I get up at 5 a.m. so I can hike before it gets too warm. While it’s not as hot in Phoenix, Arizona as it is anywhere in the UAE, we come pretty close. I swear we’re so close to the sun she’s winked at me a few times. Yet, it is the peacefulness of nature that beckons me to embrace the heat, enjoy the scenery and appreciate the dirt beneath my feet.
This morning I tried to take a picture of baby quail chasing each other around a sage bush. They were having a blast until their parents squawked to hide because some “human” was watching. The chicks are the color of the dirt beneath their feet, so the picture would’ve looked like a dead bush with some funny looking stones around it. This, like so much of what I get to see, was meant for memory only.
I’ve been hiking the same trail for 12 years, and it has always blessed me with nature’s wonders —- even the rattle snakes and gila monsters are a joy to watch, just as long as they are way over there and I am way over not in striking distance. That said the snakes try to warn you first. I know this because I almost sat on one once. I wanted to catch my breath under an anemic Palo Verde tree. The snake beat me to it. Luckily, he shook his tail, and I heard him before plopping my rump into his fangs. I no longer bother to hover under a tree.
Throughout the years, I’ve seen butterflies and bees migrate, rabbits skitter across the rocks, chipmunks pose for me until they realise I don’t have a snack, even coyotes and roadrunners (although never together). In the spring chuckwallas, large lizards that look like they belong in the Amazon, join the geckos sunning on the rocks. The chuckwallas are out there looking for mates. They must be incredibly shy beasts because the only time I see them is when it’s time to make the babies. I wonder where they hide the rest of the year.
The humans I meet on the trails are also interesting. There are the occasional hikers who glow (with sweat) almost as brightly as their neon workout gear, the families showing off the desert’s wonders to their young, the tourists snapping photos of all our cacti and the locals who ride their horses up our steep, rocky banks. Then there are us regulars who run, walk and bike through our usual small talk. There’s this one lady whom I chat with almost every day. We say things like “didn’t see our snake today,”or “did you see the newborn quail at the top?” We know the path as well as we know ourselves, but we do not know each other’s names.
Most regulars also leave mementos on the trail. Sometimes we paint pretty things or sayings on the rocks, or make smiley face sculptures alongside the path. During the holidays, we decorate the trees. Other times we leave memorials for the people who’ve passed.
This trail has many wonderful reminders of the beauty of nature and richness of life. However, there are sometimes instances when our frailty comes to the fore. There are reminders of this as well. This morning I saw a buddha placed near where a man died a few months ago. He was elderly, and his heart quit when he reached the top. When I turned in the direction of where the buddha was looking, I hoped this is what the man saw before he died.
Yesterday, I learned that I should be prepared for my move by August 1. I have approximately 5 more weeks left of hiking to enjoy. Other than my family, friends and pets, this is what I will miss the most. I’m okay with it because I know there will be something to eventually connect me to my new home. I don’t know what it is yet, but I’m looking forward to whatever weekly routines will become mine in Abu Dhabi. I am so amazed and incredibly grateful that we can have these seemingly mundane tasks, such as walking the same path, to ground us wherever we are in the world.
About Bettina Bennett
Bettina Bennett is currently a Cycle two and three educator here in the UAE. She is also a Teach UAE Magazine Blogger and Guest Contributor.