Coyotes In The Dry Wash

This story is dedicated to my kind and generous brother, Billy. Thanks for everything!

The sun had set and the western horizon was lit up with a mixture of blaze orange and blood red, colors so intense it was like the sky was on fire. Cody was standing at the edge of his brother’s property watching the final light of the day fade away, the third and final night he would be spending in Arizona. The air was cooling, the heat of the day dissipating. Will was inside putting some long pants on. After a few minutes he pushed through the sliding glass doors out onto the patio.

“How’s it look out there?” he asked, climbing the flagstone steps to join his brother, then stopping to view the spectacle. “Oh, man, that’s amazing.”

“It sure is,” Cody said, feeling at a loss for words. The colors were really beyond description, looking more like something he’d see in a Van Gogh painting than anything he’d see in real life. Certainly nothing he’d ever seen back home in Minnesota. But it was real, that was for sure and it was unforgettable. There was no doubt about in his mind about that.

Will had moved to Lake Havasu City nearly five years earlier and was happily making a good life for himself in the desert southwest. Like he told anyone who wondered about making such a dramatic change so late in his life, his answer was simple, “Hey, I was sick of the long winters and all of the cold in Minnesota and I could afford to do it, so why not?”

Why not, indeed? Cody thought to himself, now understanding better his brother’s desire to move out to the Sonora Desert with its beautifully rugged landscape, dry climate and oven like temperatures. One thing it wasn’t, it wasn’t like Minnesota at all. No leafy wood lots or lush rolling hills. No green farm fields stretching to an endless horizon. No sky blue lakes and pine scented evergreen forests. And no changing of the seasons. Out here the weather varied from warm to hot with the occasional cool day tossed in to keep people from getting complacent. Like Will often said, “Yeah, it can get to one-hundred and twenty degrees sometimes, but so what? It’s a dry heat.” And if Cody ever shook his head in amazement, wondering how anyone could stand it, Will could always add, “Plus, I’ve got a pool.”

And that he did. A nice little pool out here in the backyard, accented with blue lights and protected by a low adobe fence, along which sometimes a family of quail ran. Indeed, a very, very far cry from Minnesota.

“Want to sit for a while?” Will asked, turning away as the fiery sunset extinguished itself into the dark desert night, leaving a glow behind like embers burning.

“Sounds good,” Cody said, reluctantly turning away, glancing over his shoulder one last time, catching a hint of light flickering and then dying on the horizon.

The two brothers walked over to where Will had set out some comfortable deck chairs on the raised patio area surrounding the pool and sat down. The water seemed to glow in the night, rippled by small wavelets from a light, warm breeze, and it looked so inviting that Cody, who loved to swim, had to stop himself from diving in.

“The water’s not heated right now,” Will pointed out, grinning. “It’s only about sixty five degrees.”

Cody just laughed, having just left ten degree February weather back home. “Sounds warm enough to me.”

“After a while out here you start looking at temperatures differently,” Will said. “Other things too,” he added, turning silent and looking around. So did Cody. The backyard was on land that sloped down to the Colorado River, three miles to the south. Behind him was rugged desert and the Sonora Mountains. In front of him lay the panorama of Lake Havasu City with its soft, twinkling lights. Beyond the city and the river was a dark jagged horizon which was the outline of the Whipple Mountains across the river in California. The view in front of them was one Will never tired of. Even now, with night having closed in, the brothers could see the outline of the mountains on the far horizon. “I love it out here,” he said, with more feeling in his voice than Cody had heard from his brother in years, if ever.”I never want to leave.”

To the left just above the eastern horizon a nearly full moon was rising. Near it was the planet Jupiter. The sky looked twice as big compared to how it looked in Minnesota. In 1964 the city planners had decreed that there were to be no streetlights allowed on any of the residential streets, so there was none of the light haze or light pollution common to most cities. Out here the night was the darkest of darks, the only lights being those of the homes and they weren’t much, mostly soft, solar powered accent lights, like Will had tastefully placed around his yard. If you liked star gazing, which Cody did, this was the place to be.

“Yeah, I can see why,” he said, standing up and turning around in a circle, looking upward, the constellation Orion clearly visible. “It’s fantastic.”

Cody was sixty seven and the oldest of three brothers. Will, at sixty two, was the youngest. But at this stage in their lives, the difference in their ages was irrelevant. Each of them had lived full and productive lives, but, strangely, had never really spent a long amount of time with each other. Not until now. Not until this three day stay together. And it had gone great, better than Cody could ever have imagined.

Will had picked him up at the airport in Las Vegas late Wednesday afternoon and raced south across the desert in his souped-up, canary yellow, Ford Focus for two and a half hours, getting to his place just after seven. “Make sure you keep drinking water,” he’d said, handing Cody a plastic bottle when they met at the airport. “It’s really dry out here.”

No problem with that, Cody thought to himself, gratefully accepting the bottle of Crystal Mountain and taking a drink. He was already parched.

When they pulled into the driveway and got out of the car, the first thing that struck Cody was the clean air. The second was the immense quiet. It was already dark and it seemed like the land was covered by a blanket of silence. It was so still, that you could almost hear the paws of the bunny rabbit that took this very moment to hop across Will’s yard. “It’s so quiet here,” he said watching the rabbit bound around the corner of the house. “So peaceful.” He found himself lowering his voice to a whisper.

Will just grinned and said, for the first of probably a hundred times over the next few days, “Yeah it is. You can see why I love it out here.”

They had spent the first night getting settled in, Will happily showing Cody his single story ranch home and nicely landscaped yard, full of varieties of rocks and stones and various desert plants and trees. Then they staying up late sitting outside on the back patio talking until finally in the early hours of the morning they called it a night and Cody fell into bed, listening to the soft tinkle of his brother’s wind chimes, finding himself feeling relaxed and comfortable. He slept like a log.

The next day dawned a rare cloudy day, so they spent the morning driving around the city, Will showing Cody the sights. The preferred building material in the area was adobe. The houses primarily single story, with more variations of ranch design and shades of adobe tan color than Cody could ever have imagined. Lots of people were outside, too, either walking or biking, and everyone looked tan and fit. Down near the Colorado River were some large RV parks that were full of “sunbirds” parking for a week, a month, or even the entire three month season. They caused the population in the area to swell by nearly five thousand habitants, folks looking to enjoy the warm weather and abundant sunshine. Happily for everyone, around noon the sun finally came out, the clouds breaking up and the sunlight pouring down, heating up the day. The brothers both put on their sunglasses to fight off the glare, the rocky terrain acting like a giant light reflector as well as heat oven. They pulled into a city park by the river and looked across to California on the other side, four miles away. This wide spot in the river, Lake Havasu, eventually gave rise to the city’s name. Off to the left a sail boat appeared running down river with both the wind and the current. The scene was incredibly peaceful. After a few minutes Will turned to Cody and asked, “Are you up for some exercise?”

Cody, who loved walking, readily agreed. “Sure. Where?”

“I’ll take you to where I do my work out.”

“Where’s that?”

Will pointed to the left on the Arizona side of the river to a nearby mountain range. “Over there. Table Top.”

Cody blanched. “We’re going to climb a mountain?”

Will grinned. “It’s not so bad. We’ll take our time and go at your speed.” Then he looked at the work boots Cody was wearing. “Maybe we should get you some different shoes. We’ll try some of mine. You need to be able to grip the ground pretty good up there. You know,” he added, shading his eyes and looking with what Cody could have sworn was fondness at the mountain, “To keep you from slipping and falling.”

Geez, thought Cody, what am I getting myself into?

They found that none of Will’s shoes fit him, but that was Ok. It turned out Cody wasn’t going to be hiking fast enough climbing the mountain for better shoes to make a difference anyway.

Will’s usual workout consisted of running (running!) a four and a half mile loop that started in Sara Park, at the foot of the range. Table Top was a level peak, six hundred foot up attained by following a narrow trail that was barely visible across the dry, rocky desert, culminating with a series of switchbacks up the face of the mountain, back and forth, back and forth, all the way to the top. He ran this every day, stopping along the way to do a series of pushups, just for good measure. Just the thought of it made Cody tired.

They pulled into the parking lot and got out of the car. Will laughed when he saw the expression on his brother’s face. “Don’t worry. Today we’ll just walk it.”

And they did. All in all the hike took two and a half hours up and back. Cody followed his younger brother, who, true to his word, took his time, stopping frequently for his older brother to both rest and admire the view, and, of course, drink water. Will was tall and trim and was dressed in orange, knee length, baggy basketball shorts, a white tee shirt and a black doo-rag. He wore a varied collection of chain bracelets on both wrists and had a tattoo on each arm commemorating their parents, their father on one arm and their mother on the other. He was an individualist and a free thinker, living his life according to his own plan. Henry David Thoreau once said, “March to your own drummer”. That sentiment fit Will perfectly.

Cody found that he was enjoying himself more and more the longer he was with his brother. And he also found the hike to be strangely exhilarating. A degenerative condition caused him to be almost blind in one eye. Depth perception was challenging and he had to focus on each step, judging the distance to place each foot, one step at a time, so that over the course of the climb it became in and of itself an act of such concentration that the hike turned into one of almost spiritual significance. And putting his trust in his brother, leading him up the path, well, that just added another element to how special the day was becoming.

And then, of course, there was the desert itself. “Man, it’s beautiful up here,” Cody kept saying at each rest stop, chiding himself at his redundancy. But it was true. The higher they climbed, the more the panorama of the landscape around them opened up. At last they pushed through their final accent, slipping and sliding and scrambling, stones and pebbles tumbling down the slope behind them, using both hands and feet until they finally reached the top, an area as level as an anvil and approximately twenty feet by twenty feet in size. Standing up and catching his breath, it seemed to Cody they were on top of the world. He could see a three hundred and sixty degree unimpeded view of the horizon all around stretching to the east past Lake Havasu City into the Sonora Desert and to the west into California past the Whipple Mountain range. A grand stretch of the Colorado River anchored the entire scene and he could see boats racing up and down it like tiny white water bugs. It had a stark beauty that filled the spirit with a sense of wonder at the immensity of the desert and the expansiveness of wide open spaces. Right then, Cody vowed to come back.

In 1984 some guy and his friends hauled a picnic table to the top of the mountain, a feat that challenged the imagination. Cody gratefully sat down on it while Will cranked off thirty five pushups. The wind was blowing hard and he had to stuff his cap into the backpack Will brought with them. The temperature had risen into the low eighties and he wished he had thought to wear cutoff jeans instead of the long ones he had on. Next time. The brothers shared some water (have to stay hydrated!) and talked. Will pointed out more areas of interest and Cody listened, soaking in the sun, glad for his sunglasses and that he was wearing a tee shirt. Off to the right a Red Tail hawk soared. A desert wren called nearby.

The land was starting to wake up after a dormant winter period. There were very few plants out here anyway, and none of them were in bloom, but they did see a desert Gecko and a Chuckwalla Lizard, both reptiles common to the area. Will had been seeing a family of Big Horn sheep occasionally on his workouts, but not this time. After what Cody felt was too short of a time to rest, they left the top of the mountain and winded their way down the backside, slipping occasionally on loose rock and gravel, stopping to enjoy the view and for Cody to take photos with his small camera. By the time they made it back to the parking lot, he was tired, but energized.

“Amazing,” he exclaimed, out of breath but happy and grinning broadly. Will lowered himself to the ground for another series of pushups. Cody gratefully found a flat rock to sit on and proclaimed, “I’d definitely do it again.”

Will laughed as he stood up, dusting his hands off and coming to join his brother for some water. “Good, because I’m coming back tomorrow. I’ll do my work out and you can just walk.”

Sitting together on an accommodating rock, the sun shining down in a cloudless blue sky, the temperature warm and getting warmer with a stiff breeze blowing, tossing up occasional dust devils, and not a sound to be heard except the wind caressing the land and the voices of the two brothers talking, Cody could think of nothing better than to come back tomorrow. “Good deal,” he said drinking from his water bottle. “I’d love that.”

On the way home they passed a classic car show set up on McCulloch Boulevard, a main street in town. They drove slowly by, eyeballing the beautifully restored vintage cars from the fifties and sixties, an automotive era that both brothers admired and appreciated. It was a perfect way to end the day. Back home Will laid out a nice meal of vegetable quiche and a delicious three cheese mac and cheese dish. Fortified with good healthy food, the brothers took their water bottles out to the patio to watch the sunset, a ball of orange slowly sinking into a violet sky. Soon after it was down the moon started rising in the east and the brothers had a clear view as it drifted through the star filled dome of sky above them. The classic car show had spurned them to listen to some music and Will turned on an internet radio station that played oldies songs starting with the Everley Brothers and then Dion and the Belmonts and on and on. The day just kept getting better and better.

“I didn’t know you liked those old tunes,” Cody said, stretching his legs out and feeling every single step he’d taken up Table Top Mountain.

Will grinned, “I don’t mind them at all. And, after today with the car show, I felt they kind of fit.”

Cody nodded. “I totally agree.”

As the darkness deepened their conversation ranged over many topics. As brothers, they had a shared history unique to themselves and their family. When Cody was fifteen and Will was ten their parents had split up, eventually divorcing a few years later. Their father was an airline pilot who was handsome and gregarious, and well liked by everyone who knew him. He raced sports cars as a hobby in his spare time. In Cody’s estimation, Will shared many of their father’s better qualities. Although he never become a pilot, Will shared a love of speed and racing and he was very well liked by his many friends. He was comfortable around cars and tools and had nurtured a passion for racing jet skis his entire life, right up to today. In fact, a few years earlier, he won the world championship for his age class, a competition held annually on the river right here in his adopted home town. He was building good memories in his new home  and it was no wonder he loved the life he lived in the great desert southwest.

The brother’s shared family history led to shared memories and the talk ebbed and flowed like a meandering river, touching the banks every now and then before moving on, a quiet current that, as the evening progressed became a full and wonderful water course, drifting through a past rich with familial ties. The more they talked, the more Cody felt the love for his brother deepening and enriching, layer upon layer, like the sedimentary layers of sandstone in the desert, reaching back in time, cherishing the past and embracing the future.

It was after midnight, the dark of the hour mitigated only by the brightness of the moon when the first yipping occurred.

Will held up his hand. “Listen,” he said, whispering. He pointed to the left. “Hear that?”

Cody nodded. “I did. What was it?”

“Coyotes,” Will said, standing up, “Coyotes out in the dry wash.”

“They sound close.”

Will smiled. “Yeah, they are.” He pointed. He and Cody had moved to a low fence at the edge of the property line, overlooking the roofs of nearby houses. “A few blocks over there.”

Just then some more yipping occurred before turning into a frantic barking, a barking that soon filled the night with a raucous out-of-control sound both unnerving and wonderful at the same time.”How many are out there do you think?” Cody asked.

They both were quiet, trying to count.

“Maybe six or seven,” Will said. “I’ve heard them before. It’s a pack. They come down from the mountains.” He pointed further to the left and behind them, back out in the desert. “I haven’t heard them for a while.”
Just then one and then another of the coyotes started to howl. Cody and Will stood transfixed. The night, which had once been so calm and still, seemed to come alive with a sound that spoke of wildness and wilderness both at the same time. Rising and falling in pitch and tremor, the coyote pack joined one another in a chorus of wild wonder, howling and yowling and yipping, calls that cut through the night like a banshee’s wail, a chorus of magical intensity. The howling lasted for no more than a minute. Then, in an instant it ended and silence returned, a stillness made deeper by the absence of sound. Cody actually was shivering with a mixture of joy and awe. He had heard coyotes howling only a few times in his life, mostly in the woods of northern Minnesota. But it had been years. Never had he expected to hear something like this out here in his brother’s backyard. And so close. He was nearly speechless, like he was under a spell.

“Well, that was certainly cool,” Will said, smiling and turning to his brother. “What’d you think of that?”

Of all the things running through Cody’s brain, he said the first thing that popped out.”I’ll tell you, what, Will,” he said, his voice full of wonder, “Hearing those coyotes like that, out here with you, sitting together in your backyard, with the moon out and the stars shining, after the amazing day we’ve had, well…It’s just like putting the icing on the cake. This has been one unforgettable day, that’s for sure.” His explanation felt stiff and formal and didn’t even come close to explaining what he felt. Words couldn’t ever do it, but Will seemed to be able to read between the lines.

His brother just smiled and nodded. “I couldn’t agree more.”

They stayed up very late that night, talking some more, listening for the coyotes to return, but they must have moved on. The night became peaceful and quiet once again. The moon moved across the sky, trailing Jupiter near to it. The brothers kept talking, enjoying time made more special, by not just being together, but by sharing a day together that included a hike up a mountain and the call of a pack of coyotes under a nearly full moon. A night capping a day full of new and special memories.

That next day, was Cody’s last. He and Will would leave around nine that night for the drive to Vegas. But they had a full day ahead of them before that. Will had moved to Arizona just after their mother had passed away. The first thing they did that morning was to look though the boxes of their mother’s possessions that Will had packed up and taken with him when he moved, figuring keeping them in his garage was as good a place as any to store them. The plan was for he and Cody to go through them when he got out there and they spent that last morning doing just that. The thing was, through, that what Cody thought was just a few boxes, was actually twelve.

“Man,” he said, taking a box at a time as Will handed them to him from the storage area he’d built and carefully setting them on the floor of the garage, “There’s more than I expected.”

“It’s good you’re here,” Will said,  “We can take our time and sort them out.”

Cody set the last box down. The door to the garage was open to a beautiful, warm, sunny morning. In the trees house finches called and sang. The Sweet Acacia tree in Will’s front yard was loaded with buds, ready to burst into bloom. There was a sweet scented aroma in the air. Will had plugged his phone in to a set of speakers and had the oldies station going. It was as good a day as any to relive memory’s of their mother. And that’s what they did.

Their mom was not only the matriarch of the family but the heart and soul of it as well. It was her strength and fortitude that held Cody and Will and their other brother, Rob, together in the early months after their parents separation. She would sit them down at the dinner table on a nightly basis, look each other them in the eye and say, “Even though your father is gone, we are still a family. Each one of us here…” she pointed to each of the three boys, “Needs to remember that.”

It was Cody, the oldest, who ventured to ask, “What if dad never comes back?”

“It doesn’t matter. We will get through this together and be stronger for it.”

And even though the answer may not have been what they wanted to hear, hoping their father would someday return, it became the rallying cry for the brothers and their mom. Eight years later their father had died of a heart attack at the age of forty seven. Their mother remarried, out-lived her second husband and died with her three boys by her side after living a full and fulfilling life. She had been six months shy of ninety.

Now, nearly five years after her death, the two brothers were taking their time going through treasured memories of their mother’s past. “Look at this,” Cody exclaimed, opening the first box. It was full of photo albums. In fact, each subsequent box was full of photo albums. It soon became clear that going through each box and each album was going to take a lot of time. They decided to just inventory what they had and address them more fully when Cody came back. “It looks like we were really a picture taking family. I can’t believe how many we have here.”

Will had found a collection of photos taken when he was in the sixth grade, a year after their dad had left home. “Look at these.” He was excited. He’d found some photos taken when he was just starting to race go-carts up in northern Minnesota at a race track near Brainerd. There were photos of him and his go-cart and some of him and their dad. Lots of good memories came flooding back. Will grabbed one photo of he and his go-cart to hold out and keep. Both the brothers were quiet, silently reliving memories of being with their father. He’d moved to Seattle and gotten remarried, continuing to be a pilot right up until the day he suddenly died of a heart attack. Neither Cody or Will really ever felt they’d gotten a chance to know him very well. But life went on and you learned to deal with it. They had learned that lesson at an early age and learned it well.

It took over three hours to go through the boxes and the photo albums. A big find for Cody was two pictures of their grandmother’s (on their mom’s side) grandparents. The lady had a long, thin face and a confident expression and the gentleman had a full beard with no mustache and intelligent looking eyes. On the back it said that they were taken in 1880. Cody enjoyed researching family history. “Look at these,” he said to Will. These are the Needham’s, Horatio and Lucina. He served in the Civil War, eventually mustering out in New Orleans as a corporal. Their daughter eventually became our great grandma. You know…” trying to make the ancestral line clear, “Mom’s mom’s mom. Our great grandparents had a hardware store in Omaha. Our great, great grandparents, the Needham’s, were farmers down in Nebraska and Missouri.”

“Cool,” Will said, distracted, still looking at the photo of him and his go-cart. “Look how young I look.”
Cody smiled. Old photos brought back unexpected memories and this occasion was no different. He estimated it would take him weeks to go through each album and do it justice. He was looking forward to the task.

Will glanced at his watch. It was already early afternoon. He stood up and stretched and Cody joined him. They’d done good work going through the boxes and Cody had a feeling for what lay ahead. But, for now, they wanted to get on with the rest of the day. “Are you up to going back out to Table Top?” he asked, “I’m in the mood for a work out.”

Cody felt every muscle from yesterday, but he wouldn’t miss it for the world. “Absolutely,” he said, feeling his joints creak as he stood up. “Let’s do it.”

Will switched off the oldies and they got ready, heading off into the rest of the day, boxes of memories left behind for another time.

An hour later they were back at Sara Park and Will was carefully jogging up the trail they had hiked the day before. Cody was taking a lower, less strenuous route, starting in a dry wash for a quarter mile and then climbing out of it, angling along the side of Table Top Mountain, following the rough terrain cautiously, stopping frequently to admire the view. The sky was cloudless and the blue so intense it hurt his eyes. The desert landscape was rocky and gravelly, gently rolling and undulating up and down, the trail eventually leading him around the backside of the mountain. After a while he climbed a steep rise and at the top saw opening up before him the wide expanse of the Colorado River stretching out in a sweeping bend as far as his eyes could see. He was at least two miles from it but he could tell there were more boats out on the river than the day before. The wind was gusting and blew low waves across the water. There were mountains all around him, both on this side and across the river on the California side. He found a flat rock and sat down, wishing he’d brought a backpack with water in it. Next time, he reminded himself. Out in the desert, out in these wide open spaces, time was different, almost seeming to stand still. There was no shade anywhere to mark the passing of the sun, only the whistling sound of the wind over the rocks and the motion of the boats on the river. Out here minutes could stretch for hours and he wouldn’t be any the wiser, which didn’t seem like a bad thing but he’d promised his brother he’d try to meet him back on the trail in the dry wash. He waited a while longer (maybe five minutes?) before he rose and turned to go, spying a hawk circling above. He didn’t want to leave, but forced himself to start walking, promising himself, again, one day to return. A promise he intended to keep.

A little while later he was slowly but steadily making his way up the dry wash toward the parking lot when a familiar voice called from behind. “Hey, there. Good timing, I’d say.” It was Will and he was coming up at a slow jog, now within a hundred yards from finishing his run.

“I’ll met ya’, Cody said, high-fiving Will as he jogged by. “Don’t want to slow you down.”

Will laughed as he continued up the trail, leaving Cody to follow along, meeting his brother a few minutes later in the parking lot at the trail head. Will was doing his pushups. Cody gratefully sat on a rock nearby, sipping from a water bottle they’d left in the car and looking out over the desert and the rocky landscape. He turned and looked back at Table Top Mountain, catching a glint of reflection off the picnic table up there. He could just barely make out what looked to be two figures nearing the top. Dwarfed by the distance, they were the size of tiny ants, crawling along, barely moving. Cody couldn’t believe that he was actually looking forward to making the climb the next time he came out, but he was.

Will joined him on the rock, gratefully guzzling water. “How was your hike? Did you see the Big Horns?”

“No, no sheep, but I did see a gecko.”

Will smiled and nodded his head. “Cool.”

Cody had spent a lot of time in his life thinking about relationships. It was interesting to him how people got along with each other, what choices people made as they went through life, and the consequences those choices had on them as their lives went on. It definitely had its genesis with his parent’s separation and divorce. Now, here with Will and being together like they had been, it came to Cody how much he was appreciating this time with his brother. He didn’t want to sound mellow dramatic or soap operish or anything, but he was feeling that being with Will was more than just some sort of male bonding kind of thing. It was deeper than that, more like where the shared experiences they’d had growing up in the family dynamics they’d been exposed to was counting for something very unique and special. And Cody was finally realizing that what he and Will had was blossoming in its own unique way, right now, out here in the desert and in Will’s adopted new home. It wasn’t like he and Will were all that much alike. They weren’t, but it was becoming apparent to Cody that more than just being brothers, they were enjoying the simple pleasure of being together, sharing new experiences and becoming even closer as a result. It was like they were becoming friends and it felt good.

As Cody and Will talked a guy came up and said Hi. Apparently Will had met him earlier out on the far side of the mountain. The guy was shirtless and tan and looked to be around seventy-five.

“How are you guys doing?” he asked. Will stood up and shook the guy’s hand and introductions were made. As the two of them talked Cody sat soaking in the sun, enjoying the heat of the day. Over the years he’d been impressed by the number of friends his brother had and how well liked he was. Even with this guy whom he had just met Will was congenial and talkative, asking the guy questions about himself and showing a genuine interest in him. Cody found himself reliving painful moments from the past when he and his brothers were growing up and how badly he and Rob, their middle brother, had treated Will. When he and Rob were young they’d asked Will to play with them with the expressed purpose being to eventually ditch him, leaving him scared and crying. Then they went through a phase where they simply ignored him, never even considering that he was lonely and only wanted to be included in the games his brothers were playing. Then there was one unfortunate time in a family friend’s backyard when Cody and Rob had talked Will into letting them swing him out over a cutaway cliff, Cody holding Will’s hands and Rob holding his feet, swinging him back and forth and back and forth and then, on Cody’s call, finally letting him go, watching him tumbling and screaming, flying through space, landing on the sandy (fortunately) decline and rolling to the bottom thirty feet below. And those were just a few examples. For years growing up Will had been trusting of his brothers and that trust had been betrayed by his older brother’s stupid and thoughtless actions over and over again. Remembering the way he’d treating his younger brother made Cody grimace with embarrassment. He’d made his peace with Will  years ago, apologizing over and over again and Will, to his credit, had forgiven him, but the memory was still there. Writing it all off as the idiotic behavior of stupid boys didn’t do much to erase the trauma that had been done. Nowadays Cody was proud of his brother. He was generous with his time, dropping everything to help a friend move, something he’d done for Cody many times. Will was not only well liked, but he was a good guy. Someone Cody truly enjoyed being with. He knew of lots worse family situations.

After the guy left, Will sat down. “He walks out here every day. He told me that the Big Horn Sheep are in a herd of about eight and they’ve been around for years. As long as they stay between here the river and the highway they’re protected. No one can hunt them.” He pointed behind them. The highway was about two miles away.

`”Great,” Cody said, meaning it. “That’s good to hear.”  It was rewarding for him to see Will concerned about the Big Horns. He was the kind of guy who adopted cats from animal shelters, feed birds at numerous bird feeders and was genuinely concerned about all living things.           “The guy seemed pretty nice.”

“He lives back over there,” Will said, pointing. “He’s in pretty good shape for someone in his seventies.”

Cody laughed. “You should talk. Running up the mountain every day.”

Will laughed too. “Yeah, I get what you mean.” They were quiet for a few minutes, enjoying the late afternoon sun. Finally Will stood up, “Let’s hit the road. We’re almost out of water.”

Cody stood and joined him. In spite of his bones creaking he was already starting to feel a little sad about leaving Sara Park and Table Top Mountain. Between yesterday and today he’d been out on the desert for nearly five hours. The hiking had been strenuous but rewarding. He’d made it to the top of the mountain and had seen panoramic views unlike any he’d ever imagined or experienced before. He’d seen geckos and lizards and desert plants previously unknown to him. If life was for learning, this was certainly a good place to be. He hadn’t brought it up before, but he did just then, as he and Will were getting into the car. “I love it out here, Will,” Cody said, “How about if I start coming back at least once a year for a visit?”

And Will answered without missing a beat. “Sure thing. It’d be great to have you.”

And this coming from a guy who once was thrown off a cliff by his big brother. Cody suddenly felt such a sense of overwhelming affection for his brother that for once he didn’t know what to say. He just smiled, finally finding the words, which should have been, ‘I love you’ but came out instead, “You think you can stand having your big brother around for a few days every year?”
To which Will replied, “Absolutely. I’ll just stay away from the edge of the cliff up there on Table Top.” He looked at Cody and laughed. “Just kidding.”

“God, please…” Cody said, embarrassed.

Will held up a hand to stop him. “Seriously, I’m only kidding. I’d love having you back.”

They got in the car and Will put it in gear and took off heading for home, leaving Cody to relieve again the stupid thing he’d done to his brother so very many years ago, which Will had forgiven him for, but which Cody was still unable to do for himself.

It was about four hours later that the sun had set into a fiery sky and Cody and Will had settled in to watch the moon rise and wait for the coyotes, wondering if they would howl like they did last night. In a few hours Cody would be leaving.

“So what do think?” Cody said, leaning over to look at his brother. “Pretty good visit?”

“It was,” Will said, sitting in his chair back and relaxing, looking up at the sky, illuminated by starlight. It was almost like they were in a different world. “So you’re seriously thinking about coming back here again?” He was grinning when he said it, like he knew the answer already. “You know you’re welcome anytime.”

“You bet. Wouldn’t miss it,” Cody said. “Wouldn’t miss it for the world.”

 

When Cody got home early the next morning and told his wife about his trip, she seemed to sense that the experience was special for him.

“Are you thinking of wanting to move out there?” She asked, somewhat kiddingly.

Cody shook his head, “No. I love it here with you and our gardens and our life and everything,” he said, giving her a hug. “This is our home and where I want to be. It was just nice to be out there with my brother.”

But a change had come over him, that was for sure. Sometimes in the deepest part of the night Cody would get up and look out at the moon if it was out, or just stare into the darkness if it wasn’t. But he really wasn’t paying attending to what he was seeing. He was reliving, instead, that night out in Will’s backyard, when the moon was full and the breeze was warm and the air was scented by the Sweet Acacia tree, when the coyotes ran the dry wash, and for a magical few moments their howling cut the night and filled Cody’s soul like a gift from some prehistoric being, still out there walking the desert and singing with the wind, wandering the hills and the mountains, unable to rest. After thinking thoughts like these it was always hard for him to go back to sleep.

And Cody did make good on his commitment to go back and visit Will ever year. Always around middle of February, the same time as the first time. They eventually got all of their mother’s photo albums cataloged. They took day trips out into the desert and even a few times drove to the Grand Canyon. They always made time to climb Table Top and spent many nights into the wee hours of the morning out in the backyard talking, oldies music playing in the background and listening for the coyotes. Sometimes they were fortunate enough to hear them. Like Cody told his wife after the first time he was out there, “The desert grows on you. There’s something about it that’s hard to explain. It has its own beauty and its own wildness. I’m glad Will’s out there. It’s a great place for me to visit and for both of us to be together.”

Cody made it back there twelve more times before he passed away. He had a heart attack just like his father had and died in his sleep during the summer. He was seventy nine. The memorial service was small and attended by family, some friends, and Cody’s kids and grandkids. He had wanted to be cremated and had often said that he didn’t care what was done with his ashes except he wanted them scattered and not kept in some urn on a mantle. “I want to be outside,” was how he put it. “If you can’t decide, toss me in the lake. That’s good enough for me.” The lake was the lake nearby where Cody had lived with his wife.

But Will had an idea. “Do you mind if I take some of Cody’s ashes home with me?” he asked Lynn, Cody’s wife, shortly after the end of the memorial. “I’ve got an idea.”

She smiled at him. “I’m sure you do, and I’m sure Cody would approve, so go ahead.”

So that was how it came to be that on a hot summer day a week later, Will parked his car at Sara Park and took his time walking up Table Top Mountain. In his pocket he carried a glass vial. He stopped frequently along the way, reliving memories of Cody and the good times they’d had together during his brother’s yearly visits. He felt the sun on his face and the wind blowing with a freshness only found in the desert. He saw a red tail hawk soaring and heard it call. When he reached the summit he did thirty five pushups, thinking of his brother, smiling the whole time. When he was done he stood up and stepped to the edge of the mountain, the wind in his face, the cliff behind him. He took the vial out of his pocket and removed the cap and held it up. The wind caught Cody’s ashes, blowing them out over the land. Will watched them scatter, knowing that his brother for now and all time was becoming part of the land he called home and the desert he loved.

He turned and started down the path to his car. Off to his right he saw a coyote watching him. Will grinned. Over the years a small pack had established itself in the area. It had been weeks since he’d seen one. He paused and watched until the animal turned and broke into a slow trot, eventually loping over a ridge. Then it was gone. Will continued down the trail heading for home knowing he’d be back tomorrow and the day after and for as long as he was able. His brother would be out there with him now, too. Of that he was sure.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Waiting For Flight 175

A life drama plays out in the airport, as Larry Gustafson unexpectedly finds out.

A crowd of humanity surged through Concourse B like a tidal river rushing down a coastal inlet. At gate 23 in the waiting area for flight 175 people settled themselves into the seats, leaving as much space as they could between themselves and the people around them. As departure time drew nearer more and more passengers arrived, filling the seats one by one until none were left, leaving the late arrivals standing wherever they could, rocking back and forth on their heels, looking around and trying not to make eye contact.

Larry Gustafson sat in the last seat in his row out by the concourse trying to read a short story by a favorite author. It was hard to concentrate.

Next to him a middle aged, paunchy guy in a red turtle neck stood up. His shirt was neatly tucked into grey dress pants which were accessorized by a shiny burgundy belt and with a silver buckle. He addressed the woman next to him who was quietly reading a newspaper. “I’ve had something fatty to eat and something salty to eat,” he stated to her. “Now I need something sweet to eat.” He paused, his pronouncements hanging in the air proudly like flags waving. He stood watching her, waiting for her to look up. “Maybe some water too,” he added, making it seem like he had arrived at this conclusion after much deliberation.

Larry cast a quick glance in their direction. The guy was nervously shuffling his feet, staring at his traveling companion, hands twitching at his side.

“Well, go get something then,” she suggested without looking up, slowly turning the page. Larry noticed it was the front section of the local newspaper. She shook it to straighten out a wrinkle and continued reading.

“Where should I go?” The guy asked, not taking his eyes off her. All around people were walking into and out of the area, restlessly waiting for the plane to begin boarding. It was going to be awhile. Larry glanced at his watch. They had a good twenty minutes. “Maybe I should get a candy bar.” He looked down her again. She was dressed comfortably in loose fitting tan slacks and a beige blouse which nearly hid a thin, gold chain necklace. She had rings on most of her fingers and a prominent, diamond studded one that was most likely a wedding ring on her left hand. She was quite tan, which was surprising given it was February in Minnesota. Larry got the feeling maybe they were just passing through. But then again maybe not. Maybe she had been tanning for the last month or so, getting ready for a vacation to Las Vegas, the destination of the flight. “What do you think?” The guy asked, nervously putting his hands in his pockets and jingling what sounded like a bunch of coins.  After a few moments he took out a wad of bills that he unrolled and started counting with a practiced manner that indicted it was a task he did often. Then he put them back in his pocket.

She folded the paper and rested it on her knee. She raised her hand and patted her hair, which was light brown and tastefully frosted. Her lipstick was deep red, almost maroon, and matched the color of her fingernails. She appeared well off and looked to be the same age as the guy, nearly sixty. “Maybe get a candy bar?” she asked. “Like a Snickers?”

“I don’t know,” the guy pondered, seriously considering her suggestion. “I’m not sure about the nuts.”

“Then how about a Hersey’s? she replied. “Just chocolate.”

“Hmm…” he said, thinking. Larry had forgotten all about his book and was now surreptitiously watching the entire conversation out of the corner of his eye. The guy put a hand to his chin and rubbed it and then slid it to the back of his neck, massaging the skin vigorously. He was smooth shaven and his complexion was an unhealthy mix of ruddy and pale, not like his traveling companion’s at all. “I don’t know,” he finally said. “I’m just not sure what I want.” HIs eyes were blinking rapidly, his confusion genuine.

Just do it, Larry wanted to scream. It’s only a friggin’ candy bar for Christ’s sake. But he didn’t. He just watched and listened, becoming drawn in to the couple and the drama being played out.

“You know there’s a kiosk just down the concourse to the right,” she said, pointing.

“There is?”

“Yes. Why don’t you go look?”

Nervously contemplating her suggestion, the guy rubbed his hands together like he was dry washing them. Then he crossed in front of Larry and stepped to the edge of the concourse, looking down toward the kiosk. The flow of people swerved around him without missing a beat. He stepped back saying, “Maybe I will.” And then stood there looking at her, shoving his hands in his pockets again, fiddling with his money some more.

The guy’s shoes were nicely polished, dark brown wing-tips. Larry thought they were a nice juxtaposition to the tan work boots he was wearing. The contrast of colors looked kind of pleasing together, he thought, as he carefully moved his boots out of the way, not wanting of the guy to trip.

The guy’s traveling companion (wife?) looked up at him and opened her paper, shaking it once to straighten it out. “If you go, get me a bottle of water, please.”

“What kind?” the guy asked.

She was quiet for a long time. By now Larry felt like he was part of the conversation and had some small vested interest in her answer, like, really, what kind of water did she want?

Finally she gave a slight cough, turned to a new page and said, “Doesn’t matter.” Larry didn’t’ realize he’d been holding his breath. He let it out and felt a sense of relief. But it was only momentary.

“Really?” the guy said, questioning her. “Really? It doesn’t matter?”

“No. Any kind will do. But you should hurry.” She glanced at her watch. “We’ll be boarding soon.”

“Geez.” the guy said, looking at his own watch now, getting quite anxious. “Do you think I’ll have time?”

Her eyes shifted to the next page. “If you hurry.”

“Ok,” the guy said, turning to leave. “I’ll be right back.”

He hurriedly left, merging quickly into the flow of people. Larry leaned over in his chair and watched him, finding himself concerned that the guy was going to be safe. He surprised himself that he cared so much. When the guy was out of sight, he repositioned himself in his chair and shot a quick glance toward the lady. She was engrossed in her paper, an air of calm around her, concentrating on her reading but also at ease, like this sort of thing with the guy happened all the time and she was so used to it that it didn’t even faze her. Larry turned back to his book. He tried to put the couple out of his mind so he could focus on the story he had started. It was hard to do. He was just starting to read when the guy returned. He surprised himself by realizing he was relieved the guy made it back Ok.

“Look at this water I got,” he said, excitedly, sitting down and taking a plastic bottle out of the small bag he was carrying. “It’s the best.”

Larry glanced over. He had to admit he was curious. The guy was handing her a bottle with a label he was unfamiliar with. Not Evian, Clear Mountain or Poland Springs. It was some French name he’d never heard of and the shape was slightly different from most bottled water, this one being thinner and taller.

“Thank you,” she said, setting it on the floor, going back to her reading.

The guy sat down and twisted the top off, taking a long drink. When he was finished he smacked his lips. “Boy, that tastes really good.” He turned toward her, “I didn’t realize I was so thirty.” He started drinking some more.

“Be careful how much you drink,” she said without looking up, continuing to read. “You know how you hate to use the bathrooms on airplanes.”

The guy stopped drinking and his leg started jiggling up and down. “Oh, boy,” he said, agitated. “I didn’t think about that.”

She glanced at her watch. “You can use the bathroom here on the concourse, if you want, before we board. You don’t mind those.”

“Yeah,” he said, sounding relieved. “That’s a good idea.”

She smiled and patted him on his arm. He seemed to calm down. “Did you get your candy bar?”

“I did.” He reached into the bag and pulled it out, showing it to her. “What do you think?”
“A Hersey bar. All chocolate. That’s a good choice.”

“Do you think I should eat it now?”

“Yes,” she answered and then turned back to her paper. “You don’t want it to melt and make a mess.”

“Good idea.” He pealed back the paper and bit into the bar, clearly savoring the chocolaty flavor. When he was half way through he leaned over, offering her some, “Do you want a piece? It’s pretty good.”

“No. I’m fine,” she said, setting the paper aside and making it a point to look at her watch again. “You should finish up and use the bathroom. I think we may start boarding soon.”

And, just like that, over the loud speaker the gate attendant announced early boarding for those needing assistance. The general boarding would begin in a few minutes.

“Oh, boy. Do you think I’ll have time?” he asked, suddenly very nervous. He quickly stuffed the remainder of the Hersey bar in his mouth, chewing rapidly and crumpling up the wrapper.

She patted his hand reassuringly. “I’m sure you have time, dear.” She said. The term of affection seemed to point to the fact that they were married, something Larry had been wondering about. “Why don’t you go now? I’ll wait right here for you.”

The guy stood up hesitantly and looked at her. “Are you sure about the time?”

She smiled reassuringly. “Yes, I am. You go to the bathroom and hurry back. I won’t go anywhere. I promise.”

“Ok, then.” he said, moving toward the concourse, glancing back at her. “Promise?”

“Yes, dear. Just hurry.” she pointed to her watch.

“Ok, then. Bye.”

“Bye.”

Larry watched as the guy slipped into a break in the crowd and then was swept away. He leaned over and watched until he was out of sight. The last thing he saw was the guy cutting through the sea of people, heading for the men’s room. Larry thought about getting up to follow him, but it looked like he was going to make it all right. Satisfied that the guy was Ok, he settled back in his seat, checking that he had his boarding pass. The lady folded up her newspaper and put it in a small carry-on bag. She took out a tin of Altoids and popped one in her mouth, snapping the top. She noticed Larry watching her.

“Mint?” she asked, offering the tin to him.

Embarrassed, Larry stammered, “Ah, no. Thanks though.” He felt his ears turning red.

She smiled at him. “Going to Vegas?”

She seemed very nice. Pleasant. Larry felt himself becoming drawn in to talking with her. “Well, yes,” he said, his embarrassment fading. “I’m meeting my brother there. He’s picking me up and we’re driving to where he lives.”

“He’s from Vegas?”

“No. South. Two and a half hours. Lake Havasu.”

She nodded her head. “It’s nice down there.”

“I’ve never been. First time.”

“You’ll have a great time.” She was watching the concourse now, looking for the guy.

“Are you and your husband going to Vegas?” he asked, curious if they were married.

“Yes.” She smiled. “We’re celebrating our fortieth anniversary.

Question answered. “Well, congratulations,” he said, meaning it.”That’s something to be proud of.” He knew of no couples who’d been married that long.

She smiled at him and ran her hands over her slacks, smoothing them. “It is,” she said. “He’s a good man.”

Just then her husband rushed into the waiting area and stood in front of her. “Whew. I thought I was going to be late.” He leaned down and kissed the top of her head. “There was a line in the bathroom and I didn’t know if I should stay there or leave. Finally a stall opened up and I used it, but it seemed to take forever to go. You know…,” he said, looking around, embarrassed. “Then I wanted to wash my hands but the water took forever to come on. Finally it did.” He paused, agitated. “I hate those automatic faucets.”

His wife reached up and patted his arm. “Well, you’re here right how. You can just relax.” And, just like that, at the touch of her hand, the guy calmed down. “I’ve been talking to this nice gentleman here,” she said, indicating Larry.

Larry looked up at the guy and smiled. “Hi.”

“Hello,” the guy said, cautiously.

“I’m Larry,” he said, putting out his hand.

The guy took a moment before shaking it, and glanced at his wife who nodded, like it’s Ok. “Steve,” he said. “My name’s Steve.”

“Nice to meet you, Steve,” Larry said.

In the background the call for boarding began. “And this is my wife, Susan,” he added.

“Hi Susan,” Larry said, shaking her hand, introductions now complete. “I hope you both have a great trip and a wonderful anniversary.” He meant it.

Steve gave his wife a questioning look. “I’ve fill you in went we’re seated, dear,” she said as she stood, picking up her carry-on. “It’s our turn to board,” she looked at her husband with affection and put her arm through his. Then she turned to Larry. “You have a good trip,” she said, smiling. “Have fun with your brother.”

“I will.”

Steve and Susan moved into line. Larry stood up but hung back waiting for his section to be called. He watched the couple as they inched forward toward the gate and then down the runway. He saw Steve’s head bobbing along, dipping occasionally as he said something to his wife. They seemed like a nice couple and something about them and how they were with each other made him feel good. It was a feeling that might be worth exploring. They rounded a corner and then were out of sight. His boarding section was called and he moved into line, putting his book into his carry-on, forgetting about the story he had been reading, thinking instead about Steve and Susan. He wouldn’t mind at all if, by chance, he ended up being seated next to them for the flight to Vegas. And wAhy not? He hadn’t even left the airport and already his trip was memorable. Who knew what lay ahead?