During my morning prayers, the glowing orange sneakers caught my attention. With at least fifty yards of wash rubble between us, she saw me and the dog, rounded a Palo Verde tree and shook her wispy hair as if to toss off something unwanted. I plucked a shot gun shell stuck in the spines of some Teddy Bear Cholla and clutched it. She looked over her shoulder, then started to climb the ridge to the south.
L.A. pollution wintering in Arizona, hazed the expanse we shared so unexpectedly, causing me to wonder if she overheard my heaven bound pleas. Pointing my toes in her direction failed to clear up the matter and she turned, looking like she had lost her compass years ago but needing it not, nonetheless.
Mesmerizing a Mountain Lion perched on a ridge in Whipple Creek the previous day with a Morse code Haiku about desert Tobacco and Phainopepla that I had so suavely batted out with my eyelids, I had hoped to do the same with her. I needed some chance to catch up. But she was already beyond range and the aimlessness of her wandering became more apparent, now back dropped by the morning blue of the sky. Marching now, I could see her more clearly. Lithe arms seemed more purposeful and she faced forward with inexplicable determination.
Then she turned towards me, looking liquid, disappearing over the top. I should have shouted the poem, trusting that the desert wind would carry it to her ears. Instead, I emptied out the grocery bag of range detritus I had been collecting since dawn. Wanting to compose a ballistic version of an Arcimboldo still life, I panicked, desperately arranging 9mm, .357 and assorted other casings into some tangible pattern. Not enough color to work with though and I erased the crude sketch with a kick. No audience sophisticated enough in this neck of the desert to appreciate it either, so no loss really.
Hurling a stick over the ridge, the Border Collie ran after it, she too disappearing into some fleeting, terminus summit mirage. I changed tactics and quickly formed the first letter, then the second. It only took me five or so minutes to spell out the name.
I turned to see her, holding the dog and smiling, walking towards me.
"No.More of an homage."
"This one looks like it's still caught in the cross hairs though." She said as I spelled out the rest using some remaining .45s.
"Giffords." She read the shells out loud and put the dog down. "Survived. Now I understand. Sorry I hesitated. The ne'er do well thing out here you know."
Our eye contact made my heart turn to crystal. She wasn't sunburned and didn't seem to have Rattle snake venom running through her veins like most of the local honeys here. No garish lipstick either and no tattoos.
Asking her where she was from would have rendered the scene flat, monochrome-something to spray paint an obscene slogan on in the evening hours.
The weave of 4WD ruts cutting through the delicate hills around us began to fade. Beer cans and archipelagos of auto glass shards too. Her presence improved the desert's skin tone drastically. The mountains across the Colorado river and beyond the casinos began to ring. Evasive harmonies arced over the water, dodging the intermittent Glock reports out in Sandy Canyon, but somehow weaving them into a kind of melodic retribution even more refined than my attempts at telegraphic Haiku. The woman's subtlety was rarer than the Nutting's Flycatcher in these here parts.
Gulping, I blinked some more, then worried that she thought I was hitting on her . She held her index finger up to her lips and pointed to something golden. Reeds. A span of them that I had seen the previous day down at the Bill Williams refuge, but now were before us in the shadows of the Crossman foothills.
Then a cavalcade of balding, sunburned, fat, tank topped, bleached handle bar moustached men all filed into the reeds in some kind of somber procession that very well could have occurred on the banks of the Nile river. Some held up Confederate flags, others NRA posters. Others brandished "Kill Illegals for Christ" banners. The hate baked into their skin seemed to lift as they immersed themselves.
Next came a phalanx of women with cheap,sun bleached, perfumed bouffants, Family Dollar pearl necklaces and rouge. They too entered into the reeds, into the river along with the men. Some held Tea Party flags, others "What would Jesus do?" signs. One of the ladies tried to protest with Round Up but the sprayer head clogged up on her, thankfully.
"It will take awhile for them to come out." My friend said. "Besides, you'll see them on your next walk out here. Pink Phlox, Fairy Duster, Brittlebush...maybe even some Rattleweed, Panamint Mariposa Lily. Just don't be tempted to water them. They'll have to wait for the rain on their own."
Embarrassed, I knelt down and gathered up the shell casings and put them back into the Safeway bag. But it was already raining before I finished. A few drops landed on the glowing orange Keds. Kangaroo rats had chewed holes in them and when I put them in the bag too, some nesting material made out of Cottonwood fluff fell out and was blown away, comingling with a dust devil that circled some Mormon Tea before dissipating.
"Now who am I going to thank?" I said out loud, and threw another stick for the pooch who was already waiting for me on the trail, posed and ready to spring.
I knew then that I wouldn't need to look any longer.
On to California: