An Epiphany

Last September 29, we returned home from two magical weeks in Greer, Arizona. We had spent the latter part of May camping there in our 21′ travel trailer, and looked forward to returning in the fall to enjoy some fly-fishing.

Two years before, when we bought our second travel trailer, we took it out twice before winter hit. Months went by and the Winnebago Micro Minnie sat in storage. Then in February of 2020, just as the world began to close down, ours opened up. The trailer became our magic carpet to welcoming places during a scary time.

We fished the reservoirs at Dead Horse Ranch in Cottonwood, returning in March to do it again. April was spent in Payson, exploring Christopher Creek, Lower Christopher Creek, and Upper Christopher Creek, all peaceful and inviting. And for the first time, I caught a trout unassisted. Yes, I picked the area along the creek, selected and tied on the fly, spotted the trout, cast, and caught the fish! To me this was a big deal.

In May, we took the trailer up to Show Low, and stayed on a horse farm. Son Dave and family came up from Pinetop one day, and the adults got to ride a tractor for the first time! Gene and I fished Show Low Lake and Show Low Creek, both beautiful spots.

Later in May, we took the trailer to Page Springs and rendezvoused with our youngest, Katie, and her family. We played Zingo with the three little ones at our picnic table, fished Oak Creek, saw a blue heron and a vermilion flycatcher, walked the Black Hawk Trail at Bubbling Ponds Preserve and Hatchery, and went wine-tasting at D.A. Ranch Winery in Cornville.

In June, we were back in Greer. Dave and his family came over from Pinetop to hike along the Little Colorado and have dinner at Molly Butler’s. While there, a whole herd of deer came strolling down the hill to the children’s playground next to Molly’s!

Later in June, daughter Katie and family brought their pop-up trailer to Greer, to the space right next to ours. There’s nothing like having your grandchildren at your trailer door first thing in the morning. It makes your heart sing!

So, 2020 flew by, and though we couldn’t be with all the family in person, we were with some of them, and we were fishing, hiking, birding, and just being, safe as possible from COVID-19. And I’m deeply grateful.

This past year, we left the trailer in storage, except for three trips: Page Springs in April, Greer in May, and this last one to Greer again, in September. For that one, we had reserved our favorite spot at a small RV park above the highway. We got settled, and took a deep breath, awestruck by the pine-dotted meadow, golden with wildflowers. I set out the hummingbird feeder and the wild bird seed, and within minutes, the birds came to feast: Rufous Hummers, juncos, sparrows, finches, towhees, woodpeckers, Steller’s Jays, red-winged blackbirds, Black-headed Grosbeaks, and more. A Cooper’s Hawk sat on the fence rail, watching and waiting. And later, an owl swooped across our trailer rooftop! And the chipmunks! Smart and amusing, they scampered across the fence railing, jumping on the feeder tray, then down to the ground to eat the seed spilling from the swaying dinner plate. 

We fished Big Lake with the inimitable guide Cinda Howard in her beautiful wooden boat, and learned a great deal about casting in the wind. And we fished Luna Lake, and caught a bunch of Cutthroat Trout.

It was a beautiful trip.

But getting to this point was not easy; trailering is a lot of work. And the older you get, the harder the work becomes. Backing into your spot at the end of a long drive, for example, can be a major frustration, even though we have a pretty good system, because every guy within running distance wants to “help” and share his technique. Then it’s time to make sure your baby is straight, so you don’t have trouble walking around inside or sleeping. And then there are the hook-ups, which provide extra electricity, unlimited water, and sewer service.

While Gene is getting us situated, I usually unpack the car, put things away, make the bed, and get dinner ready. And after a glass of wine, life is good again. We were glad to be there. Fall in Greer is spectacular!

But when it was time to leave, it was hook-up time. And when your man has to use a long metal lever to lift the stabilizer bars up and into position, and then jump up and down on them to get them to lock in, and then, after washing up, climb into the driver’s seat and drive you home through some pretty difficult passages, well…. let’s just say we had an epiphany coming home: we’ve finished this chapter in our lives.

We will continue to travel, but not pulling a trailer, at least not often. And since I’ve always wanted an Airstream, Gene came up with the brilliant idea of buying one and leaving it up in Greer. And we can continue to fish, hike and bird, but it will be a lot easier in a 30-footer with a bed that stays made, closet space, and room to cook. And we can just drive up and back, and not fuss with anything. It’ll be like having a cabin without all the details.

It’s been a lovely adventure, exploring Arizona in a trailer. But we’re 73 now, and it’s time to get real. And that means tweaking the way we travel. We don’t have to give up being embedded in nature; we just need to get there differently. Key takeaway: “Be flexible; it keeps you in the game.”

And to my young friends who are looking forward to retirement and doing something similar, I hope you’re asking yourselves, “What am I waiting for?”

Epilogue: It took three months to find our “dream cabin on wheels,” but last week we drove to Las Vegas and bought a 2016 30’ Airstream Flying Cloud. The dealership is delivering it on January 17th. We’ll store it in Mesa, Arizona, until May, then take it to Greer. Yes, we’re thrilled!

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Time for a Break?

CHANGES OF SCENE ARE A GOOD THING, and SO ARE FRIENDS

Gene and I just celebrated our 19th anniversary. Ironically, after 19 weeks of social distancing, I think we’re ready to socially distance from each other. (Don’t worry; that’s a joke.)

Like most of us, in all these months, we’ve seen very few of our friends “live and in person.” And we miss them! The last time we entertained was on May 6th. Our neighbors Lynne and Bob came over at 7:30 a.m. for coffee and Bloody Marys on the patio. (We needed to be outside to socially-distance, and since we live in Phoenix, early morning seemed like the best time.)

In fact, since the disappearance of life as we know it, our social life has been almost non-existent. We’ve been to our friend Gail’s house for the best take-out dinner ever, seated at opposite ends of her dining table, and we joined Tempe friends Pat and Steve here in San Diego for seafood and a long walk on the beach. That’s it.

We’ve been able to rendezvous with family in various parts of northern Arizona, and in their yards and ours. Those visits have been our saving grace. But still, we miss our friends.

Since March, we’ve camped in Page Springs, Cottonwood, Camp Verde, Payson, Show Low, and Greer.

Added to the social isolation has been the pressure of being in our trailer for weeks at a time. We feel lucky to have our little house on wheels because it has allowed us a change of scene. But we’re talking 120 square feet! Have you ever tried to remove roasted vegetables from an oven in a space about three feet wide? Or taken a shower in a bathroom where getting undressed requires the dexterity of a contortionist?

This month, thank God, we’ve been in a little bungalow in San Diego with our kitties. It feels spacious, compared to the trailer. But being in another town for a month, even one with the most heavenly weather possible, poses problems, too.

I have plenty to do: reading, writing, talking on the phone with my kids and sisters, emailing and texting friends, cleaning, laundry, Facebook, Words with Friends. We cook, go for walks, fish, picnic at the beach, talk, and talk some more. Gene reads, goes to the driving range and fishes alone occasionally. But there are no projects here, no “Honey Do’s.” And this is “Mr. Fix-it.” The poor guy is bored.

So, we’re starting to drive each other nuts. He’s noticing every annoying habit I have, and I’m noticing that he has a few himself. The differences between us are more obvious because we’re together so much.

It turns out I have gotten particular. About a lot of things.  I used to think when Gene asked me to go with him to the store, he just wanted help. It turns out he wants me there to be sure he doesn’t bring home the wrong items, e.g., salted butter instead of unsalted, plain olive oil instead of Extra Virgin First Cold Pressed, thin pork chops instead of thick ones, red delicious apples instead of honey crisp. Not only are my grocery lists missing detail; they’re impossible to read! So now I know.

I can fix the grocery list. But a tougher challenge is the way we make decisions. Have you ever taken the color test for personality traits? Well, I’m a blue; Gene’s a green. I’m quick and spontaneous, the “let’s get it done” type. Gene is slow and deliberate, the “let’s get it done right” type, He wants to gather every bit of information he can find before making a decision, and I’m talking small (to me) decisions like which beach today or which wine with dinner. I welcome his style if, to me, it’s a decision worthy of his level of scrutiny.  But sometimes, I just need to move in a direction, any direction, even the wrong direction. In my head I’m shouting, PLEASE, LET’S JUST MOVE!

So, we’re trying to find things to do alone, like more reading and fishing. And it’s no wonder he wants to go fishing at Blacks Beach, where clothing is optional. He can fish and watch pretty girls go by “optionally” clothed. Time is not of the essence. (The stickler is that it’s 1,000 steps from the top of the trail down to the beach, a truly death-defying walk for a guy in his 70s, even one in good shape. And he’s got to carry a rod, a tackle box, towel, phone, snacks, water, a colander to catch sand crabs, and an empty water bottle to keep them in. I’m not concerned that this will become a habit.)

And while he’s fishing, I’ll think about all the reasons I’m glad we’re married, and welcome him home with a big kiss.

France Is Not to Be

GENE AND i SHOULD BE PACKING

Introduction: I almost bagged this blog. I was concerned that I might sound insensitive to what’s going on in the world. So I slept on it, and decided this morning that we all need diversion right now, a break from this damned pandemic. So here you go…

Gene and I should be packing for France. We had a great adventure planned, and reservations to fly out of Phoenix this Tuesday. We were to land in Paris and take the high-speed train to Normandy. 

We had a charming hotel reserved in Bayeux, and two tours scheduled. The first was a tour of Omaha Beach, where the Allied forces landed nearly 76 years ago during the largest seaborne invasion in history, and 4,414 Allied soldiers lost their lives that tragic day.

The second was a tour of Mont-Saint-Michel, the tidal island off the northwest coast of France. “Mindwalk,” the 1990 film starring Liv Ullman, Sam Waterston, and John Heard had a life-changing effect on me. It’s a fascinating conversation among a physicist, a U.S. senator, and a poet, about how the world works. (Is it more like a clock or a tree?) And the movie is set in The Abbey of Mont-Saint-Michel.

From Normandy, we were going to drive to Beaune, Burgundy, where we were excited to explore the 15th Century walled town and taste the fabulous wines made from the Côte d’Or vineyards surrounding Beaune, “the very epicenter of wine porn.” – Robert Draper, The New York Times, Sept. 30, 2015.

We are wine-lovers, and have been to vineyards in California, Oregon, Washington, Arizona, and – last May — Chateauneuf-du-Pape, where we sat in a restored 13th Century wine cellar and tasted eight wines. We could hardly wait to sample the Pinot Noirs and Chardonnays in Burgundy.

Next, we planned to drive to Paris for eight days. I had found a charming apartment through Airbnb in the first arrondissement*, near the Louvre. When we travel, we like to immerse ourselves in the place, pretend we live there, and site-see as the mood strikes. While we still can, we decide for ourselves what we’re going to do and figure out the local transportation.

The downside to this approach is you don’t see as much as you would on a tour, you get lost a lot, and sometimes you order a liter of wine, instead of a glass. The upside is, you don’t feel rushed, you have more interaction with the people who live and work there, you learn how to navigate the city, and sometimes you order a liter of wine, instead of a glass. (Yes, this happened to us in Avignon last May, and we had to hold each other up all the way back to our hotel.)

Last May was our first trip to Paris together. We stayed in the Marais district, which is filled with young families and interesting museums. We hung out each morning in a different café, eating the best croissants in the world, drinking lattes and freshly squeezed orange juice, and watching parents walk their children to school and day care before work. It’s an amazing way to start the day!

We were hoping to do that again this year, as well as some things we haven’t done together: tour the Louvre, not just take pictures of it; have lunch at the Jules Verne on the 2nd Floor of the Eiffel Tower; walk to Montmartre and climb the steps of the Sacré-Cœur (and the additional 300 to the dome); walk through the Musée d’Orsay, see the Chagall on the ceiling of the Palais Garnier opera house; and take a blanket to the Champ de Mars and watch the light show on the Eiffel Tower at dusk (with a bottle of wine, of course).

But back to reality. Here we are in Phoenix, Arizona, 32 days into Governor Ducey’s “stay at home” order. It’s 97°, and I’m trying to look on the bright side. After all, we have plenty of food and toilet paper; we have a home we love in a neighborhood where we can walk in safety; we can be with friends and neighbors (at a safe distance or on Zoom); we have access to wonderful entertainment through Netflix and Amazon Prime; all our children and grandchildren are within 30 minutes of us; we have two sweet kitty cats; and we have each other.

So, no France this year. But we are among the lucky ones. And don’t we know it.

*The 20 arrondissements are arranged in the form of a clockwise spiral, starting from the middle of Paris, on the Right Bank of the Seine.