Lethargy. It's the feeling you get when you wake up at 5 AM. It's the taste of bad coffee that you almost religiously consume to prompt your most basic of body functions. It's the string of yells and screams that result with the morning's first flip of the light switch. It's the life of the amateur scientist - to be exact, it was my Tuesday morning of spring break, 2003, reality.
After my vocal chords recovered, and my pupils finished dilating, I realized that I was in a place I didn't really understand. Why is there a depiction of a small child holding a teddy bear in the shower? Why does the local music store have a "Musica en Español" section, despite the fact that all the music in the store is in Spanish? Why does the local food store sell a piñata of a small girl? Why is there, just a stones throw away, an air force base filled with airplanes that can't fly? I couldn't figure it all out...after all, it is 5 AM, and I've got all day ahead of me.
My thoughts of decrepit, rusty military aircraft morphed into those of jays, wrens and hummingbirds. By 6AM, I was at Tuscon Mountain County Park - our makeshift aviary. Seriously, what else would I rather be doing at 6 AM besides bird watching? (Don't answer that question!)
Sooner than later, I was on my own. I was navigating fields of chollas, prickly pear and jagged mudstone, in search of the mother-of-all birds. I was bound to find it - some bird so awesome that only its exposure on my film would be proof that I saw it.
Needless to say, I never saw it. I heard various chirping noises, but nary a bird was seen. However, I discovered something much more simple - placidity. After all, this was my spring break, and I had been ushered around by a strict timetable thus far (and had several days ahead of me). The hour or so of the rising sun, bird-chirps, chollas and miles of desert was a welcome break from the commotion of interstates, deadlines, Tucson proper - even homework and global affairs. To me, the hour of bird watching was, yes, bird less, but entirely peaceful and calming, and wholly personal.
Unfortunately, one real-world element intruded into my pacific world - that was the tick of my watch. I returned to the van - a conveyance not only to our next destination, but also to reality, as I had previously known it - filled with clamor and commotion. It made me feel sad and angry to leave that place.
Team Green Van
I know what you're thinking - Harrison goes postal *now*. Fortunately for those involved with the trip, I kept it sane. What impeded my rage, preventing my insanity? The answer is: the people of the green van.
Holtz at the wheel - the man with the plan. A true multi-tasker - driving; talking; pointing at rock formations; tolerating our messiness; tolerating our loud talking; heck, tolerating us - all at the same time. Same with Cynthia. Seriously, class act, all the way. Then, there were Lisa, Allie, Dan and Sara - the best menagerie of travel buddies that a person could ask for. They did the best they could in keeping it all real. In many ways, the green van was my solace for spring break, letting me forget about the "outside world" of work and craziness, and let me stop, think and reflect.
I don't remember what we talked about in the van after we left the Tucson Mountain State Park - it isn't wholly relevant now. If I had to guess, it probably involved a lack of familiarity with the Jimi Hendrix catalogue by certain members of the van. But, again, it doesn't really matter. The conversation was always wholesome and entertaining, and made me want the trip to never end.
It was once said "Value the intangibles of travel - they are the treasures that are more beautiful than gold or diamonds". The sounds of Guster coming from the radio, Cynthia's wit, Holtz's steering wheel swerves as he excitedly pointed out rock formations (and the inevitable breath fog that resulted from Allie's inquisitive head being too close to the window glass as she looked at them), Lisa singing Songs in the Key of Springfield, Dan's two cents, and Sara's interesting sleeping position - those are the intangibles. Those are the things that make trips special; those are the things that you don't forget. Whenever the green van's engine revved, I never hesitated getting on, for each ride was an experience - and a thoroughly relaxing one at that.
Saguaro National Monument West
After two entertaining rides in the green van, and a stop at the Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum, we arrived at Saguaro National Monument West. Saguaro National Monument is world-renowned for its cacti - the typical two-armed (sometimes more, though) ones with prickles that are embedded in your minds because you watched too much Roadrunner as a kid. These plants are, quite simply, amazing. They grow in some of the fiercest environs on earth - in some places, the ground takes in less than 10 inches of rain annually. What is even more amazing, to me, is that native peoples settled on the grounds of the Monument.
Again, less than 10 inches or rain annually fall on the grounds of the Monument. In the summer, the temperature ventures well over the 100 degrees F. The sun is unbearable. There are few animals - and the ones that exist are some of the fiercest on earth. Rattlesnakes. Spiders. Pretty much anything you dread meeting as a child (yes, fine...I am a wimp).
Seriously, it amazed me that people once lived here. Native Americans called this place home at one point. Home. Here. With no water. Little food. "Home" didn't really make a whole lot of sense.
As we walked up a small hill, I pondered the aforementioned concepts. I just didn't think it was possible. People, I were convinced, could not live here.
What I saw next just blew me away. Petroglyphs; what some call rock paintings. They were engraved in the rock, at the top of the small hill. They were, presumably, made by the Native American residents that dwelled on the land a long time ago. The fact that they were there was interesting enough; although, what really was impressive was what they depicted.
They depicted a swirl, symbolic of the sun; the same large, hot ball that was beaming down unmercifully upon us at that moment. The natives who made that swirl, however, did so with the highest respect for the yellow orb. No sign of contempt; no sign of hatred for creating such a harsh place to live. Only respect. High respect, at that. It was simply amazing.
In light (excuse of pun) of modern inconveniences, such as "frizzy hair", "cell phones," and "Nine to Five days", this burning-hot, water-and-life sucking star would seem like Armageddon if we lived then. Yet, those people who had to live with it did so - and did so with the highest regard for its mysticism and power. I was in awe.
As the day treaded on, I didn't mind the fact that we were returning to the Tucson Econo Lodge, the bane of inn-related existence on this earth (at least, as far as hotels that don't have hourly rates are concerned).
The traffic on the highway didn't faze me.
The "inconvenience" of getting up at 5AM to see birds in undeveloped wilderness seemed even more special.
It didn't seem to matter to me anymore. Perhaps, this sentiment is representative of the trip as a whole, but, for one week, deadlines and schedules and meetings and jobs and bills and modern responsibility seemed trivial in relation to the smaller things in life - the things that make life great. It was my spring break, after all - and I was going to enjoy every moment of it for what it was worth.
Day 5 - Sonoran Desert Museum and a hill climb
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