When the sun peeked through after five days of rain, my husband and I scrapped our lengthy to-do lists, and headed to the Superstition Mountains for a morning of hiking.
Water in the desert is a rarity.
Mollie, our rust-colored terrier/retriever, was already whining for adventure as we parked our Toyota Highlander at the First Water Trailhead. Her tail was a thumping metronome as I zipped up my raincoat and checked the laces of my hiking boots, having left my normal trail-running shoes at home. I hate hiking with wet feet.
We stepped from our vehicle into falling mist. The air breathed moisture.
We hiked up several ridgelines, through mesquite and jojoba. A red-tailed hawk circled us momentarily before deciding Mollie, a thirty-pound fur ball, was too large for a meal. Mollie, unconcerned, immersed herself in a six-foot puddle that swallowed the entire trail. She lapped muddy water with smiley eyes, content to be soaking wet all afternoon.
The trail dipped into a wash and we boulder-hopped across the running water, enjoying the rare occasion where the dry wash lived up to its surname. Most of the year we only experience the first naming.
Dry. As in dry as dust. Dust on leaves. Dust on the trail. Dust in our lungs.
A few desert washes are large enough to receive a title: Centennial, Dragoon and Kingman, but even our largest urban river, the Salt, makes headlines whenever its banks contain moisture:
“Water in the Salt River,” the newspapers proclaim, a phenomenon not understood by non-desert dwellers. Geologists have a term for lakes and water features that temporarily fill after a rain or snowmelt: ephemeral. This is what drives us to clear our calendars — to chase after what lasts briefly, perhaps only one day.
We hear our destination before we see it. Not drops. Not a trickle. Not exactly a roar. But a tumble.
Most places in the world have Bridal Falls. Or Treasure Falls. But here in the Superstitions we have the Massacre, named from a purported event when a crew of miners were slaughtered in the area — part of the legend surrounding the Lost Dutchman’s Mine. If we had arrived any other time of the year, the water would have dribbled down the rock face. (Somehow Massacre Dribble doesn’t sound very appealing).
But, for the second time that day, in the water’s spray, we enjoyed the fulfillment of the second part of a name — falls — water cascading down a cliff face towering above us.
Salt versus river. Dry versus wash. Massacre versus waterfall. Let’s face it. Each of us has a combination of these dual realities happening in our lives. The names are married together.
Cancer survivor is my dual reality. I live under the weight of the first naming. Sometimes the fear of recurrence has closed my eyes to the possibilities of being a survivor, as I focus instead on the dust, the salt, and yes, the massacre.
So, when given the chance, I clear my calendar and go searching for the second naming in the desert: the river, the wash and the waterfall. I clear my calendar and immerse myself.
Even if I end up wet all afternoon.