In May, on the first day when it was 100 degrees, Deon asked me what I planned to do in the summer.
I told him I wanted to explore caves, look for Hohokam petroglyphs, and run. I wanted to do lots and lots of running.
“You mean you plan to stay here?” he asked.
He explained that in June, temperatures could reach 110 degrees or hotter. Then in July and August, the rains would come, with lightning storms. The camp wouldn’t be safe–too much heat, then floods.
“Why don’t you do like the Hohokam?” he asked. This was their winter home, this desert where I’ve been living. Every summer, they headed up to the mountains. Deon said that’s what I should do.
I didn’t know how to get there. I didn’t want to leave the only home I’d known for the past eight months.
He said he’d drive me. He was going up there for a weekend trip, after school got out, and he’d take me. Then I could spend the summer there, and he’d come back and pick me up before school started, after the storms were mostly over and the days were about to get cooler.
He offered me a tent and some camping gear he was getting ready to donate to Goodwill.
“I bought all new gear,” he said. “I don’t want my old stuff to go unused. You use it.”
So here I am, in the mountains, where it’s cool and the air smells like sarsaparilla.
Deon tricked me about the tent: it’s brand new. I’ve got his old Coleman lantern, but the cooler’s new, too.
I like it, though. I’m the only one in the campground at the moment.
I feel safe. Deon knows some of the rangers, and he told them to keep an eye out for me.
Deon’s got a friend who lives up in the high country, too, an old guy named Ted. Deon spent a few summers living up there with him, in a tiny cabin without electricity up in a high meadow that Deon says feels like heaven.
He drew me a map of how to get there. There are no roads and the trail isn’t marked. You’ve got to make your way through the back country.
I don’t feel ready to go there yet. I’m still settling in here. But maybe once I feel like I’ve got a home-base, I’ll do some exploring and see if I can find the way.
It’s weird to think that this is my summer. It’s kinda cool, but it’s also different.
When I start feeling worried about being completely alone up here, I remind myself that I’m learning real skills. Most kids my age would be learning society skills: getting summer jobs, hanging out with friends, going to parties, maybe dating.
I’m learning survival skills.
I still get mad sometimes when I think that basically my whole teen years were taken from me. I mean, this isn’t really a normal way to live.
But then, if I can shut up my thoughts long enough to listen to the birds, the wind in the trees, and the silence under it all, then I feel like, “Who needs a normal life?”
I never was normal, anyway, and it’s always been part of who I am–the one who goes her own way.
So, I remind myself that I’m going my own way.
I mean, how many kids get to live out in the mountains all summer, completely on their own?
I’ve been talking to myself, because I like to hear my voice, and I don’t want to forget how to use it when I’m back around people again. Sometimes I sing out loud. I like singing to the plants.
And I’ve been running every day. I hardly ever see anybody on my runs.
After a few weeks, being alone all day feels safe and comfortable. It’s not even like being alone. It’s like being part of it all.
I keep thinking about that idea I had, that the universe is our grandmother who meets all our needs.
When I think about the Hohokam people, leaving their desert homes every summer for the haven of the high mountains, when I think about how Deon always makes sure I have what I need, when I think about how I can gather my supper from the land around me, I feel cared for by my grandmother. We are not alone, even when no one else is around.