Every summer growing up, I used to go camping with my granddad in the Pecos Mountains.
He was a tall man, perfectly bald, and he favored coveralls. He had work coveralls and dress coveralls. Some of his coveralls even had his name scrawled in cursive embroidery on the front pocket: Donald E.Raver.
He was a quiet man.
We would load up his suburban, a giant behemoth vehicle before SUVs were common, and haul his RV up from Albuquerque, past Santa Fe, through the tiny town of Pecos.
We would begin our ascent to the Pecos Wilderness from there, the suburban crawling up the circular mountain gravel road. The trees changed from cedars to aspens. The air got cooler. The sun was a little brighter up there.
When we arrived, we’d creak open the doors. It was quiet up there. Just birds singing. And the start of the Pecos River babbling over smooth river rocks. It’s a tiny creek at that altitude. It held so much beauty and happiness for him, that’s even where he chose to pass from this world to some other place. But that’s a story for another day.
In the mornings, it was cold. Sometimes we had a fire. Sometimes, he made us warm, grilled spam sandwiches with mayonnaise. They taste good in the mountains.
If you wanted to get time alone with granddad, you had to get up early. He usually woke up around 4am and took a walk. That was the best time to be around him, because with just him around, things were very still.
Once, I ended up going camping with him by myself. Who knows why. I was a shy girl around most people, but I guess I had a lot to say on the inside. That trip, I talked and talked and talked and talked. For days. He didn’t say much. He just kept getting up at 4am, talking walks, going fishing, making spam sandwiches, and I went right along with him, spilling my every thought. He listened.
And then, after the third day of camping together, I had said everything. I had expressed every passing thought, every curiosity, every little idea I had had for years, every insightful 10-year-old observation – I had said it all.
That’s when I started to see things very clearly.
When he was done cooking breakfast in the morning, he would start to lean in towards the river, and look that way, and I knew it was time to go for a walk. Sometimes, he would turn towards his fishing pole. That meant we were going to walk over to the lake and go fishing. When he put his hand on the rock beside him, that meant we were going to sit there a while and I could sit by him if I wanted to.
I would sit by the stream, watching the water flow over the rocks, the sunlight reflecting white light off the water. Tiny fish would swim through the rocks, in the current. If we waited long enough, a bird might fly down right in front of us and grab up a fish. The aspen leaves glinted in the sunlight on the trees, like shiny coins hanging from the trees.
After we sat a while, granddad would reach into his pocket and take out a red apple and his knife. He’d wind that pocket knife around and around the apple, separating the peel from the apple in a single piece. Then, he’d hand the apple to me and let the red spiral stretch out vertically, like a spiral staircase to somewhere out there, somewhere important, some place worth going to.