I don’t know how I managed to pull myself away from Alpine, Arizona, but I did, and with an incredible bang. Alpine, a town that is up in the White Mountains, almost in New Mexico, surrounded by rolling hills, meadows, lakes, pine trees. A town where the population is 145 humans, five gazillion pine trees, and where the local cafe serves 12 different kinds of pie, all made right there every morning in the cafe kitchen. Where a note on the bulletin board outside the Country Store says that Jack will pick up all your pine needles for $15. an hour. A town which is, according to wiki, the highest place to be found in the entire U.S. where farming is successfully happening. Where the real estate agent assured me that in his 34 years of living there, only three buildings had been added to the main street. Where there is absolutely no radio reception, neither AM nor FM. Where there was nowhere to buy a bed sheet, on my list of forgotten items, and the owner of the local motel happily gave me one, saying “We’ve wondered for years what to do with this sheet, ever since we lost its matching fitted bottom.” Where in the wee hours of every morning the elk sing their wild magical incantations. Where I camped for five days by the side of Luna Lake.
Luna Lake has to be one of the most pristine peaceful places left on earth. It’s surrounded by meadows filled with wild iris as far as the eye can see. I was always alone there, except for a fisherman far out on the lake, sitting very still in his boat with a line over the side. One morning a lone sandhill crane stood for hours on a rock jutting into the lake, not moving even when I sat down quite close.
My days at Luna Lake became like the surroundings, utterly serene and quiet. I’ve rarely experienced such peace. The few other campers were settled far away from me, providing a feeling of safety, yet with their distance allowing me complete solitude. As always in campgrounds there was no wi-fi, freeing me from the tyrannical pull of the computer. The absence of any radio possibilities was a new experience, and I was surprised what a difference it made, having no idea what was going on in the rest of the world, being completely cut off from awareness of anything but my immediate surroundings.
I spent my days either wandering by the lake or reading and writing. Sitting in my little camping chair low on the ground, either a book or my writing implements in my lap, I was intimately connected to the sun. The pine trees there were tall and scraggly, providing long narrow lines of shade in the campground that made the whole place look like the back of a zebra. Everywhere, the shade consisted of dark stripes that were exactly the width of me, elbow to elbow. For hours at a time I moved with the sun, every five minutes or so scooting over in my chair to follow my strip of shade. It was a bother, but worth it as I felt myself a pulsing part of the universe, moving around the sun in my own jerky little orbit.
I awoke one morning knowing that it was time to move on. I had had no such thought the night before but by morning it was a certainty. I didn’t try to fathom what mysterious undercurrents had been at play as I slept, and I didn’t question the decision. I got out my maps.
The following morning I was up before the sun, battening down the hatches and preparing my food for the day on the road. The only challenge in getting ready to move is always the positioning of the trailer on the hitch. I’ve noticed that guys get the ball and the cup just vaguely in the vicinity of each other and then lift and push the trailer into perfect position. I don’t have that kind of strength so I have to get the cup exactly – and I mean exactly, not 1/8 inch off – over the ball. It can take me up to half an hour, jumping in and out of the driver’s seat to run back and check, though a few memorable times I’ve miraculously managed it in just a few minutes. It’s while I’m doing this task that I feel the most nostalgia for my tenting days.
On this day it went quickly, and as usual I check-check-checked to make sure the Scamp was hitched on securely, and then check-check-checked once more. I have learned two methods to do the checking, and they both confirmed, over and over, that it was secure.
I pulled out of my site just as the sun was rising, glorying in the deep sense of peace that I was taking with me from my time there, feeling incredibly serene and calm. A few minutes down the campground road I waved goodbye to my nearest neighbors, and a few minutes after that I heard a horrible BANG as my car was jolted to a stop. The Scamp had fallen off the hitch. My heart pounded wildly, I myself was jolted into a state of frantic panic.
Thank goodness I was going only five miles an hour. Thank goodness the road was soft earth so the fall was cushioned. Thank goodness two strong guys came running over to help me. With tremendous effort, both of them together turning the handle of the grotesquely bent jack, they managed to get the Scamp back up and back on the hitch. They laughed and joked as they worked, to them this was a minor set-back.Their wives came over clucking with comfort and reassurance. But my heart would not stop its wild beating, I could hardly catch my breath. It was hard to return their smiles as I thanked them and said goodbye.
For the next half hour my mind was jagged with wrenching thoughts: terror at images of catastrophes that I was sure would happen at any moment, self-lashings at being so old and stupid, self-pity at feeling so alone and unprotected in the world, conviction that there was nothing for me to do now but just give up and die.
My incredible serenity and calm had been shattered completely by that BANG. The best I could manage as I drove into New Mexico toward my next adventure was a restored heart rate and regular breathing. My mind was a bit calmer too, though I had no idea what awaited me up ahead, in the short or long term. Would I find someone to replace the jack? Was this the sign that it was time to give up my travels and cower in the safety of my house? Would I ever feel strong and optimistic again? Luckily I had seven or eight hours of driving up ahead, plenty of time to give these questions their due.