The clouds were suddenly over me and the cooking heat of the sun evaporated from my neck. I was glad I didn’t have the sunglasses after all, or I’d be carrying them as I made my way down the steep slippery switchbacks of The Hill behind the school.

I live in a little red rock canyon in Nthn AZ, secluded and beautiful, with a year-round creek, and towering hills guarding ancient Indian caves nestled in along the top of them. I look after horses and ride my own dear little grey Arab girl regularly. Everyday I clean the horse yards which entails filling a wheelbarrow with manure and wheeling it to the dung pile – twice. I also of course take the hay to them and sometimes I empty and clean the waters, rearrange the haystacks etc etc. In short, it is a fairly active lifestyle! And at the age of 53 I am in pretty good nick.

However, I also know that mixing that exercise with other forms to work other muscles and boost my heart rate is important. As I age I have learned to keep it all flexible! So, along with the daily routine I run  (not far or fast) or ascend The Hill.

The Hill is actually a trail with an official hiking trail name but those of us who live here and who, in our individual ways, have adopted it, have our own terms for it. It is the perfect workout for students in PE (the Endless Hike), sporty men (Just a Warm-up), middle-aged women (Bring it On!), the weight conscious (A Pound a Step), or over-energized youth (Sprint It!) Physically it is 800 feet from the beginning of the trail to the top where it flattens out, and one of our regular speed hill-hikers says it is a mile in actual footsteps distance, by the time you account for the switchbacks. (He should know, he spends a lot of time rushing up and down hills and mountains!)

It is a narrow rocky trail, with tree-roots, cactus and branches reaching across it. The recent deluges of rain have further washed the ‘trail’ into something more primitive and in places almost indistinguishable, except where it has been cut so deep there is no chance of stepping out of the rocky ruts let alone becoming lost!

I jog from my little apartment on campus to the trailhead (about 7-8 minutes) and then set off up the slope. I always put on sunscreen, carry water, wear a hat and, when I remember, my sunglasses. I try to go in the morning before it is too hot and after jogging home, I freeze my knees on ice and drink another bottle of water. Of course I keep an eye on the watch – and when I can get up and down in under 35 minutes (plus the jog there and back) I feel almost like the over-energized youth!

There is much more to this Hill however. We look carefully where we put our feet as well as to the sides. Rattlesnakes and mountain lion have been seen there. We stop and gasp at the teeny, little horse yards with specs of horses and the thread of a creek way below, and I always take a moment to gaze in awe the mesa across the way with which I am almost level.

Sometimes I go in the evening, and that is what I did last night. I knew I had left a little later than I should. It is getting dark here way too early. But it was cooler than it had been earlier and I felt good. I didn’t put on the sunnies although when I stepped out into the light it was surprisingly bright and quite hot. I was dripping with the usual amount of sweat by the time I got to the top (in a very good time I will add!) Swigging water, staring across at tiny, red, flat hiking trails on the other side of the creek, it happened.

The dark, rolling monsoon clouds, running late again today, suddenly loomed over the ridge behind me. Hastily, I started down, and the sun slipped behind the mountain range way across the valley in front of me. That was when I was glad I didn’t have the sunglasses. The treacherous path itself was not only difficult to see but any self-respecting rattlesnake with half a diamond could perfectly vanish into the rocks and tree roots. I was also suddenly well aware than it was a good hour for mountain lion to be descending the mountain for a drink at the pond before collecting dinner. At least I hoped that was her menu order tonight!

There is no running down this Hill (at least not for me) and so I stepped on down as swiftly and safely as possible. I did have the cell phone in my back pocket and figured I could be airlifted out if the worst came to the worst. Still, no-one wants to be calling 911 on a Sunday evening.

In spite of all that,  it was not as fast a trip down as I could have made it. The focused, orange bands of light in the red-streaky sky with the grayscale clouds, edged in stunning white were all so glorious. Like being inside a series of Van Goughs I was serially struck to a standstill engulfed by the sheer power of the color, light and shapes.

So, it was not my best time down, and by the time I rounded the corner jogging back to the house, lashing dirt in the furious wind greeted my bare legs with glee. I had to almost shut my eyes to keep going but that made me nervous as it is exactly here that I have twice met a rattler, at dusk, when walking back from the horse yards. Tricky!

Five minutes later thunder hit and the light show began. I sat on my little wooden porch, glad I was here safe and sound, with the ice on my knees and the second bottle of water. Startled by the white white of the lightening in sheets and tents across the sky, and practically feeling the thunder, I was as breathless as I had been coming down the Hill. Black sky highlighted the low-hanging moon, on her way to fullness, slung hammock-like just above the silhouette of the mesa, unmoved by the techno display around her.

The air was cold, carrying stories of creek water, dust, fresh-cut lawn and, from across campus, laundry powder to me. There is nothing like nature at her most rambunctious self, with no reference to the specs of human beings below, to give one such a sense of place and belonging. I am grateful to be one of the specs and through my connection with the moon to know that I am also one of the goddesses, growing and waning in the changing light.

I am glad that I left for the Hill Climb a little later than common sense would suggest. I have been re-gifted my place in the universe.

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