Recently, on the tail end of a trip to California to see our daughters, my husband and I sojourned to Arizona, a place near and dear to his heart as an ASU grad.
We’d been there together before. I was familiar with the tumble weeds and the urban sprawl, the land so parched it looks like old man’s tooth.I’d seen the planes of cracked dirt and prickly plants, at the edges of which unlikely swaths of green erupt where Arizonians have imposed their will upon the stubborn clime and flooded the land with water so that things like front lawns and golf courses can exist in total opposition to the natural order.
The only relief for me in the odd terrain was on the spine of Camelback Mountain, where I heaved my old bones from one rock to the next while smooth muscled college students darted all around me to reach the pinnacle.
There, despite the crowds and the views—which looked something like my nightmare vision of our future on an inhospitable planet after we destroy this one—the prehistoric boulders and the effort it took to climb them calmed my sense that the world might really soon be ending.
After we scaled Camelback and managed to limp back down, we were off to Sedona to celebrate my birthday, a place I was not overly excited to be going since I assumed it would be a lot like Phoenix, though I had heard nothing but wonderful things about it.
Two hours after driving through a freak rainstorm (aka monsoon) through which we could dimly glimpse an unbroken horizon of nondescript hills and stiff brown shrubs, the sky suddenly cleared. The clouds parted with what I can only call biblical majesty and there before us were the famed red rocks.
Like Camelback, these rocks rise improbably out of the ground, looming with sawed off tops, rounded caverns, ridges, caves and strange undulating sides which still bear the imprint the water that carved them out centuries ago. Unlike Camelback, they stand in a tribe rather than alone, clustered like a race of gorgeous, red shouldered giants in every conceivable posture in the middle of comparatively unpolluted terrain.
As we wound through the roads in the center of the small town trying to find our hotel, our convertible top down and water droplets still gleaming on the windshield, we took a turn to the right and began descending sharply. Following the switchbacks into a deep pocket between the mountains we soon found ourselves in a lush and unexpected forest of cedar, oak and juniper. At the very bottom of the canyon, lining the forest floor, was a wide glittering creek.
It never occurred to me there could be a forest or a river in the middle of the desert, yet here they were, and overhead, through the trees, we could still see the elegant warm hued bodies of the friendly mountains, which seemed to lean in over us as if to say, “Are you alright down there?”
It was official, I was in love.
But oddly, as astonishing as all this natural beauty was, I found the real heart of Sedona in a touristy crystal shop.
It was the third day we were there, my birthday, and we’d spent four perfect morning hours hiking Boynton Canyon. Dusty and tired from the trail, we decided to go into town and grab some lunch. We ended up at some cowboy restaurant which specialized in pulled pork—not exactly a vegan’s paradise—and as I picked over my iceberg salad I noticed a crystal shop across the street. To be clear, there are dozens of crystal shops along this particular street, but for some reason, perhaps just because it was in my line of vision, this one stood out to me.
After lunch my husband ambled off to the cigar store and I made a beeline for the crystals. Inside, the tiny place was packed with every imaginable stone. I ran my hands covetously over hunks of fluorite and amethyst. Everything but the most modest pieces were way out of my price range, but I was still allowed to touch them.
At the back of the store was an extensive fossil collection in a glass case which was supposed to be locked, but which for some reason had been left with the glass door ajar. I reached in tentatively and stroked the 300 billion year old bugs and plants. Like the stones, most of these were too expensive for me to even consider buying. At the front of the case though, were some smaller fossils, and from among these I picked up what looked like a fat centipede trapped in glossy black resin. It was $20 and I figured I could at least buy that one as a memento for my son.
I pressed it into my palm and went up to the cashier, a tiny middle aged woman, who, like so many of the locals in that state, had skin lined and burnished from years living here. I expected her to be unimpressed and maybe even a little annoyed with my purchase—those $20 obviously weren’t going to make anyone’s day—but instead, she took the fossil and held it tenderly.
“This is a beautiful one,” she said. “Let me bless it to break any attachments there may be.”
She reached beneath the desk and pulled out a Tibetan singing bowl, placed the stone inside, whispered something and tapped the bowl three times with her wooden striker. Then she gently handed the stone back to me.
“What chakra is that bowl attuned to?” I asked, unwilling to let our little interaction come to an end.
“Where did you feel it?” she said.
“In my heart!” I blurted out without thinking.
And it was true, I had felt it, directly in my heart.
“What’s your name?” the woman asked, smiling.
“Erica,” I told her.
“Erica, let me give you a blessing, too.”
She placed the bowl in my left hand, and put her own hand directly under mine. She leaned down and whispered my name into the vessel and then ran the striker three times around the edge, and tapped the side three times. Then she looked up at me with the kindest eyes you can imagine and said, “You are loved.”
Outside, I found my husband gazing through the window of a Native American jewelry shop.
“Let’s get you something here, my love,” he said, “For your birthday.”
And I said, “I think I just got my real birthday present,” and I told him all about it while he grinned at me indulgently in the lovely Arizona sun.
Love elephant and want to go steady?
Editor: Travis May