Today I walked a long way into the National Forest that surrounds my home in the mountains of Northern Arizona. I was following a dirt road along the top of a ridge where I seldom encounter other people – that’s why I go there. I have a favorite spot close to this road where I sit on the ground, leaning against a rock, to watch the slow setting of the sun as it appears and disappears and appears again through the thick crowns of the ponderosa pines, until it is gone. Once the sun has set, there is just enough time to walk back to my truck before it gets dark.
While sitting there today, a man on an ATV passed on the road. He didn’t appear to notice me although I was sitting quite close to the road. Of course, on an ATV, at any speed on your attention needs to be on the road in front of you.
The man disappeared over a rise that is the summit of a long grade down to a junction with another road that leads out of the forest. The sound of his engine grew more faint and finally disappeared altogether. But about five minutes later, perhaps even longer, I heard an engine again, faint at first, coming closer and closer, and soon it was clear the vehicle was coming up that same long grade. Soon the same man on his ATV appeared at the top of the rise but stopped when he came abreast of where I was sitting.
“I drove all the way to the edge of the forest and I didn’t see a car. I couldn’t figure out where you came from. Are you all right? Did you need any help?”
“I’m fine,” I said. “Just sitting, enjoying the sun.”
There was a moment of silence while the man looked mildly troubled and seemed at a loss for something to say.
I thought of saying, “Haven’t you ever seen an 80-year-old woman, miles from anywhere, in the middle of the forest, sitting all by herself and having a perfectly swell time?” But I didn’t. I said “Thank you for coming back to check.” I was almost laughing at my secret answer as I said this but the man still looked a bit troubled. Finally he smiled weakly, turned his ATV around, and headed back from whence he came.
I’m 79, not 80, but I thought 80 was a better line; 80 sounds a lot older than 79.