I spent my birthday this year as I have a number of other years…in a desert canyon surrounded by wildflowers, wind and stone. I felt both humbled and assured by my ability to still be able to hike off trail, follow the animal signs, avoid other humans. And No Thoroughfare Canyon, just on the edge of town, did not let me down. Upon leaving the parking lot, I headed into a landscape covered in primrose blossoms whose normally subtle scent now hung heavy over the trail. Soon after that, I left the maintained path behind for a more adventurous walk in the creek bed. A coach whip snake slid quickly by and took shelter in a salt bush. Whiptail lizards, now awakened and revived from their winter dormancy, scurried back and forth just ahead of me. The air hummed and glowed in its late spring brilliance.
The dry creek bed soon turned moist, then muddy, then flowing with a trickle of cool, clear water. The red Jurassic sandstone gave way to dark pre-Cambrian schists and granite. The canyon narrowed, funneling me toward a large green pool of water fed by an ethereal cascade some ten feet above its surface. One large cottonwood tree stood as a sentinel beside the pool, its leaves gently lilting in the breeze. I stopped here and sat in a shady alcove where I could just look at the water, listen to the droplets breaking the surface, and watch the comings and goings of tiny critters. I took off shoes and socks and waded partway into the pool, surprised at how cold it was. A few minutes later I returned to my sitting spot to think about past birthdays and canyons.
Thirty seven years ago on birthday number 30 I did essentially the same thing. Only then it was a very remote canyon far from any official trail, and I was living in a ranger residence not so far away in the heart of Canyonlands National Park. At my secret spot, a small waterfall lightly poured over a limestone ledge on to a shelf of shiny stone where it scattered into several pools and puddles. I too was on that ledge, stark naked in the sun, dividing my time between rescuing tadpoles stranded in the puddles, reading Robert Graves, and watching the humming diversity of life both in the deeper pools and in the hot dry air above. I was a part of the eco-system that day, full of confidence, reverence and contentment.
Thirty seven years have changed a few things. I can no longer hike for miles into remote backcountry. I will take off my shoes and socks but not the rest of my clothes. I have lost some of the strength and stamina that I had back then. But I have not lost the passion, or the reverence. Give me a stretch of free flowing water in the middle of the desert and I will always feel a kind of magic in the miracle of it all. The anomaly of cool springs bursting out of bare rock, unbridled under the sun. The life that scoots, buzzes and thrives in that ephemeral riparian corridor. And the pure music of drip drop and trickle through unbroken sand.