The Beachcomber

Dad is barefoot wading in the water at our local beach. It is his newest favorite pastime in any weather to walk, collect rocks and shells, and watch the shorebirds and surfers. The other day he said, “Get your children and grandchildren down here on the beach. I wish I had gotten myself out there on those boards when I was a younger man.”

It hasn’t always been this way. In fact is has been a lifelong process. Dad has naturally been a fit muscular guy. He looked great without a shirt and in swim trunks which he wore without hesitation. Yet in our early teens my sister and I noticed he didn’t wear shorts. We talked with him about it and finally persuaded him to try the popular cutoff jeans around the house. He liked them and has worn shorts since the 1970s. But our job wasn’t finished. It wasn’t until the early 2000s that we convinced him to wear sports socks with his shorts. We reminded him how great his legs looked. Who knew it was that easy?

This past spring Dad arrived for an extended stay with us in southern California. During our regular walks on the beach he was always high on the dry sand wearing socks and shoes. Invariably he would get wet even though he tried not to. Then one day after watching us remove our shoes, he spontaneously took off his sneakers and socks and joined us along the waters edge. Now he loves it! Then another miracle happened. We bought him a pair of flip flops to wear with his shorts on the way to and from the beach. He loves them! We found a light weight pair with a soft toe insert and we stay nearby to avoid falls. But he really does great with them. It only took him until age 82.

We go to the beach every few days. If not he asks when we can “go to the water”. Dad fills his pockets with shells and rocks every beach walk. He displays them on trays and looks at his collection every day. If you visit us he will bring them out to show you. He has so many rocks we created an outdoor space for them in the garden. Dad especially enjoys the colored rocks and rocks with holes. He is particularly fond of a Chestnut Cowrie he found. We recently purchased a seashell identification guide for him.

Yesterday we packed our lunch and beach chairs and set ourselves right in the tide. He laughed as the water washed up around our feet. Then we watched the sanderlings scurry and the pelicans diving for fish. We combed the beach for shells and sand dollars. Dad has expressed many times how much he enjoys our time on the beach. We treasure it! But our work is not finished yet. We are still practicing knowing the difference between sand dollars and sea gull dollars.

Oops!

Go West Young Man

Tonto Natural Bridge, Arizona

Dad moved our family west in 1964. We settled under the shadows of the Superstition Mountains in Apache Junction, Arizona when I was just four years of age. Western novels and movies have been a lifelong source of enjoyment for Dad until a few months ago. He has read every Zane Grey novel and owns a complete collection. Then added Louis L’Amore to his library. Last year he made the effort to read the complete collection of Louis L’Amour in sequence. It was the last time. Although, he stands and admires the books sometimes touches them. I remember Dad taking us to the Round Up Drive-In movie theater to see John Wayne in Red River and when Blazing Saddles was released. Over the past few months, books have become difficult to read and western movies with the “shoot em up” as Dad describes it, seem to bother him. Bookmarks are a challenge to keep in place and while he was on page 122 one day, the next day he would be on page 90.

As we transition to trying audio books and watching more country music videos instead of westerns, I reflect on Dad’s love for Arizona and everything cowboy. On special occasions he wore the hat, jeans, boots and a Bolo tie. He even had a holster and a pistol. Dad hiked and explored all parts of the state climbing all over the Superstitions, and into Geronimo’s Cave. He took us camping at many lakes along the Apache Trail and throughout the White Mountains and taught my sister and I how to fish. Then we learned how to clean and cook the fish including eating a delicious crispy tail. He eventually purchased property near the Mogollon Rim for family getaways. On some adventures, Dad drove his 1947 Ford pick up truck on steep mountain roads. We were scared half to death as we looked down the steep sides of canyons while he bumped along nearly impassable roads.

Shortly after moving to Arizona, Dad turned a 1956 Ford into a desert buggy. We would spontaneously head out for adventures turning off a dirt road in the middle of what I thought was “nowhere” only to come across an abandoned homestead or “ghost town”, as Dad would call it. One childhood memory includes images of my mother and sister and I walking through an old cemetery in a long forgotten town and seeing three snakes within a matter of minutes; a rattlesnake, a king snake and a red and black coral snake. We weren’t frightened as Dad and Mom had taught us about all the desert creatures like Gila monsters, snakes and tarantulas.

To spark Dad’s love for Arizona and enjoy his adventurous spirit, we recently drove to the Tonto Natural Bridge. We reminisced about the friends and family we had shared the bridge with in decades past. We hiked short trails, watched wild Javelina and then went to lunch at a vintage cafe not far from the Zane Grey cabin museum. I thought we might visit the museum. When I asked Dad, he shrugged and said it had been moved from its original location. He then ordered a big slice of cherry pie which he did not share. I thought to myself, “Cowboys must really like cherry pie.”

Zane Grey Under the Tonto Rim

Grand Canyon – Light and Laughter

Photo by Daughter

Dad and I went to the North Rim of the Grand Canyon. We went because he did not remember having been there and always wanted to go.  While we were waiting to check in to our cabin we decided to hike the Bright Angel Point Trail. The trail starts near the lodge and winds along sheer drop offs with dramatic views of the canyon. While we were hiking, Dad began to tell me how much he “hated this trail” sharing he hated it the entire time he helped build it. I was surprised but just listened. He explained that it was cold and snowing and he and all the workers feared they would slip and fall. I encouraged him to walk away from the edge and we continued along the trail. I asked him where he lived when he was working on the trail and he told me he drove to work from his home every day. He lives more than eight hours one-way from the North Rim of the Grand Canyon. He also told me a good friend of his, one he worked with for years at his primary profession, quit after just one day. He was adamant about his experience, so I just hiked along with him in his moment. Along the way we stopped for a few sips of water under a shady rocky overhang.  At this same stop was a couple visiting from India. Dad told them in great detail how he built the trail sharing how the stones were placed along the edge and about the dangerous work. The couple listened to his story with interest and became excited to meet him. I just stood there quietly watching and listening. After all, my mission was to give Dad a happy visit to the North Rim of the Grand Canyon. We had a wonderful evening watching the light sweep across the canyon at sunset and a glass of wine with dinner. Our cabin was just 20 yards from the edge of the canyon. We slept peacefully under the pines with a fire in the stone hearth. We woke early to watch the sunrise and enjoy the changing hues as much as possible. Just one day – a few hours together as father and daughter to be remembered…or not. A few days after we returned home, Dad called me and said he needed to apologize. I said, “Dad, you never do anything you need to apologize for.” He said, “I never built a trail in the Grand Canyon.” I said, “well, there is a couple in India telling their friends they met a guy that did.” We laughed and laughed. Dad still remembers our trip to the North Rim of the Grand Canyon. Sometimes we look at the photographs together, talk about how beautiful it was, and laugh about our adventure.

Photo: National Park Service

“A short trail leads visitors from Grand Canyon Lodge to a viewing area at Bright Angel Point. Looking east, hikers can see Roaring Springs Canyon, a major tributary to Bright Angel Creek and the source of Roaring Springs. Deva, Brahma, and Zoroaster Temples are visible to the southeast. To the west is The Transept, a large tributary canyon of the Grand Canyon. The Colorado River, however, is hidden among the multicolored buttes and rock outcroppings that fill the Canyon’s depths. Along the trail are displays of marine fossils and crinoid fossils that illustrate the evolution of the landscape and life through the millennia as revealed in the exposed layers of the Canyon.”  Bright Angel Point