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Seldom Seen

Dead Horse State Park

I awoke Friday morning next to a field stiff with thistle and dewfrost, on the slope of the Sunset volcano. It was 23 degrees. I left Page late Thursday, after finally getting and sending my ballot in the mail. I sent for it on the 10th. Plenty of time, I thought. Finally got it on the 28th, five days before the election.

If registrars are this efficient all over the country, there's going to be a bunch of gypsies, like me, that don't get counted.

I arrived at the volcano in the dark, and found the campground closed and gated. I slept by the side of the road, in a turnout, beneath one of several "no parking" signs.

Necessity is a mother, ain't it?

My converter blew a fuse again. I am increasingly convinced this is caused by the Charge Wizard. It does not happen when it is not plugged in, and the function light in the thing is out. In any case, it has been almost a week since plugging in. The generator just doesn't keep up with it. Time to find another outlet.

I drove the circuit round from Sunset to Wupatki, stomping briskly through a couple more ruins, trying to stay warm. Hate to say it, but after a month in northern Arizona, I'm about ruined out.

But it must have been something to see, on a certain morning over a thousand years ago. To feel the ground shake, and the earth roar and rise up. They must 've run away for all they were worth, but how could they fail to look back? Even as Lot's wife, everything they knew, everything they had, was being buried around them, under cinders and ash.

No doubt it seemed the world was ending. For some of them, it did.

There's a crackle of ice in shadows along the road this morning, even though it hasn't rained. Maybe it's time to go south for the winter. Time to turn toward home. Odd how all migrations are ultimately circular, no matter how long they take.

Home. Why does it always looks so different, when you come back round at last?

Eliot had a line about that:

"You cannot face it steadily, but this thing is sure,
That time is no healer: the patient is no longer there."

Lots of snow piled up in Flagstaff, and several of last night's wrecks still to be towed away. But the roads are clear, where they are not blocked.

Several people had told me to be sure and drive down Oak Creek Canyon. Well, I've seen it, and it looks a bit like suburban Los Angeles has been crammed down into what may once have been a pretty little canyon.

Sedona is the epicenter of a fashionable demographic disaster.

It's late October. Nearly Halloween. This has to be the off season, but every parking lot is full along the road. There must be fifty cars parked at Slide Rock State Park. No chance of getting a trailer in there. Oh, and they charge for parking - "Red Rock Pass Required" - like this was a cutesy Disney enterprise instead of a national forest.

Hell. Maybe it is. "Come visit 'Canyonland'. See what all the fuss was about! Buy your tickets here!"

God knows what sort of crowded hell this little slot is in the summer. Once upon a time it mighty have made a nice small national park, but it's way too late now. Might as well sell it off and line it with McMansions.

The clutter of cuteness that is modern Sedona begins to clear out a bit toward Cottonwood, which is where I pulled into Dead Horse State Park. It's a typical desert campground. A few sites down along the trickle of a sometime stream, among the straggly mesquites, and many more above, spaced out to make a sandy parking lot. About all it really has to recommend it is an electric outlet at every site.

And that's enough.

I paid the $19 and went back into town, on a quixotic hunt for No. 6 Melitta coffee filters. That's the size of funnel I have. These things have mysteriously almost disappeared from grocery shelves everywhere. When I find them, I buy in bulk.

No luck in Cottonwood. But I did find "Seldom Seen Steve".

He was set up on the side of the road, with about 60 feet of leather goods and fake fur blankets hung up on wooden racks, all in front of an interesting homemade RV of sorts. He has a 1969 Volkswagen Van that he bought 33 years ago. All this scatter of eclectic goods fits inside, and behind it he hauls a trailer made from a 1969 Vanagon, the one with the tilt up tent. Actually, he says, it's got parts from about 10 different VW vans, of various vintage. He sleeps in the trailer with a wolf-looking dog. This dog tracked me with attentive cop eyes as I walked around the trailer, but didn't get up. Still, he managed to convey that I'd better watch my step, or he'd tear me a new one.

I bought a belt. I've only had two belts since 1973. And the same belt buckle. I bought the buckle at a BBQ joint next to a dance hall in Copeland Texas. It's what I did that night instead of getting laid. It's a solid brass Armadillo. I bought both belts from a leather worker at the Renaissance Market on the Drag in Austin.

I can't find a good belt in a store. I'm not talking about a "dress" belt. I've got a couple of those flimsy things, of course, and wear them about as often as I wear a suit.

I bought the first belt from a couple in their twenties, and came back about 18 years later to find the guy still running the stand, in about the same place. So I bought another. He said he recognized the pattern as his wife's work. In the interim she'd run off to Hawaii to be an acupuncturist.

I tried to hook up with him a couple of times in the spring, but he comes and goes. Seldom seen. But from what I'm told he still shows up from time to time. Steve listened as I told this story.

"It's one thing to peddle piece work in your twenties," I said, "and maybe sell a little pot on the side. It's an adventure. But it's odd to find a guy doing this stuff for his whole life."

Oops. Have you ever tried to close your mouth before the words got all the way out, and fail? I have.

"Hey, man. I'm nearly 60 years old. I've been doing this for 40 years. I work maybe 2 days a week, travel around the rest of the time. That's why I'm 'Seldom Seen' Steve. It ain't so bad. I like it. There's not much money in it, but there's more than I need."

And there you have it. That's why I've got a new belt. Purchased out of pure embarrassment.

O well, it's been 13 years or so. It's time. And it's a pretty good belt, though maybe not the equal of the earlier two. Inch and a half, plain brown, full grain cowhide. Fourteen bucks.

It'll do, to hold my pants up. Maybe I should get another for my mouth.

Maybe in another dozen years.


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