Saturday, June 4, 2011

Wildfires, Injuries and Reflections

First off, I think this is a cool picture. There is a rapidly spreading wildfire in the mountain ranges to the west of my home. Last night we drove around to take some pictures. On the left you can see the thumbnail of a moon as it dips into the valley. Of course, you can't see that it's a valley because it's night. To the right of the moon, and higher up, the fire is racing down the mountain pushed by our late-spring winds.

Unfortunately I don't have a really high end camera. You need some professional quality equipment to accurately capture the scale of such things, but they're cool pictures anyway.

On my little fall yesterday I ended spraining my left foot. I've sprained both ankles many times and this doesn't feel like anything more than a grade 1 sprain. I hope to be back at some reasonable level of activity in the very near future.

While the injury isn't bad, it's the timing that sucks. I had planned to hike a local mountain, San Cayetano. I invited people and was very excited. It appears I’ll have to postpone.

Let me tell you a bit about "my" mountain. Actually, I'm captivated by it, and don't wish to show ownership, but rather a desire to belong. There are properties of this mountain I wish to share.

It's a small mountain, just 6000 feet. That's just 2500 feet above the valley floor. The long route to the summit is only 6 miles. Anybody can climb this thing. (The local boys cross country team has run up it!) I've climbed much taller mountains and have taken days to do so.

San Cayetano is THE land mark for the town where I live. You see it from everywhere. And even though I know what it's like on top, I am always drawn to it. When I drive to the store I see it. When I step out of my classroom, I see it. When I drive home from a long trip, it's the first thing I see that tells me, "You're almost here." When I was in the military and stationed in Europe I would dream of two things when I got homesick; my future wife and this mountain. And each time I see it, in person or in memory, I’m called.

The mountain is captivating because it's both accessible and visible, but also mysterious and dangerous. There are no trails, no boundaries and it's open to anybody at any time. There are countless mine shafts, cliffs, unseen beauties and dangers.

There is a huge rock that has broken off from somewhere higher up the mountain and has slid down about 2000 feet. Where it stopped there is an abandoned mine shaft called Tubutama. Tubutama, what does that mean?!?! I can look it up, but I want to go see it. It must adventure, because it's completely unknown!

In the summer, the peak is often covered in lady bugs escaping the heat from lower elevations. There are ample signs of mountain lions and wildcats. You will certainly see, if you look, snakes, coyotes, deer, javelina and maybe a coatimundi.

I first climbed San Cayetano when I was 12 or 13. It was exhausting and I was spell-bound. See, San Cayetano is defined by its terrain. It’s a high desert mountain, but unlike most in this category, there are no oak trees because there is no water. The soil has washed away leaving exposed the toughest core of the mountain.

There is not a single moment on the climb before you get to the top where you can relax. There are places that are pure shale under foot and yet so steep that while standing up straight you can reach out and touch the ground in front of you. A friend of mine lost all of his toe nails descending this portion going straight down!

There are vast stretches covered in mini-fridge sized rocks that are lined with a swordsman of a plant called Shin-Daggers. Every time I've been up there I've fallen on beds of them or had them puncture the sides of my boot. Apparently, San Cayetano is the perfect environment for this hypodermic flora. There are beds of them that one has to pick their way through. Of course the pitch is steep and the exposed ground is loose and sloppy increasing the likelihood of falling.

Unlike a cactus, which is thin and very pointed, a shin dagger is the furled end of an agave leaf. The tip is black, appears burnt, and has rolled up so tightly upon itself that it's sharp as a sewing needle, but quickly widens. Denim pants offer no protection at all!

The hike to the top is completely exposed to the Arizona sun. Since there are no trees and no soil, it’s just rock, it's like an oven. On the first trip I brought two gallons of water and drank all of it before completing the hike. On my second trip, my brother in law suffered a very scary moment because of a combination of dehydration and exposure. His entire body, eyelids included, cramped uncontrollably. It was very frightening! That is the kind of lesson you won't be taught twice.

On the top there is a lightning rod, signature rosters in canning jars, and wild grasses. There is a breeze and a view as vast as your peripheral vision. But what's really there is reward. When climbing, there's no question of expectation or shady boundary between proper engagement in the activity and skirting the rules. You just climb. Once you're there (and back safely), you've succeeded.

Accomplishment is what gives us self-confidence. Self-confidence gives us courage to face adversity. That's what the mountain, or the run, or the bike race, or the academically challenging class really offers.

When I was younger I avoided a lot of challenges. I wasn't afraid of them, I had falsely placed confidence. I was egotistical. Why try, I know I can do it. What's the challenge? The school of hard knocks showed me that it doesn't matter if you can. Potential is worthless. What counts is results. Years of resting on my potential left me with nothing to show. Now, I'm not so sure if I can do things anymore. Injuries and age have worn on me. Failures have given me modesty, though likely not enough.

Let me explain why I wish to identify with the San Cayetano. The mountain is statistically unassuming and it’s very approachable, but in it lays many mysteries and challenges. Its peaks are rounded solid stone that stand distinct from the slopping sides like a head poking through a t-shirt.

It’s as if time has washed away all of the comfort giving shade, sucked away the natural springs and left exposed the foundations. It's like a weathered cowboy, standing proud and filthy, sun-baked and deeply wrinkled. He’s been doing his work for a long time and it’s never easy. But that’s what he is and that’s what he does and all can see.

I, too, hope to show myself without shame through the tests I face. I want to face the challenges that will wear away my soft exterior and leave exposed my core.

I’ve never owned Saucony shoes, but love this quote:

From a Saucony commercial: Maybe strong is just what you have left when you've used up all your weak...

I do not wish to promote a religion or advocate for a belief system. The following is a biblical quote because it, like the previous quote, reflects the sentiment.

John 3:20 - 21: For everyone who does wicked things hates the light and does not come to the light, lest his works should be exposed. But whoever does what is true comes to the light, so that it may be clearly seen that his works have been carried out in God.

Here's a picture from across the valley. We start at the far right (south) and the last peak on the left is the highest point. As mountains go, this is nothing special, but it is the land mark for the town where I live.

But to show you how deceptive distances and angles are in the desert, here's a view from the south:

One last picture, from the golf course. The shouldered pyramid in the front is Mt. Shibell, and behind it, to the left, is San Cayetano.

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