With my love of rock collecting, camping, and scuba diving, I have spent a great deal of time in the wilderness. I have always prided myself on knowing what to do in case of an emergency. Of course, knowing what to do and actually doing it are two different things. One day in Greer, Arizona, my outdoor skills were seriously tested, and I failed miserably.
What was I doing in the tiny town that perches 8,300 feet above sea level in the heart of the White Mountains? It started with my now ex-husband Higgs, who, at the time, was the chef and manager at the iconic Greer Lodge.
“How’d you like to go stay at the inn from Sunday night through Thursday morning?” he said.
“I can’t stand being there all week?”
Ah. I understood. Higgs was a city boy from Detroit who had no love for wild places. The quiet of the mountains and high meadows drove him crazy.
“What would I have to do?”
“I need you to train the waitstaff. They don’t know what they’re doing.”
I had spent five years working in a restaurant in Washington D.C., both as a server and a bartender, so I had those skills.
“And, I’d like you to eat three meals a day and critique the food.”
That sounded delightful, but still I held out.
“You can stay in a nice room at the lodge. I’ll pay you $125 a day.”
As I was unemployed at the time, the idea was starting to intrigue me.
“And, you can bring Georgie with you.”
“I’ll do it!” I said delighted that I could have my sweet dog with me.”
And so, I began my weekly treks from Phoenix – where the temperature hovered around 110 degrees – to the cool green pines of the Arizona’s White Mountains.
The Greer Lodge was a rustic, two-story, pine-log building that had eight rooms, a back porch fronting the Little Colorado River, and a restaurant. I did my best to organize and instruct the servers, local young people who didn’t appreciate my efforts. They called me a low-lander behind my back, and mostly ignored my efforts to teach them how to properly open and serve wine, deliver orders, and clear tables. I did however, enjoy the food. My ex was an superb chef, and the people in the kitchen followed his recipes well.
The best part of being in Greer was that, between meals, I was free to do anything I wanted. Which for me meant exploring the forests and streams with my dog by my side. Georgie was a small black and white collie who had chosen me on a trip to Georgia. We first met when I was visiting a friend who had instructed me to go next door to borrow a hammer. When I crossed into the neighbor’s yard, two giant Rottweilers hurled themselves at a chain-link fence, scaring the crap out of me. Then, a little pup appeared, barking frantically at the big dogs, placing herself between me and them. Fearing for her safety, I scooped her up.
“She’s from across the street,” my friend said. “There was another puppy, but they let them run lose and it got hit by a car and died.”
I gazed at the little dog that had curled up next to me on the couch .
“Go tell them you want her.”
So, I walked across the street, where a bratty teenage girl greeted me at the door. “Oh!” She rolled her eyes. “It got out of its cage again.”
“It!” I clutched the dog. Her little head rested on my shoulder. The girl reached for the animal and I pulled back. “Do you want this dog?”
She shook her head. “I don’t think my aunt wants her either.”
“I’ll be staying over there for a few days.” I pointed at the house. “If you want her, come and get her.”
To my relief, they never appeared.
Georgie and I had been together a long time the day we found ourselves in a bit a jam on a mountain trail. It was a spectacular blue-sky, puffy-white-clouds kind of day. The sweet scent of pine and moist forest earth permeated the air. Then a noise made me stop and look uphill. I noticed that the thick vegetation was swaying. My first thought was an elk, but the foliage was not very tall, so an elk would have been visible. The plants continued moving back and forth as the hidden animal trudged toward me. I knew then it could only be a bear.
I’d never meet a bear on foot in the wild. My understanding was that I should make myself look as big as possible by raising my arms in the air and create a lot of noise. Most importantly, I should not run.
I thought about those things, but stood frozen. I glanced at Georgie, who sniffed the air beside me. Our eyes met. Then, she bolted back up the trail. My dog — who as a pup had so bravely defended me — disappeared around a rocky bend. I looked back at the swaying shrubs trying to gage the size of the animal that was approaching. It was big.
Against all advice … I ran, skittering over loose stones, dodging roots and rocks. I thought about looking back, but was afraid of what I’d see. I ran until I doubled over, out of breath. Georgie was waiting for me on the trail. Other than the thumping of my heart, the woods were quiet, only a breeze pushing through the pines.
Later, Georgie and I made our way back to the lodge. Perhaps, because we were both embarrassed by our reactions, we never again spoke of our encounter with the bear.
Blank Slate Press/Amphorae Publishing Group
Price: $16.95 Paperback, $9.99 eBook
As a Vietnam veteran and former Special Forces sniper descends into the throes of mental illness, he latches onto a lonely pregnant teenager and a group of Pentecostal zealots – the Children of Light – who have been waiting over thirty years in the Arizona desert for Armageddon. When the Amtrak Sunset Limited, a passenger train en route to Los Angeles, is derailed in their midst in a deadly act of sabotage, their lives are thrown into turmoil. As the search for the saboteurs heats up, the authorities uncover more questions than answers. And then the girl vanishes. As the sniper struggles to maintain his sanity, a child is about to be born in the wilderness.