The Colorado Pilgrim


We left Yuma, Arizona a couple of hours before the sun went down. I relented to the insistent requests of my cousin and her husband to a trip to Martinez Lake not far from Yuma along the Colorado River. We loaded the car with food for an evening repast and a cooler full of ice and beverages and departed on Highway 95 towards the lake.

The blistering sun made the atmosphere shimmer and wave in the distance while dry, hot air felt like a blast furnace at full capacity. I grew up in Yuma so the drive was as familiar as if I had made this trip yesterday even though some thirty years had passed. The sparse, scorched desert stretched to the horizon broken only by moribund shrubs and the occasional dirt road that branched off to no apparent or logical destination. Only the ghostly apparition of far-away mountains told of points beyond the desolate floor.


The drive seemed long. Drives always seem long in the desert. The unending distances, the vast clear sky, and the unrelenting sun, the constant hum of the car’s engine lend one’s mind to longer trails of thought and solemnity, the effect of a land with timeless resilience to change, immutable and ancient.

Finally, we reached the turn onto Martinez Lake Road. Soon, almost imperceptibly, one sensed a change. Something was different. Not recognizable at first, then coming closer to the lake, one could smell the strange and unique odor of a body of water in the desert. A musky, weedy smell not strong but quite inimitable as to draw one’s attention. As I had done so many times in my youth, my thoughts were drawn from internal musings to the destination ahead and to the satisfaction and excitement of seeing the unseen object of this smell. Soon I could feel the flush of cool from the evaporation of water in the very dry desert air and knew that the river was close.


A lonely thing is a desert river. No forest spies upon its progress. No jungle burdens its tepid waters with the fall of limbs and leaves. It flows in singular purpose, keeping time to the rhythm of ages. Like the eternal dance of Shiva beating the drum of time, the river’s drive to its everlasting objective overcomes all impediments and all delusions of life. A desert river winds its way like a green snake through white sand. With a thin skin of green, the river passes along its course affecting little beyond its banks.

In short time from the noticeable fragrance, a strip of green appeared in front of us. I could easily spot salt cedar trees along the bank. I had almost forgotten the unique qualities of salt cedar trees. Fairly large in size and long-lived, they provide sanctuary shade and much-needed comfort. Pinch a piece of greenery off one and taste it. Salt strongly infuses one’s taste buds as intensely as potato chips. In Yuma, I spent many a childhood afternoon playing under a grand old salt cedar tree occasionally tasting its leaves to rekindle a sense of magic from tasting a tree of salt.


At last, we reached the river, got out of the car and unpacked our food and refreshments. Yet my overwhelming impulse did not concern food or drink. I wished to touch the sandy, lukewarm water of the old river in greeting and recognition, to atone for the amount of time that had passed. I hurriedly walked to the bank, bent down in reverence and slipped my hand into the refreshing fluid and connected to days so long ago. Impulsively washing my arms and face, I felt like a pilgrim drawn to the sacred waters of the Ganges, cleansing impurities from his unassailable spirit. Still, the river languidly continued on, unnoticing and unchanged, as it always does, determined to persist upon its temporal rhythm towards unending time and eternal mysteries.



Self-Portrait in Payne's Grey Watercolor.

Self-Portrait in Payne’s Grey Watercolor.



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