Ah, the joys of leaving the everyday world behind

Ah, August. As I write this, at the kitchen counter of a little house perched on the side of Oak Creek Canyon, I can hear chickadees and canyon wrens and kids laughing down in the creek. To be honest, I can also hear cars passing on Route 89a just below, but the tinkle of the creek and the sound of the breeze in the oaks and ponderosas helps mask it.

Best of all, there's no phone here and no TV, and the radio reception is abysmal. As a result, we have not heard the words "health-care debate" or "Arizona Legislature" for six days.

In short, we are happy.

And at the moment, I am utterly on vacation, because I semi-crippled myself the other day on a semi-epic hike with my 26-year-old son. Just 5 miles, but 1,200 feet in elevation gained and lost, then regained and re-lost. I have not done this sort of thing for a while, so I am now too sore to do anything but read. (Well, and type.)

David and I have a long history together of biting off more than we really care to chew, hiking-wise. I'm afraid that I trained him to be over-ambitious on forays up Sabino that more closely resembled forced marches, by the end, than anything recognizable as recreation. (Hutch's Pool was always the semi-mythical objective. On one occasion, when he was 12 or so, we actually reached it, with his poor friend Jesse along for the brutal slog. After that, we didn't have to do it anymore.)

So the situation here was utterly familiar, but our roles had somehow reversed. Now he was the one asking how I was doing. He was the one waiting up ahead, pretending to be interested in the view while I trudged slowly, slowly upward like Frodo on Mount Doom. At one point, he even lied encouragingly about how close we were to the top—never mind that I could see perfectly well that we weren't anywhere near the pass (there would have been fewer rocks and more sky)—but it was still nice to have him tell me that we were. Cheerful denials of obvious physical facts soothe only the dopiest region of the brain, the wishful-thinking lobe, but hey, that's something. He learned this from me.

The highpoint was getting photos of Dave slouching nonchalantly out on a sandstone arch. This was also the far point of the hike—which we had intended to be half as long, but, well, you see an arch mentioned on a map? And it doesn't look like you lose quite all your altitude getting down (then up) to it? And, really, this other side's shadier, and there aren't so many rocks?

And the next day, your quads hurt so bad that you hobble?

But in a way, my encripplement was just fine, because David and his friend Batya had to be on their way, and Ed and I have with us a jumbo Trader Joe's shopping bag full of books—fresh, fat, wonderful vacation books, and since I have been disabled for hiking, I have done absolutely nothing but lie on my back and read, with occasional breaks for eating, drinking and desultory bird-watching.

Come evening, after a day of perfect leisure, we take a look at the ridiculously brilliant stars before retiring early to sleep as the cool, spicy forest air washes in and out the open windows. This long, quiet sleep is all the sweeter, since one of the many restful features of our house in the woods is a total absence of dogs. We do miss our buddies sometimes, but not at dawn.

Tomorrow, it's back down the canyon and through chi-chi Sedona, down into the Verde Valley and then up onto the gorgeous highlands, which actually last quite a ways before you hit three hours of hectic south- and eastbound ugliness. Is there anywhere on Earth where the contrasts between immense beauty and hell-bent uglification are more stunning than in Arizona? Drought, in every sense, is upon us—even the creosote is biting it, and much of the development along Interstate 10 looks tattered and half-abandoned. (Seen around Chandler: Right behind a video billboard for a casino, a sign for 24-hour bankruptcy lawyers—800-BANKRUPT. I swear.)

But these are Tucson thoughts, workweek thoughts. For now, I have no tasks, not even the task of worrying, and I am surrounded by natural beauty. Extreme natural beauty, truth be told: millions of shiny little leaves glittering in the sun against an impossible backdrop of pink and white. And my only duty is to read gluttonously.

Surely vacation is good for all of us.

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