Last Monday was P's birthday and Veterans Day. Fittingly, we spent that weekend in the Arizona desert as part of a small retreat for young Marine vets currently enrolled in graduate school programs.
It was raining when we landed in Phoenix, and the blunt, camphor scent of the creosote bushes –a desert rain smell so distinctive that desert people find, on the whole, the onset of rain in other climates rather unexceptional for lack of precipitational heraldry- filled our noses as soon as we hit the runway. I gripped P's hand in excitment as we taxied to the gate. Back in the desert. Finally.
Up at dawn the next morning and out east to Tonto National Forest. A nine mile hike, a loop, someplace with marvelous names you only hear out west: Lost Dutchman’s Mine, Weaver’s Needle, Superstition Wilderness. Accordion-waisted saguaro stood like sentinels keeping watch over cold igneous valleys and hot, wide washes. When the morning sun filled the canyon P. and I hung back and let the jolly voices fade ahead of us on the trail, and we hiked along together enjoying the silence; I forget how loud New York is until I'm out of it. The previous night’s rain brought the autumn Sonoran to life, and we marveled at the botanical phenomenon of resurrection plants metamorphosing from crisp grey cracklings to feathery emerald tuffets.
As we hiked I calibrated my thoughts to the rhythm of my feet. Thoughts in simple sentences: P. is home. P. is safe. No more deployments. Home for good. It's been three and a half years since he got back from Iraq, but each time I have these thoughts they are revelatory, still.
We stopped for fish tacos at a little place on the way back to the hotel. We split a beer. We unlaced our boots and stretched out in the desert morning sun, legs tired, bellies full, a little buzzed.
Back in the desert. Home for good.