In early September, 2016, it was time to head back to my home in Arizona, after visiting my dad in northern Nevada for most of the summer. A friend working in Glacier National Park invited me to visit her, so I decided to make a big road trip out of it, traveling to eastern Nevada, eastern Idaho and western Montana, staying several days in Glacier, then heading south along the west side of the Rockies. I’ll describe more of my trip, including photos and sound recordings, in upcoming blog posts.
I arrived back in southeastern Arizona on September 20. I had barely unpacked and settled into a variety of writing projects when I got word that my dad had fallen and injured his back. I repacked the car, and got back to his place the day after he got home from the hospital. It was a compression fracture, and should have been a minor, easily fixed problem, except that when you’re 94, no injuries are minor. A few days later, he suffered another fracture, which started a long cascade of pain, misdiagnoses, inattentive doctors, sadistic physical therapists, and by the time he was correctly diagnosed with a ruptured disc that was impinging on his spinal cord, he had lost 20 pounds and was so weak he could hardly move. His only chance to ever walk again was a risky operation involving lots of pins and rods to fuse his spine. He really wanted that chance, so he opted for the surgery. The surgery did relieve his pain, and he was able to get out of bed for a short while. But just 2 days after his surgery, his old heart finally gave out.
I took Shadow out for a hike every morning before spending most of the day with my dad, at home, rehab or in the hospital. Those walks really helped keep me from freaking out, by turning off the clutter in my head and letting the sounds of the wind, water, and birds soothe my soul, at least for a little while. October was one of the wettest on record for the area, and it was one of the most beautiful falls I ever remember. The leaves stayed on the trees for almost the entire month, and the Carson River filled its banks. I wanted so bad for my dad to recover enough so that I could take him for a drive to see the beautiful fall color.
I put together the following video of the color along the Carson River, taken on my morning walks. The soundtrack is the river near flood stage.
I’ll be returning to Arizona soon, to try to get my house sold by spring. Then I’ll move into my dad’s house, and start restoring it. There are a lot of memories in this old house. Not so much in the way of childhood memories – my dad bought the house right before I took off for college. But my dad was a photographer, and among the photographs are many taken on a lifetime of hikes and camping trips, and a couple of summers of backpacking through the Sierras. Those are some of my favorite memories with him. They also helped develop my love of wildlife and wild places, and led to my career as a biologist.
I’m not a fan of going backwards, and in some ways, that’s what this feels like. But it makes the most financial sense, and I prefer the climate in northern Nevada over southern Arizona. I’m going to miss the biodiversity of the border lands, but I look forward to exploring more of the Great Basin. And I’m not going to miss the annual trips through Las Vegas. I guess sometimes you have to go back to where you started to see how far you gone.
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