Monday, November 27, 2006

Bittersweet

I cupped my hands behind my ears and listened once again. It sounded like water but I wasn’t certain. The insect was there for certain and the breeze moving through the trees was more defined. I removed my hands and heard a muffled breeze but no insects, no birds and no falling water. Occupational hazards in my youth combined with age have deafened me to the more subtle natural, soothing and intriguing sounds that surround me.

We were sitting near the divide of the Cochise Stronghold in the Dragoon Mountains. Our hike reached its height and turning point at the divide and we had returned to a sunny outcrop to eat and to experience a feeling of sacredness. My mind was wandering through valleys and peaks of thoughts as I gazed over the scene before me. Julie was sitting beside me as we shared our meal. We sat silent most of the time, each choosing to revel in semi-solitude.

I thought about the names of the scenery before me – Stronghold and Dragoon – which tell of the violent and sad human history of the area. A dragoon is “a member of a European military unit formerly composed of heavily armed mounted troops.” The name came from the Mexican troops who pursued the Apache into the mountains. A stronghold is “a fortified place” or “a place of security and survival”.

Cochise and a band of Chokonen-Chiricahua Apache sought refuge in this section of the mountains as they fled from American troops. He and five others had been falsely accused of kidnapping and theft which initiated a war of attrition that lasted ten years. In the end, the remaining 400 to 600 Apaches acquired and lost a reservation before being relocated to reservations in Florida and Oklahoma.

I sat in the sun, felt the cool breeze on my bare arms and savored the rebellious and cynical thoughts that in reality their land was stolen, their hopes were destroyed, their basic human rights were denied and they were moved to concentration camps in the quest for American Empire – a damned corrupt empire as are all empires. My sadness of thinking of the bereaved families struggling for survival was moderated by my cynicism that life always has been and always will be marked by struggle, competition and conquest. So be it. Eat, drink and enjoy the fleeting moment, the sun, the bird’s song and the beauty of nature, family and friends..

But, this wasn’t the time or place to wallow in cynicism. It was a time for nature and the geologic history that surrounded us – and the potential danger. At the trailhead I saw a sheriff’s vehicle and walked over to ask questions. I discovered he was checking a vehicle which matched the description of one owned by two climbers – a married couple in their fifties – who were over 48 hours past due for a planned phone call to family. They were experienced climbers and were punctual in checking with family. As I sat on the outcrop, I wondered if they were injured or were their bodies lying at the base of some wall. I felt no sadness. I understood their choice and need and their willingness to accept the risk.

Julie broke the silence. “Give me the binoculars! Do I see people?” Indeed, she had spotted three climbers on what appeared to be an impossible face in the distance. Each of us chooses the activities that enrich our lives and our experience of the natural world. We had passed a couple hiking with an old dog, a family with children and three mountain bikers. Here were climbers who would reach the peak and experience a panorama and a thrill that few can achieve. I doubt that I have the strength and endurance to go where they have gone but my life is rich enough.



Cochise Stronghold
The Cochise Stronghold. The arrow identifies the location of three climbers. Here's a larger version of the photo.




Three climbers
Three climbers. Here's a larger version of the photo.


I cupped my hands behind my ears and listened again. Once more I heard the falling water blending its voice with the music of the insect and the breeze. My hearing may be fading but not the richness of my life.

Julie quietly and matter-of-factly commented “We can do this for another 30 years.”

“Yes, I hope so. I have you and a few remaining wild places. That’s enough to make life good.”

5 Comments:

Blogger Buffalo said...

Manifest Destiny....how much we lost, what great harm was done.

I feel gifted to be able to see and feel through your eyes. That makes life good also.

11/27/2006 11:56:00 AM  
Blogger MojoMan said...

That looks like very rough country. I can only imagine how hard it must have been for a small band of natives trying to survive up there.

11/27/2006 03:39:00 PM  
Blogger The Michael said...

It is remarkable to see how you can sense the spirit of the scenery as well as the archetechure. Thank you for sharing this informative and inspiring experience with us.

I hope the hikers were ok.

11/27/2006 08:56:00 PM  
Blogger Jim said...

That "you, and a few wild places" is all one needs...

11/28/2006 12:21:00 AM  
Blogger Larry said...

What a rich and full life, Paul. I envy you all the beauty you enjoy out there; I meant to come 25 years ago, but let the moment slip with other interests.

We are all blessed with the portion of beauty in our experience.

The capacity to feel the pain of the oppressed (of whatever age) is a real blessing that glorifies our lives.

11/28/2006 11:40:00 AM  

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