Although I probably was running away from life, in a sense, I didn’t feel like I was. Where we were, there was still one thing in the air to remind us we were right in the middle of life. Pain was still in the air. Everywhere we went, there was a little pain involved – healthy pain. Pain that felt good. Pain in our hearts. Pain that confirmed that we are alive – alive in Christ, Who felt the greatest pain there ever was. And He did it all for us.
That drive home from Arizona was painful. But, as He always does, God made up for it in one simple trip to Helena, yesterday.
It would have been easy for me to stay in Arizona for many reasons, but perhaps the most obvious one is the scenery. In one trip, I was privileged to see almost every aspect of landscaping possible. I drove from a valley crisp with new and lush vegetation – cactus, evergreens, yucca – nurtured year round and thriving from rare winter rains. A blanket of greenery began at the side of the road and continued to the tip-top of every mountain, enveloping every person, place and creature in a green wall of goodness speckled sparingly with the beginnings of new blooms and colors of born-again life.
The ascent into the mountains is fast, but traveling time goes on at a patient – yet deliberant – pace. Tall cactus turn into prickly pear cactus. Orange canyon walls, supporting the base of the great mountains, peek out from the still-green foliage, which gradually begins to mix with the browns left from winter.
By Payson, the snow-capped mountains are no longer a view from afar; snow drifts were but a snowball’s throw away. The prickly pears became sparse – along with the oxygen in the air. When found at that altitude, the prickly pears often are a shade of royal purple and compliment a fortress of red cedars, thick and wise and protective. (This was the landscape at the mission school where we stayed. Heavenly.)
At more than a mile above sea level, it’s hard to imagine functioning at a much greater height, but to make it home, one must take the high road.
I drove for what seemed for hours, mainly due to reduced speed from climbing a constantly winding incline.
I admittedly noticed the customary side effects of altitude. This flatlander is the first to admit an intimidation of the mountains. The regular shortness of breath was apparent. Jeromy, however, picked up quickly on my inability to communicate and think straight. In other words, I was a little loopy by 6,000 feet.
By 7,000 feet, I didn’t bother to try and check in. Cell phones don’t work well on mountaintops anyway, and my eyes were glued to the road. I had to use every ounce of concentration in my mind, body and soul to cross that landscape, which morphed into a flat deserted wasteland. Houses were rare. Joshua trees and hedgehog cactus took charge. The wind blew, and nothing dared to stop it.
Mile after mile, signs served as subtle warnings: “7,300 feet” also means “Pay attention! Drink your water! Make sure you have plenty of gas because there is not another town forEVER!”
When the signs started disappearing, and the canyon walls began showing their faces again, I knew we had somewhat conquered the mountains. I regained some of my senses, and took a deep breath. It was about that time I realized we were nearing New Mexico – still high up, but at a manageable level.
I yearned to drive through New Mexico again. I fell in love with it on the first pass through, and I couldn’t wait to see it from the other side of the highway.
Until almost the Texas line, I marveled at the desert plains melded perfectly with the bright oranges and deep reds of the rock cliffs and mesa walls. We hit Albuquerque at night. On the way up, we saw it in the day, and I gave it a secret prize of most original transportation systems. Each interchange is painted in a Southwest color scheme. As cars pass underneath, passengers can enjoy a festive representation of New Mexico culture.
At night, however, those same interchanges become alive with laser lights; colors of reds and blues leap off the interstate. The approach to the state’s capital from an elevated course is even more brilliant – a flat city of lights reaching as far as the eye can see, like stars everywhere, and somewhere divided by one of the most historical rivers in the world, the Rio Grande. That’s rich.
We spent the night in Santa Rosa, about an hour east of Albuquerque, and the next day led us into the familiar territories of the Texas panhandle and western Oklahoma, and finally, home, with landscapes I welcomed, though I did it reluctantly as if it were a chore.
I was happy to see wheat fields just turning green in preparation for harvest. I slowed down to admire rusty windmills, some still pumping water to herds of fattened cattle, grazing contently on lush grasses and wild herbage.
Perhaps it is the distance or the time that has passed since I left Arizona, or maybe it was the brilliance of the scenery in good old Alfalfa County yesterday, but something about the drive to Joseph’s baseball game made me joyful to be home.
The boys lost their game by one point, an edge-of-your-seater if ever there was one, but the wheat fields were fresh and green, about 6 inches high, and waving brightly in the last-day-of-March wind. They extended to the horizon, where they met a crystal blue sky, lightened with puffs of clouds foreshadowing certain spring storms.
Had I been a guest from Arizona, I would have believed snow lay between the sunny north horizon and the summer wheat. But, lo, that was the Salt Plains, whiter than I’ve ever seen them. Quite inviting. What treasures we have in Northwest Oklahoma. Home, sweet home. It’s good to be back.
It’s taken me two weeks to get around to even begin to go through the 1,164 photos taken by several us who went on the mission trip to Arizona. Maybe that’s just an excuse for not wanting to revisit a place I so severely miss already, but nevertheless, I am now getting to it.
Hopefully, I’ll get some pictures posted soon, and I’ll get to write more about the experience and the trip. The kids are home this weekend for Easter vacation, and I want to spend all the time I can with them. It may be Monday before I get anything posted, but since the taxes are now finished (yay!), my priority is to sort through and post photos and create a slide show, which everyone is invited to see at 7 p.m. Sunday, April 11, I think at the Hills-Ely Funeral Home in Medford, but I’ll have to let you know for sure on that one next week.
Deuteronomy 4, 5