DECEMBER: NOT ALL WHO WANDER
“I know. I know. I’m lost. I don’t know where we are either.”
Nelson stared at me with those odd eyes of his, one blue and the other amber, unblinking, waiting for more. I shrugged and rearranged the cushions behind me. I propped myself up with a sigh next to him.
“It must have been last night, at that tavern in Farmington. I bet I left the map on the table or something. I didn’t see anything in the motel room when we left, did you?”
Of course he didn’t. He’d already been waiting in the 4Runner. As usual, he’d been impatient to hit the road.
I sipped my cold coffee and stared out the truck’s windows with a smile. I’d already folded the seats down and installed a memory foam mattress, cushions, and a thick pile of blankets and sleeping bags. We were living in style these days.
A blue-gray lake filled a valley’s basin, it was small by most standards but for New Mexico, not bad. Mountains surrounded us filled with ponderosas and cedar, native grasses, and shrub oaks. We’d walked the hills and explored various animal tracks earlier, picking up dead and down wood for the night’s campfire. Empty, the land felt empty yet loved and I saw no one. No one to ask for directions. All I knew was that we were somewhere in the Apache reservation, on a campsite next to a lake. I’d paid the five bucks in the envelope and settled in for the night. I still couldn’t find the damn map though. I figured we’d just drive west in the morning, sun to our backs, and follow these dirt roads through the wilderness until we came back out into the Carson National Forest.
Nelson sighed and licked my hand. His pale tongue rasped against my dried skin. I reached over and petted this friend of mine. A husky mix, I wasn’t sure what he’s mixed with, but he’s tall and rangy, shaggy caramel fur with a classic husky face. He’s not the wanderer though, more of a nervous Nellie, hence the name.
I stroked his head. “I don’t know where we are either my friend, but it’s not bad eh? Just the two of us? No more arguments with Mark, no cold school bus to wake up to, just us for a while.”
I finished the coffee and set the mug on the tailgate. I scooted out and stood in the cool evening air. I pulled the coat closer and called Nelson to me. Reluctantly my dog jumped down and stood next to me. He took a drink from the ever-present water bucket and then stared at me. I nodded. He ran to the lake and stopped, with paws only slightly wet, he drank his fill. The real deal, water from a lake, is much tastier than from a 5-gallon container a few days old.
I grabbed his bowl, filled it with kibble, and poured on some oil from the skillet. I hunkered down next to the fire pit and lay the paper, kindling and sticks in a pyramid. Lighting the flame, the fire crackled and took. The wind had luckily died down with the sun. I knew how to judge the fire risks these days. Nelson ate fast then wandered back to the water’s edge.
The campsite was barren, with not a soul in sight, and only a distant owl softly announcing the night to come for company. Clouds filtered out the last of the day’s winter sun and I shivered. Nelson stayed in sight, paddling carefully, and poking among the rocks. Like I said, he’s not the usual husky. Timid boy. Loving boy. He stays close to Mom. I sat on a boulder, enjoying the growing darkness.
I opened the cooler and pulled out a cold pilsner, one a day, that was my limit. It would be a challenge after those last few weeks with Mark, fighting, partying, and all with the background of Thanksgiving. Mom had even come and gone, oblivious of what was really happening in my happy home, well, maybe she knew. Mark announced one morning that he was leaving too. He left the next day.
The fire flickered and embers cooked my potato. Nelson lay on the tailgate, happily watching me cooking, his own belly full, and bed warm and comfortable. That’s one thing I’ll admit to – I’ve learned how to camp in style, in comfort. Only what, six months ago was it that we moved into the bus? That I left the city life? Incredible really, I’d had no idea what I was getting myself into. How could I?
I sipped on a beer, poked the fire, pushing the potato off to the side, and using tongs, rolled it onto a plate. Nelson perked up. More food coming he knew, since I was not one to eat much these days. Nelson sighed in contentment and nudged my knees. I reached for his big head and scratched behind his ears.
“Yep, not bad eh? Not bad, this is living the dream, my friend, living the dream.”
The lake shimmered in the moonlight, clouds lingered, and the fire warmed us. Yes, not bad at all. I can do this. I can do this, with or without Mark. I hope.