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Sunday, March 10, 2013

Californication and Red Hot Chile Peppers: Part I

Admittedly, an emigrant bandying "Californication" sounds a tad sanctimonious. After all, I "fornicated" Colorado back in '76. My justification is that I didn't try to impose Missouri's mo-hill Ozark mores on my new found home. Hell, I didn't even like Missouri's mores, let alone its landscapes, cityscapes, and funnel cake mentality. I had to leave before I became one of them... certainly before I had children who most assuredly would be cursed with hillbilly speech impediments. 

One tornadic day, enough was enough. I quit my treadmill job as a Yamaha motorcycle salesman... loaded all my eight-track tapes and record albums into the cab of an old six banger three speed on-the-column GMC pickup, and got the hell out of "Mo Town." "Home" was a 19 foot Prowler travel trailer, fish-tailing in my rearview mirror as I headed into a setting sun; excited as hell and scared shitless, all in the same foul breath of Kansas stockyard air. Grossly underpowered and overloaded, my Jimmy cleared the Continental Divide on Monarch Pass by the skin of my coffee stained teeth. 

Yep, I left Missouri's muggy, insect plagued summers of misery in a cheap oil haze of blue smoke and humidity, and set off on a quest for contentment, peace, and answers to one of Life's big questions. I wanted to know why my dad, a physical specimen for a 61 year old—and a Godly man if there ever was one, had just dropped dead from a heart attack a few weeks shy of his Social Security retirement? 

I went looking for answers; trying to make sense out of the depths of chaos and loss. But asking "why" seemed to enkindle unsatisfactory answers that only gave rise to more questions. Climbers have a saying, "The mountain doesn't care." It took wisdom-building decades for this man-child to come to terms with the reality that, neither does the Universe.  

If one digs deep... peels back the layers of heartache... they might discover how certain past experiences can end up affecting choices made the rest of their lives. But letting negative experiences guide our decision making is like letting our tastebuds guide our menu; it's junk food for the soul, and just as life-shortening. Is it any wonder I rolled the "dice" and walked away from a solid career at age 49? I sure as hell wasn't going to count on a fair and equitable Universe and work till the day I died. 

I landed in Montrose, Colorado... the Uncompahgre Valley... a sparsely populated western slope town about as far from civilization as one could get. Uncompahgre rolled off my tongue; it's a Ute Indian name that loosely translates to "red warm water springs." One look at some of the creeks running from Red Mountain and you'll understand. Montrose was undiscovered in 1976. It had only one stoplight and a handful of residents... all trying to scratch out a living suckling on the hind tit of poor dirt farmers and cowboy ranchers. The Co-op Feed Store down by the railroad tracks was where they gathered... an unlikely kinship between sod-busters, sheepherders and cattlemen, warm as the coffee on the potbellied stove.  

I found the only job in town and got busy, working and recreating in a seemingly unlimited sea of unspoiled BLM and National Forest lands. It was similar in many respects to rural areas in Arizona where I grew up... unpopulated, wide open, mountainous... only much colder and snowier. I took up long distance running in an effort to better cope with nagging sadness and anger left over from the sudden, brutal loss of my father. I soon discovered that there wasn't enough miles in the county nor endurance in my legs for that. Only time can fill holes in hearts; miles serve only to distract and fatigue.

Nowadays I return to Arizona in wintertime for it's Sonoran Desert bounty, temperate climate, and because it reminds me of childhood years spent growing up. It also reminds me of Dad, Mom, and sister, Sally Jo... all long deceased. The other day I recalled Dad, trying to eat homegrown red hot chili peppers that his Mexican ranch hand Manuel always brought for lunch. Manuel downed one after another and never broke a sweat. Dad, however, suffered mightily. Face flushed, eyes teared, he'd laugh along with Manuel at his lame gringo bravado. 

I remembered Sally Jo, too. Nine years my senior, she'd take me on overnight horseback rides into the mountains south of Phoenix. Campfires... rattlesnakes... coyotes howling through the night; it was quite an experience for a little kid. 

Time changes us, for better and worse. It smoothed out some of my rough edges for sure, but not the deepening wrinkles in my face. Arizona's indescribable landscapes and precious family memories are, and always will be, part of what makes me tick. To me, remembering is tantamount to honoring. Forgetting, is loss upon loss.
Stay tuned for Part II of, Californication and Red Hot Chile Peppers. Here's a teaser... 

"When Escalade, Volvo and Lexus SUV's replace VW Bugs, Vanagons, and School Bus homes behind the Funky-Town shops, they tend to lose their soul. Rust is painted over; dilapidation gets remodeled; dirt streets are paved. Soon, there is an artificial and hollow ring that hangs in the well perfumed air, shortly after Richy Rich buys a "Hobby Shop' just for something to do."

More on Tubac and touring the U of A campus with friend Sandy as our guide. Now here are a few photos of both...


  1. Great hunks of malachite, Mark! Looks like a great museum. I feel the same way about my family memories whenever I go to Newfoundland. I'm working on my heritage scrapbook today and started reading a book I ordered online about the people of Argentia who had to sell all their homes and leave to make way for the building of the American naval base during World War II. The people that left are my Candadian ancestors, and my American father ended up being stationed there 20 years later so I see the history from both sides of the story. Book is called "Uprooted, the Argentia Story" if anyone is interested!

  2. Musings got us to talking. Photos got us to 'wows!'. -Two Wise Ones

  3. Mark, these are the posts I love best. The root of the word memory is to remember or be mindful. You honor them everytime you write or think about them. There's a book that's on my list of "to read". It has a brilliant title: "The Inheritance of Loss". That's what happens. It's what we do with that loss - Thanks for the inspiration "to remember" and giving me the sense that maybe it's not such a solitary thing this experience of loss of family. -Maureen

  4. Fantastic Post. Similar background here as per father's. And great photo's as always!!

  5. Great post and wonderful pics! Thanks for sharing.

  6. Great family memories and stories. I know that my daughter is having a hard time with her father's death (he was only 55). Although she was living in CO at the time, she now wants to go back to Chicago to visit places from her memories.

  7. "Overnight horseback rides into the mountains...campfires... rattlesnakes... coyotes howling through the night" sounds like quite an experience for an adult too! What an amazing journey that must be, sleeping out under the desert stars by the campfire. I think I need that to my bucket list. (All except for the rattlesnake part, that is!)

    That crested Saguaro looks too beautiful to be real. Nature's art!

  8. Thanks for the memories....and for sharing them with us. Good blog, and great photo's...Laverne

  9. Very heavy post today but beautiful written.

    We enjoyed our touring adventure at U of A. We had cool day but rode our bikes all around. Did miss the crested though!!

  10. I just found your blog and it looks wonderful. I'm looking forward to reading more. Btw, I live in Missouri and understand completely :-).


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