Jay day on Dead Man’s Pass

and I have the trail mainly to myself.

The other day trippers, it seems, are off to The Birthing Cave or The Subway for selfies, apparently taking their cue from some meme about the five formations you must see when you visit Sedona.

They don’t know that Dead Man’s Pass happens to be the most beautiful trail in Sedona, or in fact on earth. I was blind but now I see. Amazing Grace has new meaning here.

Do you know how, when you reach the end of a book you love, you want to read each page more slowly to prolong the satisfaction as long as you possibly can? That’s how I feel on this trail – I would like to take a step backward for each step forward to prolong the experience indefinitely. Relish every sight along the way, even the old craggy logs. Especially the logs.

Passed a pair of very quiet, very private Western jays, pecking their way along in the shadows, spectacularly cerulean against the dull red earth. Red rocks – they never change and they’re so ubiquitous. Does that make them boring?

I’m walking so slowly, I’m in a dream. But a very lucid dream. It’s partly memory. I’ve had many heart-to-hearts on this trail when I wasn’t alone, and some with myself when I was.

I hear a flute in the distance. I thought that the flutist who perched on the vortex by Kachina Maiden had been chased off after he was caught feeding a bear, but I guess he’s back, and the sound carries like a liquid across Long Canyon.

Another jay squawks angrily from a thicket as I pass. Okay, I’ll get out of your feathers.

Bliss sounds hokey. But is there anything more picturesque than a dead old blasted juniper tree?

A beautiful day on the most beautiful train in Sedona, I call out to some geezers I pass. Oh yeah, one says. Another says, Despite the name, referring to Dead Man’s Pass. Or because of the name, I rejoin.

How very rare to see codgers on the trail these days, with their walking sticks and their sun hats. It’s always the people from California now with their technical backpacks and huge water jugs (I unfortunately left my H20 in the car) searching for the celebrity caves. Watch the mud, cautions one man in the group. Mud? Thanks! We look out for each other, we codgers.

Thirty years ago I came through Dead Man’s Pass on a mountain bike. It was a thrill, especially the rock slide.

Today a mountain biker cycles by just after the treacherous tumble of stones: You enjoy the rock slide? I say. Ha ha, he throws over his shoulder, It’s the funnest part. A big shaggy dog whooshes up behind.

Then a woman follows. How’d you like the rock slide? I inquire. Well, she mutters, It wasn’t my finest. Honesty. It’s good to have humility when considering rock slides you might have done differently.

Selfies at the Birthing Cave. I think I’ll only take hand selfies today at the pinon pine.

Mainly alone, I do see evidence of those who have come before: a random blue discarded mask, an orange peel, a hair tie. Some kind of crazy sticker.

Leave nothing but footprints, guys! And me with my cell phone, taking pics. Yes, guilty, I did check my mail on the trail – wanted to see if I had work. I’m human too! Must capture the mystery of the sturdy little cone.

Another hiker sweats by. We compare notes on which is the most beautiful trail in Sedona. Long Canyon, he says. I tell him I don’t usually bother, I like Deadman’s Pass so much. I suggest Doe Mountain, a mesa where I’ve seen a lot of ravens. I hiked it yesterday but turned around when the switchbacks got too slippery with mud. I’ll try it at dawn tomorrow, he promises me.

I’m free! sang The Who.

Sometimes the light falls on something so perfectly. A beacon. A benediction.

Bikers pass, white poodle in tow wearing trail shoes.

Really? The animal pauses next to me, alert. Come on, Sally! She trots off. Wonder what she scented.

Perhaps the coyote whose tracks I notice by the side of the trail. Poodle would make a nice snack.

Say there’s something you want to get rid of, some anxiety, and you think you never will. And then you just age out of it. Amazing the way that happens. Well, a good way to speed it along is to immerse yourself in the scenery of Dead Man’s Pass. I’m leaving it all behind me on the trail. All the anxiety, all the pain. Someone I care about is very concerned about the downward Dow. Let it go.

Let go, let go, let go.

A helicopter glints overhead. Zoom, it’s there.

I biked the rock slide 30 years ago and never fell off. I biked on a level trail a year ago and took a bad tumble. Will never get rid of that scar on my shin. Things change, of course.

It’s fun to zip through the Pass on a bike, get to where you’re going fast. Perhaps even better though to take it slow and see all the small things.

Smell the air.Think.

Give thanks.  I’m not telling you anything you don’t already know. Remember the ravens hanging in the air above Doe Mountain.

The simple things are purty.

I set my intention on finding a juniper berry in the sand. Not hard. Go easy on yourself, set a simple intention.

A gaggle of millennials passes. Good morning, I say. Good morning! one says. Another says, I forgot it was morning!

Please, don’t forget it’s morning, ever. It’s the only morning.

Good morning, I say to another couple. It’s refreshing, says the man. A little warm on your back.

I’ll say.

Ecstasy. (Perhaps I finally got my medication right.) I leave my body. I’m a blue jay. A javelina, a coyote. I see my own tracks. The clouds whisper to me.

I am ageless. I am sexless. I am dead. Alive. Merely an idea about time. I am, however, getting thirsty.

When I hear the Woo-hoo! of climbers mounting the vortex across the canyon, I decide it’s time to turn back around.

That Alejandro Escovedo lyric in Castanets, I like her better when she walks away. That’s not true of this trail. It’s better going in.

Still, got to go back. It’s time. Chug water, blow nose, eat salad, be human.

You don’t see coyote tracks from the seat of a mountain bike.

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