Sunday, March 08, 2015

Morning Walk in Grand Junction


Going back to Grand Junction, Colorado this weekend brought back more than just memories of that particular locale. The air is different here. It is a "dry" desert air, which is immediately reminiscent to me of the few trips I took back to Yuma, Arizona after joining the Air Force. Everyone in Yuma will try to explain the difference in the air by calling it a "dry heat." A phrase which explains much more than the words alone to people who have called the desert home for a while. I would find my way back there for visits home to see my family. The desert has a certain inexplicable appeal to me. It feels like home. Its essence feeds my soul, and brings me back to the earliest roots that I recognize in my soul as being a part of something distinctly "me."

The birdsong was the next distinctive difference that I noticed. In Grand Junction, I was hearing more doves and magpies and mockingbirds than what are usually heard on the other side of the Rockies. The morning air was crisp and cool, but noticeably warmer than in FOCO. The light was more vivid than what the wintery air in Fort Collins has been, and though the town of Fort Collins has so much more to offer than GJ, there is something about the light and the quality of the air in the high desert that still gives me nostalgic pangs of homesickness that perhaps only a true desert rat would understand.

As I was taking the dogs for their initial walk of the morning, looking out towards the lovely and unique topography that makes up Junction's distinctive horizon, I was reminded of many mornings back in the mid-80's when I had first returned to Yuma from Virginia, when would go for an early morning bike-ride hoping to meet up with my childhood mentor and 4-H leader, Dr. Don Tuttle. He would often be out riding his own bike, picking up cans along the way, as he headed over to what would, years later become the riverside park in Yuma. He would work there on cleaning up the trash from what used to be a dumping ground, or to plant some plants that would be attractive in the years to come, when the same site would become a popular destination for locals and visitors alike. Dr. Tuttle was a solid man among what I saw as otherwise crazy and unpredictable men, a calm in the midst of a storm that was my childhood in Yuma, a rock in a sunlit sea of dust and sand.

As the dogs and I continued walking, I saw an older gentleman out in his front yard spraying the weeds in the cracks of his walkway with a small hand-pump sprayer that reminded me of my grandfather's little sprayer in Virginia; he would often be found, at the crack of dawn, out in the back yard, working on his small garden. He loved that little garden, and it showed. He was usually quiet and thoughtful on those early mornings, but he always had a welcoming smile to share, and some humorous observation or another to break the ice, as I found my way to whatever rock, piece of wood, or his dog house that I was about to overturn in my never-ending search for the next exciting insect that would cross my path. He was another wonderful man who I was blessed to have as part of my life as a teenager. He would save his great bits of insight for our many walks to the banks of the James River, and the docks near Appomattox Manor in Hopewell, Virginia. He shared those tidbits of wisdom willingly and readily. I miss that man.

Along the sidewalk, the random appearance of a paper airplane, tumbling over and over in the grass in the morning breeze, brought back vivid memories of my years at Fourth Avenue Junior High School, when I was completely socially inept (not that much has changed...) where I practiced making the most aerodynamic paper airplanes that I could manage, and then would test the different designs by flying them in the perfect breezes that blew across the main courtyard out front along Fourth Avenue. Those planes would often soar to amazing heights for what were, to my 12 year old self, impressive distances.

Funny the random thoughts that find their way into your brain on a simple walk through a neighborhood, in a place where you haven't been for a while. Funny how memories come unbidden, but not unwelcome, to an open mind devoid of worry, when the desert smells, the singing of the birds, and folded bits of paper travel upon the breeze, and land lightly upon the consciousness, decorating the present with little, tiny, colorful fragments of the past.