One of the most intriguing phenomenon in life is serendipity. Growing up in Dallas I thought for years that serendipity was just the name of a knick-knack store off Greenville Avenue. It was only years later that I learned the true meaning and how it is so contrary to the theory of modern life.
For whatever reason I decided the last trip of an amazing year of trips for the four of us would be to Fountain Hills outside Scottsdale, Arizona during the week between Christmas and New Years. I knew we would see some old friends, but learned one of my oldest hunting friends would by coincidence be in Scottsdale.
It was an odd choice for the family. None of the other three had spent anytime in Arizona and we were usually focused on skiing during that week. While we often talked about escaping the cold, we had always chosen winter sports in between my email and conference calls. It was almost as if Val and I were delaying the onset of age.
The week before Christmas passed comfortably with heavy snow, family gatherings, presents, too much food and drink, for a classic white Christmas. We even watched the movie of the same name. But after the presents on Christmas Day, I decided to stay behind from the final family event at the in-laws to pack for the long drive the next day to Arizona.
For whatever reason one of the movie channels decided we should celebrate Christmas Day with the “Duke”. In between packing, prepping the Suburban, gathering maps, GPS, rental contracts, coolers, and a wide range of clothes for every conceivable weather condition I caught glimpse of John Wayne. First, he was in New Mexico where we would spend much of the next day driving across high altitude scrub and Indian reservations. Then, he was in the Sonoran Desert riding amongst the scrub of Arizona. It seemed a long way from a modern house with a pool and golf courses.
But I had forgotten what I loved about Arizona. We arrived in the dark after a fourteen hour drive. The next morning we saw the mountains outside the city covered in Saguaro cactus. Then I caught the boys starring at the Cholla cactus and I remembered this was not just a trip about sun and golf.
On the fifth day my friend Dean and I met at 4:30 in the morning and drove south into the desert to meet our guide. Mike was a wildlife biologist who supplemented his income guiding over pointing dogs in the desert. It was a desert completely different from the manicured golf course or city botanic garden walks of the prior few days.
Every arroyo we followed the dogs into was full of cactus. Cactus growing upright and bundles of it lying strewn across the rock and sand. Five minutes into the hike I understood the true purpose of chaps. The public trust land stretched between waterholes and low mountains and the remnants of ancient cattle farms and corrals appeared amongst the cactus. Picking needles out of my arms and legs became routine. I could not imagine picking them out of a horse all day long while chasing cattle.
Even in December the temperature rose steadily to about 80 degrees with 10% humidity. I had brought several liters of water and gatorade, which were completely gone by days end. How did Native Americans and cowboys of a bygone age work in that range, particularly in the summer?
We were after quail, but having a guide who was a wildlife biologist made the day a lesson in cactus, tortoise, javelinas, deer, antelope jack rabbits, palo verde, Mormon tea, hawks, and the whole range of desert fauna and flora. By noon I was footsore from crunching along the loose rock driven on only by the incredible stamina of the dogs and my seventy year old friend.
It was a day about the diversity of the desert and the strength of the Native Americans and pioneers. A day at the end of a long chain of coincidence leading to unexpected understanding. A day to remember that control and planning have their limits in the human experience.