. . . and Judy, the server at the resort restaurant, remembered us. That's not too difficult, I suppose, as we have been making this journey to Tucson, Arizona for 30 years, 19 of them with children. We stay in the same room, do many of the same things, and complain (though rarely) as if we are members of the family, investors in the property. But we do feel like we "own" a bit of the place. Once, the chef took us on a two-hour tour of the kitchens, something I would not have requested but found pretty illuminating (enough to know I would not want his job). Once, I wrote the manager. He wrote back. We lament any and every change (at least until we adapt).
Mostly, however, we just look and listen.
In Arizona, you can see for miles. Here, in the Piedmont of North Carolina, I can't see past my neighbors house. In Tucson I roll over in bed in the morning, look out the window at an inevitably sunny, blue sky day, and I can see for 50 miles. That openness is affective. I want to play outside, hike mountains, eat outside, try something new. I'm energized. My older sister, who has never until now joined my family for a vacation, wondered if I was ADD. Nope. I told her she was just OLD. (Not really, as I'm not witty enough for that nor is she old enough for that, but I like that comeback.)
Did you ever get invited to someone's home and then, a captive audience, get sucked into watching home movies? I didn't think so. You don't know what you've been missing. I won't do that to you. But I will offer you ten slides from my vacation, ten images that will stick with me. Pat Patterson, an AM DJ in Raleigh back in the Seventies, used to "show" slides over the radio on his morning show. I'm just following his lead. So. . .
Slide One: It's evening and we're sitting on the outside courtyard terrace of El Charro, the oldest Mexican restaurant in Tucson, and I have been served a favorite dish, carne seca, beef which earlier that day had been drying in a metal box about 20 feet in the air on a pole above my head. I feel so welcome; it's as if I'm with my extended Mexican family. At least three waiters appear to be serving us. I finish and want to start all over. (Click)
Slide Two: Sabino Canyon, in the Catalina Mountains that border Tucson on the north, is like a city playground. A tram transports you 3.8 miles up in the canyon, over a road and multiple bridges spanning Sabino Creek, all built by the Civilian Conservation Corp and Works Progress Administration during the Great Depression. When my wife's father was a student at the University of Arizona in the late 1930s, he'd drive his date up here. Now, we take a tram up and walk out, scrambling over rocks, dipping in and out of icy cold water, and sometimes hiking the old phone line trail up on the ridge for a different perspective. Not today. That's me on the rock sunning. Chief lizard. (Click)
Slide Three: In a place like this, you can really settle into a book, if you can sit still long enough and stop looking at the mountains and sky. I'm reading Paul Miller's A Praying Life, a book that asks all the questions that we Christians are ashamed to ask, like why don't we pray more, or is anyone listening, or did Jesus really mean it when he said "You have not because you do not ask." It made me want to ask more and believe more. Looking up at the jagged peak of Mt. Lemmon, sculpted by Someone who could move mountains, I could better believe that he was a Prayer-Answerer too. Sometimes I had to close my eyes and read. (Click)
Slide Four: Eating (again), we found the best pizza in the world at Magpies, a local restaurant in the very bohemian looking Fourth Avenue section. That's barbecue pizza on my plate, a dish everyone else turns their nose up at, leaving more for me. The well-aged checkerboard tablecloth reminds me of my childhood home. On the way out we have nearly a pizza box of various kinds left. We see a homeless man picking through garbage, and my brother-in-law calls him over and offers it to him. He doesn't wait. He starts eating right there at the window of the car. And I hear Precious Ramotswe say "God has not forgotten you." (Click)
Slide Five: I'm reclining with that Botswanan detective, Precious Ramotswe, at the pool. That is, I'm reading The Saturday Big Tent Wedding Party, the latest installment of Alexander McCall Smith's #1 Ladies' Detective Agency series, a book full of gentle wisdom, and come across that phrase she utters to a distraught house-maid ("God has not forgotten you"), kindness incarnate, and I slow down and read it again, reminded that there are no little people. (Click)
Slide Six: Take a peek at this.My gracious wife, instead of taking a shopping day in the artists' community of Tubac, about 25 miles from the Mexican border, is taking a hike with me, even in a skirt, fording the San Pedro River (admittedly a mere creek at this time), walking through forests and fields, climbing over cattle fences, and all this in the middle of a 90 degree day. 4.5 miles. We never saw another soul. The trial (oops, I mean trail) ends at a preserved Spanish mission, Tumacacori, one of our favorite places. Try not to think about it too much, but the river flow is actually the effluent from the Nogales Wastewater Treatment Plant. Oh well. (Click)
Slide Seven: Here's a feel good shot. My teenage son and daughter, walking ahead of us on the road, hand in hand, arm in arm, like best friends. I'll savor that and remember it when the next inevitable spat arises. Hey, did I just see her smack him? Another day in paradise. . . (Click)
Slide Eight: Let's back up a bit, as I forgot one slide. We're eating steak at Lil' Abners, a roadhouse, really, that I remember being in the desert outside Tucson but now sits smack in the suburb of Marana. They have two things going for them: excellent steaks cooked on outdoor mesquite grills served with beans and salsa, and country swing provided by nearly 90-year old Dean Armstrong and his western swing band, also made up up elders (that's what they call old people out here). And, in the background that's the same woman who was here last year, a regular, usually with a picture of her boyfriend on her t-shirt and her's on his. But after 30 years of playing here, Dean has gone Home --- two weeks ago. He was a gentleman and I'll miss him. (Click)
Slide Nine: A lot of people come to Madeira Canyon to birdwatch. We don't. Bird people sometimes look like birds. Have you ever noticed that? 30 minutes in we're over a mile up, and those are pines, sycamores, and ash trees you see, with a little yucca mixed in. We hiked up about two miles, and then out, seeing deer around us, considering what to do if confronted by a bear or bobcat. Alone. Sometimes we stopped, all quiet, and just listened to the wind in the trees. Hear it? (Click)
Slide Ten: This may be the best. We're all sitting in the second row of Catalina Foothills Presbyterian Church. It's Easter morning. We're practically embedded with the orchestra and choir. Looking up through the windows all you can see are mountains and sky. Those are tears welling in my eyes, produced by music so beautiful, so poignant, so worshipful. It's the closest I get to my home church without being home. It's a fitting close to a week of rest, reflection, and wonder.
I still think about it.
Thanks for letting me share these slides with you. I would have shown the 8 mm home movies, all four reels, but the kids with their Ipods and IPads and Wii and whatnot, the short attention spans, and all. It would never work. But maybe one image here will stick and provoke you, as it does me, to vacate once again, to take, like God did at the end of six days, a holy pause, look over what you've made and done, and say,"It's good. It's really good." And be thankful for the beautiful mess that life can be.