to break something. But heck, I'm too tired. I lay back on the couch. Closed my eyes.
RRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRR. Rrrumble rumble rumble rumble....
Maybe I'm not too tired. A boat? I flung open the door, grinding my teeth.
I looked around. This guy had hundreds and hundreds of miles of empty shoreline to inflict himself on, and he zeroed in on me, out on this damned deserted spit.
"YOU CAMPING HERE?" I had to yell. To be heard over the boombox.
Yeah, that's the reason.
He looked around, as though surprised to find me there.
"No. Just gonna relax here a couple of hours."
I considered homicide. It would be a mercy. Really. An act of kindness.
It was a close thing.
But in the end I cranked up the truck and took the kayak over to Apache Lake, below the dam at 3 mile wash. Nobody around but one guy in a skiff, fishing, out by the island. No boombox in evidence.
An hour of paddling should settle me right down.
On the way upriver I ran across a dozen redheaded ducks, chasing them from spot to spot to spot along the far shore. They didn't seem to mind moving, and never let me get very close. But after a while you could almost see them looking around and thinking: "Who IS this guy?". Below the dam there was a barrier of barrels cabled across the lake. They escaped into the water beyond it.
There was a lot of racket overhead.
A hawk was up there imitating a falcon, trying to take a gull right out of the sky. He wasn't very good at it. Whenever she got a little beneath him, he'd close his wings and start to pick up killing speed. She'd just squawk and flap higher, making him veer and climb. Another gull kept coming helpfully between, making him angle, but not so close as to get tangled up in talons. I don't think this hawk was big enough to handle a live struggling gull in flight anyway.
But he was certainly willing to give it a try.
The gulls were taking the situation very seriously. But they seemed awkward, as though unused to being badgered this way. Aside from all that incessant inconsequential squawking, their principal strategy seemed to be to stay just above or level with the hawk, and wear him out. Gradually it worked. While I floated there and watched, the distance between slowly widened, all of them gyring, up and up and up, finally drifting out over the dam.
On the far side of the water, a heron perched slumpshouldered on a foamfilled floating barrel, phlegmatic, silent, unconcerned with the melodrama, apparently indifferent to the possibility of personal hawkstrike. Probably too big to be carried off. Seemed to be asleep.
Suddenly it dove down, cutting the water cleanly, without preamble. It did not come back up.
I took it easy on the way back, floating downstream with the current, close to the rocks. On either side saguaro marched upslope like a procession of tall green troopers.
No hurry here. I hoped, absent all the heavy breathing and paddlesplash, to sneak up on some wildlife.
But not much happened.
After a bit there was a low hum above. A grey dot against the blue, speeding west. Toward Phoenix. Perhaps my floatplane friend. Or another like him.
Unbelievably, -pht,pht,pht,pht- a heron flew right over my head from behind, maybe 10 feet up. It swooped down low to the water, stretched out its neck, and made a strangled harsh shuddering cry.
Made my throat hurt, just listening to it.
Cars passed by invisibly on the bluff above, raising a shimmer of trailing dust.
Drifting along, barely moving, I could hear the drone of crickets.
The wind's slow sigh.
The lap of water against the boat.
And underneath that, behind and between, holding it all together, the deep still silence of the world.
I could elect, I could choose to stay out here. Crawl back up one of these side canyons, like a lizard. Become a hermit. Never say another word to anyone. Least of all myself.
How long could I last like that? Would it matter?
Sunlight bounced and dazzled on the water.
At that moment, before the floating thought had quite solidified, I rounded a curve and saw the truck.
Waiting to take me back.
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