Woods Canyon Lake, September 2022
What as my state of mind that day? The day I took off to Woods Lake.
I remember that it was hot in Pine. And sticky-humid on account that it had rained nonstop for several days before.
The result of all that wetness had been a rapid explosion of growth amidst the Ponderosa Pines. Grasses, weeds, flowers had shot up literally within a 24-hour period. Suddenly we were not living in the dry mountains above Phoenix, but in some kind of sublime subtropical terrain. What also grew with wild abandon during those days were living creatures in the spores, molds, fungi, and insectoid categories. I remember that during that time, there was the ever-present stench of molding something somewhere and a traveling halo of gnats, mosquitos, and other biting flying things hovered over everything and everyone. Poor Ms. D. Her giant ears were easy targets every time she emerged out of the RV so both her and I spent the majority of August inside with the air conditioning on.
Near the end of this steamy month, we needed to get away and fast. On the first morning of a three-day weekend, I packed it all up. By noon that day we were heading for the hills that were even higher than the hills we were currently living in.
Our vague destination was the Mogollon Rim, about 50 miles due east (and a few thousand feet up) from Pine. At the forty-mile mark, the terrain changed significantly. The air became cool and crisp. It beckoned so I rolled down the window as we cruised the Hwy 260 grade at a steady 25 miles an hour, cordially hugging the right side of the two-laner so that others going anything faster than our snail’s crawl could pass us.
Pass us they did, most with a whoosh of their wheels, but a few with horns blaring and explicatives and middle fingers shooting out of their cabs. I didn’t mind in the least. For one thing, I had gotten used to hostility hurled at Winnie and her consistently chilled-out speed. But mostly because, at last, there was no hurry. I could breathe, and not just because of the change in temperature. I knew that for the next three days, it would be just me, the bun, the tall pines, and sprawling vistas of the Mogollon.
There would be no slinging espressos into paper cups for weary travelers and uptight retirees. There would be no phone calls, no zoom links, no schedules or multiple deadlines coming in from the cadre of writing clients that needed to be soothed with a never-ending supply of formulaic copy.
For the next three days, my only obligation would be to keep us fed, to keep fresh water in the tank, and to keep my hand moving across the page should inspiration hit.
Near the top, I made a left on to Rim Road and entered into a straight, flat 2-lane highway canopied with tall pines. I took a stop at a lookout called “Military Sinkhole” (the sign didn’t explain why). The scene before me made me catch my breath.
It was a canvas of various colors of blue. The sky overhead was an unbroken sea. Below that, a hazy baby blue and lower still, the dark greens, browns, and navies of land as seen from an airplane, or from where I was standing at above 7,000 feet.
That settled it. Wherever this was, I wanted to stay here a while!
Finally, I got out the GPS on the off chance that it would connect to some random cell tower so as to show me exactly where I was. After about 3 minutes of scrolling, Maps opened up with the information that there was a cluster of campgrounds centered around a place called Woods Canyon Lake. If I just kept going on the exact same road I was on about 5 miles more, I would get there.
I picked Aspen Campground after touring them all and pulled into a spot just as dusk was settling. I leveled the rig and then went about created the customary fenced-in bunny wonderland around Winnie’s coach door for Ms. D while she looked on with a critical eye. After it was assembled and (hopefully) bunny-proof, I let her out of the rig to explore. She sniffed the periphery of the X-Penn then showed her approval by munching on some meadow grass and settling in for a little snooze. I ventured into the kitchen, where I quickly made myself a cheese quesadilla in the near-dark. We were in a crude, bare-bones campground with no electricity after all, so boondocking rules were in place. That meant minimum battery power and only one light on at a time.
As I munched the final little bits of my dinner, all the business and travel of the day began to descend on me. Suddenly, my eyelids were made of clay and my body was mush. You know the kind of bone-tiredness that I am talking about. No amount of coffee, sugar, or blue-light YouTube watching can fix it. For me, it was also a physical response to the awareness that all around me, all through me, and all across the swath of mountain that we had landed for the night, the one thing that was more present than the pines was silence.
This silence was palpable. It was an entity all its own. I imagined a name- The Being of Silence, who is connected to Wisdom and to the deep, deep waters. The feeling was peace. The smell was the rain. The sound was silence.
The next morning, I woke up late, but no matter. There is no time within this silence. It had not been just part of the night. It also extended into morning, giving the waking hour a cinnamon-sweet glow even though outside was still cold and grey.
I actually welcomed the grey, the mist, the coolness. I got to take my down jacket out of the tiny RV closet and zip it up over my bathrobe as I drank morning coffee sitting on the top stoop to the entrance of the RV. I watched Ms. D scamper about her pine tree enclosure, nibbling grasses. Her tiny bunny nose went off wildly with each new, unfamiliar small.
The dew fell into the late morning and soon it would accumulate as rain. We would go inside then, enclosed in the damp, dark, coolness of our little sanctuary on wheels. Later, when the rain broke, I would bike down to the lake. I would sit there and stare, thinking about nothing, watching ducks make V-shaped cuts in the crystal-clear water and an old man in a raincoat cast a line over and over from a boulder a little bit down shore. Then I would walk the aisles of the tiny lakefront store, considering what to get for dinner and marveling at containers of cheese whiz going for $10 a can.
I would buy some paper towels, some more tortillas, a package of cheese, some bananas, and some lemons to add to our food supply for the three days we would be there. Then I would make another stop at the lake to watch people scramble out of rented kayaks as the rain began to descend in sheets.
Finally, in all that gloriously chilly wetness, I would bike back “home,” back to safety, back to the bun, back to the semi-warmth of the RV where I would strip out of my soaking clothes and into jammies and thick, cushy socks. As the day plunged into darkness and the rain stopped its thunderous roar on the rooftop and turned to soft tinkling, I would snuggle into the upper bunk and into wave upon wave of silence once again.