There’s the long story,
and then there’s the just slightly shorter one. Kind of
like how you can pick from two ways to get somewhere: the interstate
or some narrow, twisty, gravel back road that doesn’t
even make the map. Either way, you end up in the same place.
In my case it was Durango, where I arrived via one transcontinental
flight, a stack of magazines and several trips up, down and
across the continent.
My family left Cairo, Egypt, on a 110-degree day and landed
in a couple of feet of snow somewhere in Canada. Turns out it
was Toronto, a fine place to test winter wear and learn the
English language (now just a nice place to visit). My folks,
enamored by the concept of universal health coverage and education,
set about finding work and handing over most of their paychecks
for said benefits and more winter wear. I set about learning
the rules of hockey.
A stack of mags
In 1968, the year we arrived in the “West,” I was
not quite old or literate enough to enter public school. What
were two working parents to do? After putting me on a number
of day-care waiting lists, my mom did what any desperate college
librarian would: she bundled me up, slid me through the streets
to campus, snuck me into a back room and sat me on a stack of
old magazines with a handful of oatmeal cookies. Now milk and
cookies are things every halfway affable kid can get as a matter
of course, but access to the entire library of Arizona Highways
– that changes lives.
The three-year-old mind is a spongy thing. You learn languages
quickly; your curiosity is insatiable (read insufferable). But
what I did not understand until recently (read just now) is
that the periodicals you sit on at that tender age have a profound
effect on your grizzled adulthood. My hypothesis is simple:
Any Cairene child who immigrates to Toronto, spends hours a
day in his formative years surrounded by stacks of magazines
featuring photos of the Four Corners, and marries a cowgirl,
will move to Durango.
Cross country therapy
Forgive me a little proselytizing here, but if you ever come
to question the meaning and purpose of your life and answers
aren’t forthcoming at the local ashram, rent a copy of
“The Razor’s Edge” (the Bill Murray version),
read Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance, sell everything
you own, and drive. You may land in Nunavut or Zacatecas, L.A.
or New York. You may end up in all those places. Just cover
some ground. Stop here and there to look around, but keep moving.
Now here’s the trick: Do this only until the day, hour,
minute and second that all this sounds like really bad advice.
What’s my point? Pick a clich`E9. “Wherever you
go, there you are” comes too quickly to mind. What’s
my real point? I’m getting to it.
If you’re going to San Francisco `85
I landed in the Bay Area for a while and became acquainted with
$2,000 a month, closet-sized apartments; upstairs neighbors
in search of a couple million to work on a cross stitch–cable
TV convergence play; and downstairs neighbors in search of the
epiphany of the week. There also was good food, lots of mood-setting
weather and easy to memorize landmarks. Alas, it was just another
beautiful place – to visit. On my way back east, I stopped
in that great state hallowed in the reading material of my youth.
I’ll not bother you with the desiccated details, which
brings us finally to where we are.
Let’s cut to the chase. I settled in Durango because every
time I visited, I felt better. It’s always sunny. The
air is good, moving through my “old urban” respiratory
system like, uh, air. I rarely get sick, and when I do, it’s
quick. But here’s the best part: People here are neither
as folksy nor as friendly as I’d dreaded. I don’t
know where they learn it, but Durangoans seem to know when to
lay on the howdy-do and when to just leave a city slicker to
hangdog, mope or otherwise stew in his own juices. I am home.
So that’s my circuitous excuse for landing and staying
in this always decent, sometimes dangerous place – a place
of dreams (and an occasional fire, mudslide and bear of a nightmare);
a gem of a town just north and east of Arizona, thank god. That’s
my story – and I ain’t budging.
– Haz M Sa`EFd is a beekeeper,
and ranch hand at Blue Lake Ranch.
He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.