A beautiful winter day
Last Sunday, Jana suggested we take a walk to the horse petroglyphs, which are located about a mile and a half from our house.
So, after breakfast we put on our walking shoes, coxed Pearl from her doggie bed, and hiked up Cemetery Hill, past the Ancient Puebloan Great House, down the backside of the necropolis, around the old Bluff swimming hole, north into Cottonwood Wash, over countless boulders large and small, and up the steep talus slope.
There, in the midmorning light, we found the horses, large and beautiful as ever.
Jana is an artist and horse lover, so these historic petroglyphs enchant her. As for me, I am most interested in the view from the base of the cliffs, a place where at certain times of the year swallows swoop and all year long ravens sail in the valley below.
While Jana admires the rock art, I look over the canyon and try to remember what it was like when Craig, Barry, and I scampered over every inch of our southeastern Utah home, always on the lookout for new adventures and certain that someday we would discover hidden treasure in a secluded cave, nook, or cranny.
Surely, we thought, there must be Spanish gold stashed somewhere near Bluff, and it was our destiny to find it.
We were too young and too inexperienced to understand that the valuables we sought were all around us in the magical cliffs, in the ancient cliff dwellings, in the crystal-clear air, and in the majestic beauty of our red-rock homeland.
As our friend Marx Powell, who knew the town in those early years, might say about contemporary Bluff, “It hasn’t changed much, but it has.”
As I sat in the sand, Pearl at my side, lyrics from a 1966 Simon and Garfunkel song circulated in my brain: “A winter’s day. In a deep and dark December...”
While the afternoon was warm, sunny, and bright, I could feel COVID-19 hanging like a dark cloud over everything, pressing in on me.
Even if I have not found myself personally infected, for the past nine months this coronavirus has affected countless aspects of our lives. I can’t help feeling like Joe Btfsplk from the Li’l Abner comic strip.
Looking slightly southeast from where I sat and shaking free of the malaise, I was reminded that when we were young, on hot summer days Duke would put on his cutoff Levi’s, load us into the back of a pickup truck, and take us to the pond for a swim.
He sometimes told Rose he was taking a potato sack full of rocks to deposit us in before heaving it into the water, putting an end to our chicanery.
We often took Tillie the dog, who belonged to Warren and Freda Reck, our neighbors to the west. If we swam to the center of the waterhole and pretended to sink, Tillie would dutifully paddle out, allow us to grab her tail, and haul us to the bank, where she patiently awaited the next rescue.
The pond is where Duke taught us to swim. Since he was a truck driver by profession, he typically brought along an inflated 18-wheeler inner tube.
Sitting in the middle of the tube, he held us by the belt loops of our own cutoffs, one child in each hand. Once we got far enough out, he released us to find our way back to the bank.
In the early stages of our training, there were times when we actually needed Tillie’s help. With her assistance, we always made it safely ashore.
Keeping Duke in mind, when Kira and Grange were old enough, I too hauled them to the Bluff Pond. This time it was Buffy the Trading Post Dog who accompanied us.
As we backstroked, looking up at the soaring desert varnished cliffs and watching the buzzards sail far above, Buffy would circle our group, guarding us from danger. It was, in a word, paradise.
Buffy and the pond are both gone, Buffy having lived a long and happy life at Twin Rocks, and the swimming hole a victim of circumstance.
A few years back the town decided to “improve” the old pioneer well feeding the pond. The well was capped and a new one drilled close by.
Unfortunately, in correcting previous problems, we ended the flow that had continued for generations. Now all that remains of the refreshing pool is a tangle of thirsty cattails. Pearl may never have the experiences of Tillie and Buffy.
Last night it snowed, and I couldn’t help thinking the blanket of white might wash away some of our troubles.
When Pearl and I walked to work this morning, everything felt fresh and new. Maybe the storm signals a new beginning, or maybe it is just my imagination.
Spring and a vaccine are not that far off, and after they arrive, we may return to a more normal existence. Things will be sunny and bright, and the COVID cloud is lifting. Stay safe, so we can all make it to the other side.