Years ago, my wife and I went on a cattle drive. We played cowboy and cowgirl for a week, while moving cattle down from the Mugollon mountains of New Mexico to the dessert floor, near the town of Alma.
Keep in mind, prior to our cattle drive, my wife’s most memorable experience of horseback riding was being bucked from a horse, along with her sister, at her grandparent’s farm in Kansas. My experience with horses was hardly better. I spent three months on a ranch and occasionally moved cattle from one pasture to another. Most of the time, I fixed fences and learned how to be a ranch hand from my uncle John, and my younger cousins, Shane and Hugh. I was a city boy but I fell in love with the dessert Southwest.
Many years later, I accepted an invitation from my uncle to join him on a cattle drive. Cattle were grazing in the mountains during the summer and, as autumn approached, they needed to be driven down to the ranch for the winter.
We decided to join the drive, as long as we could make camp on the mountain, before the drive. We bought a tent and sleeping bags and we were dead set on camping. All of the ranchers, including my kind-hearted uncle, thought we were a little crazy, but we insisted on camping and, despite the bitter cold nights, I was glad we did.
We drove up to the mountain top, during the daytime and by late afternoon we made camp and started a campfire. I set up a Dutch oven over a fire and started boiling some pinto beans. How rustic! Living like real cowboys!
Six hours later, the beans showed no signs of softening. The sun dipped beneath the tops of the tall pine trees and, by early evening, the sky turned deep blue and the thin mountain air chilled quickly. A few minutes later, we shivering and cold, under a moonless sky.
We scooted closer and closer to the fire and were mesmerized by the glowing flames. We gave up on the beans and decided to eat granola.
We sat in silence for a long time, staring at the fire, and then we awoke from our trance and talked and laughed and told stories. It wasn’t long before the campfire was the only thing we could see. The mountain was quiet, except for the crackling fire and, even though we could see each other’s faces in the flickering light, we couldn’t see anything outside of the fire ring.
As the fire dwindled, the chill crept in and my wife grabbed a fresh piece of wood and jabbed it into the heart of the fire ring. Thousands of wild embers spiraled upward, into the black sky, crisscrossing and swimming upward, like tiny, weightless fairies, searching for the heavens. We watched the display, in awe. She jabbed at the fire again, and a new salvo of embers erupted. Again and again, we poked at the fire and watched as newborn embers whizzed into the black night. Each tiny ember followed its own trajectory and moved toward its own destiny. Some embers flickered and sputtered. Some embers sailed up high, beyond the dark treetops. Some embers sizzled and popped but every ember rode together on a whirling vortex that seemed chaotic but beautifully composed.
We received the U.S. presidential election results today and I am still buzzing.
My late night snack is a peanut butter and jelly sandwich, with fresh apple slices. It’s a meal that keeps me young at heart and gives me unexplainable joy. Simple food for a simple person, I suppose.
Peanut Butter and Jelly
Two slices of bread
A copious amount of peanut butter
A generous splotch of jam or jelly
One crisp apple, cored and sliced.
Really? I think you can figure this one out on your own.
On a serious note, I am grateful be an American. It’s a complicated mess, at times, but I love the complicated messy people that I live with. We can achieve anything as long as we are compassionate to each other and as long as we are willing to work together. We are the embers that fly into the night sky, giving warmth and joy to each other, while we spiral upward.