Letter From the Desert: Milestones

If I had known I was going to live this long, I would have bought that lifetime membership in the California Native Plant Society back when I was 27.

I turned 60 a few days ago, and I’ve been reflecting on a few things. F’rinstance, how unlikely I would once have thought that eventuality. So many people I’ve cared about failed to make it this far. My paternal grandfather. A handful of horticultural friends and colleagues lost to the plague back in the day. Beloveds and dear friends and colleagues lost to speeding cars, or cancer, or retroviruses.

Making it this far is a gift, and I intend not to waste that gift.

Helping out is the fact that as I pass this milestone, the age at which a man can no longer pretend not to be just bluntly old, my life is as good as it’s ever been. I recognize that saying so is not just tempting the fates but handing them an engraved invitation to a full formal dinner with dancing after. But it would be ungrateful of me not to acknowledge that I am extraordinarily lucky these days. Each day I fall just a bit further in love with la mujer que amo. We rhyme, mainly, and have compassionate and patient arguments, mostly, when those rhymes go slantwise. My job is what I would do with my time if I didn’t have to make a living. Due to a handful of unintended consequences of disparate life changes, I am healthier than I think I’ve ever been. Last doctor’s visit a few months back he said “whatever it is you’re doing keep doing it.”

All of which is worth appreciating, and all of which carries with it a nested set of obligations. My grandfather never had the chance to, say, backpack for two nights in Lithodendron Wash, so taking on that task is up to me. Similarly with camping in the Ruby Mountains or kayaking Topock Gorge. It is an overwhelming list of obligations I face, but I think I will bear up under the strain.

La mujer que amo and I have been visting friends in San Diego this weekend. Today, at Dog Beach, I watched the ocean as the lifeguard truck lights flashed. People and even some of the dogs on the beach faced the same way, watching. There was a rescue in progress. The swimmer in trouble was three or four rows of breakers away from the shore, and it was a little hard from my dry-shod vantage point to make out just what was happening, but a red-bikinied lifeguard was out there on a surfboard, and a first responder jetski circled them at a discreet distance, twenty yards or so. The lifeguard’s strong paddling against the rip current brought surfboard and rescued swimmer one layer of breakers closer, and then another, and there was a confusion of foam and spray, and then I could see the swimmer clearly: an ancient golden retriever mix who had chased a ball too far out and gotten overwhelmed. He had recovered enough to stand on the surfboard. That’s how he rode up to the shore. A few strong last shoves by the lifeguard and he was back on land, chasing his ball, which the lifeguard had also rescued.

October 21, 2019

Tomorrow it’s back to my desert dog after a couple of days away, and back into work, and anticipating some news on a house we hope to close on shortly, and on to the next chapter of life if that comes through.

So. Lithodendron Wash hike this year, and Ruby Mountains Trip probably this spring as I’ll be nearby for work, and at some point I need to find a willing victim for an 18-mile shuttle hike down the Fried Liver Wash Canyon, and my goal for the year is 500 hiking miles, toward which ambles with the dog on dirt roads will mostly not count.

And then more miles the year after that.

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