“Holy crap! That little dog is gonna get killed,” Arlene shouted as she ran into the street.
Traffic came to a screeching halt and so did the dog. He stood between the cars and barked, as if to yell at the pick-up that almost hit him.
Arlene spotted a woman standing in her front yard. “Is this your dog?”
“Don’t shout at me.” The dog’s owner snapped back.
“He nearly caused an accident,” Arlene tried to reason with the woman.
“He got out of the gate; no big deal.”
“Yeah, it’s a big deal,” Arlene wouldn’t let it go.
“You can leave now,” the woman was indignant.
Buzz finally caught up to the action. “It’s just a Chihuahua. It’s not a real dog.”
The entitled woman snatched up her little monster and turned toward the house with a flippant look on her face as if to say “Mind your own business.”
Resuming their evening walk, Arlene shouted back, “Fix your gate!”
“It’s hot out here,” Buzz complained.
“Let’s go to Seminole Park this fall to see the Monarch butterfly migration,” Arlene said, ignoring her husband’s whining. “They fly through in late October.”
“I suppose we’ll have to pitch a tent and do that whole camping thing,” Buzz continued complaining.
“What’s wrong with that? C’mon, it’ll be fun. We’ll cook bacon and eggs on the campfire. Food always tastes better that way,” Arlene tried her best to get Buzz to relax and enjoy the little things. “The semester is almost over and you’re going to retire soon. You need to get over being so intense all the time.”
Buzz grunted again, “It’s hot out here.”
“Oh! Look at the ducks by the pond,” Arlene said as they passed the neighborhood park. “There’s a bunch of them on the sidewalk.”
As they got closer, it was obvious why the Mallards were all gathered together. One of the males was injured and barely breathing.
“We should call someone. Maybe the park maintenance can do something. The poor thing is suffering.”
“You’re determined to save all the animals, aren’t you?” Buzz said, knowing Arlene wouldn’t leave the half-dead duck unattended.
“I think I need to write a book when I retire,” Buzz stated matter-of-factly. “I’ve spent the last thirty-some years teaching literature. Maybe it’s time to write some.”
Arlene smiled at the suggestion. Finally, she thought, he’s interested in something.
“What would you write about?” she asked, trying to keep the conversation going.
“I don’t know—the great American novel. You know, sex, religion and politics. Small town, big city; it’s everywhere.”
That evening, after they cooled down from their walk, Buzz started scratching some ideas for his soon-to-be classic novel in a spiral notebook. Arlene knew better than to pester him while he was thinking. As a high school teacher, she realized creativity flows better when uninterrupted. She was wise enough to see the wheels turning and such progress needs to be nurtured with silence.
After dinner, Arlene poured her husband of twenty-nine years a glass of wine. She remembered Buzz telling her about Ernest Hemingway being wasted when he wrote, so she figured a little alcohol couldn’t hurt. Anything to keep the creative juices flowing.
Arlene joined Buzz on the patio with the wine and her binoculars. Alpine, Texas was a great place to watch the birds.
“Do you think I could actually write a book?” Buzz asked as Arlene concentrated on the hummingbirds in her flowerbed.
“Of course you could. It takes an avid reader to be able to write. You certainly fill that requirement. All those years teaching at the university should have taught you something.”
Arlene was desperate to engage her husband in the next phase of his life. He took his job seriously, but spent little time appreciating the natural wonder around him.
She started researching the Monarch migration. If Arlene was going to get Buzz on a camping trip, she knew a thorough plan of action was necessary. She had one shot to impress him. Arlene didn’t want to blow the opportunity.
Buzz’s sixty-third birthday was just a few weeks away. Arlene decided to surprise him with a new camera. He took good pictures, but his Canon was an old 35mm. That next weekend she drove to Midland. It was the nearest town with a decent camera shop.
“How may I help you today?” The young camera specialist approached Arlene.
“I want to see one of those Nikon cameras,” Arlene said, knowing very little about digital technology.
“This model with the blah, blah, blah . . .”
All Arlene heard was a bunch of unfamiliar phrases. She tuned out the geekoid snob as soon as he started spouting techno-speak.
“I just need to know if it will take a good picture,” Arlene interrupted.
“Well, yes Ma’am, but you’ll need a lens. We have some excellent choices. This one is our most popular,” the young man oozed with patience.
“With this camera and this lens, can I take a picture?” Arlene asked, holding the possible combination.
“Well, no Ma’am. You need to get this chip and battery and . . .”
“OK. If I get all this stuff, can I take a picture?” Arlene felt intimidated.
“Well, yes Ma’am, but I would recommend this case. It comes with a manual and . . .,”
“OK, with all these gadgets,” Arlene waved her arms in a circle to encompass the pile of camera paraphernalia, “can I take a picture? Is this what you would purchase for your mother?”
“Yes, Ma’am!” the kid sounded relieved to be near the end of the sale.
“OK, but you better throw in a warranty too. My husband is rough on his toys.” Arlene said.
The following months Buzz practiced on his new camera and Arlene did everything possible to insure the Monarch excursion would be fantastic. Buzz retired from his teaching position at the university, and Arlene continued to coax him in breathing lessons and pursuing his novel idea.
Seminole Canyon State Park is a three-hour drive east of Alpine. It sits at the confluence of the Pecos and Rio Grande rivers. The Monarch butterflies funnel through that region every fall on their way to the central highlands of Mexicofor the winter.
Buzz and Arlene arrived at the park with almost every camping amenity REI had in its catalog. There was even a special backpack for Buzz’s new camera.
Arlene and her sister had visited Seminole many times, so Arlene knew the best spots to catch the sunset and be away from the hum of generators coming from the massive camping trailers.
They battled the wind while pitching the tent. “It’s always windy here,” Arlene reassured Buzz that the current weather conditions were normal.
Buzz just huffed and puffed and grunted. “Why does camping have to be so challenging?”
Once their temporary fabric home was in place, they cooked their steaks and baked potatoes rolled up in tin foil, then settled back in their fold-up lounge chairs to enjoy and take pictures of the spectacular horizon as the sun gave way to the night.
The next morning, Arlene rolled out of bed in time to catch the sunrise.
“Buzz!” she shouted. “You gotta see this! It’s like the whole desert is coming alive.”
Buzz grunted. He didn’t think it was necessary to experience morning on a daily basis.
After their super-rich cholesterol breakfast, they prepared for their hike.
“I know just where to find the Monarchs,” Arlene said, instructing Buzz on the necessary items to pack for the day’s adventure. “There’s a pool of water just down the trail. It’s the perfect spot.”
An hour later, they finally reached the blessed watering hole. Buzz, gasping for air, was sweating profusely; enough to have soaked through his shirt. He stopped grumbling about a mile back; he just wanted to sit down and be entertained. Arlene was thrilled they got there without incident. Buzz wasn’t a seasoned hiker, and she worried that he wouldn’t see the joy in walking over rocky terrain and through cactus patches.
All Arlene’s advance preparation paid off. The Monarchs were there. Millions of them clung onto a scrubby willow tree at the water’s edge. It seemed like they were waiting for Buzz and Arlene to show up.
Buzz was almost speechless. For a man who taught the English language for the past few decades, he struggled to find the words of amazement.
“This is incredible,” Buzz said as he stared at the bright orange and black butterflies flitting around as if they too were on vacation.
“Look at all the dragonflies,” Arlene added. “They’re every color of the rainbow.”
They took a seat on a big rock and watched the show.
The dragonflies dive-bombed the Monarchs. The frogs sat poised on the ground, ready to snag their lunch. The drama was better than any Hollywood movie production.
“Arlene, I gotta say, this is great. I’m impressed.”
Arlene smiled. She knew she’d just hit a grand-slam home run. Buzz laughed like a young boy who had just seen his first naked woman’s breast. His new hi-tech camera was in over-drive. The whole thing was perfect.
On the way out of the canyon, Buzz lost his footing. He tumbled down the rocky slope in one direction and the camera went flying the opposite way.
Arlene ran to help him to his feet. “Holy shit! Are you alright?” Arlene feared the worst. She knew her two-hundred-fifty-pound husband would not react well to such a nasty fall. “Let’s sit here for a minute so you can catch your breath.”
Buzz’s arm was bleeding, and his forehead was scraped.
“Is this part of the attraction?” he asked.
“Sure!” she said. “It’s all an adventure.”
“Where’s my camera?” Buzz asked as he wiped his bloody arm on the pants of his light blue cover-alls.
“Well . . . here’s the pieces. It’s a good thing I got a warranty.”
Buzz laughed. Arlene let out a huge sigh.
Back at the camp site that evening, Buzz used his wounds as an excuse to just sit and watch Arlene cook dinner; another delightfully unhealthy meal.
A bottle of wine later, they were ready to settle in for the night—after one last visit to the bathroom.
As they approached the small parking lot in front of the restrooms, Arlene stopped quickly.
“Shhh,” she motioned Buzz to stop.
A skunk blocked their path. The street light in front of the building attracted a variety of insects. The skunk feasted on the smorgasbord.
“There’s no way I’m going to risk getting sprayed by a pissed-off little critter,” Arlene whispered.
The black and white fur ball held them at bay for forty-five minutes before wandering off into the brush. Not only were Buzz and Arlene waiting, there was an owl perched on the dumpster, also impatient for his share of the feast.
“Finally!” Buzz said. “I never though I’d relish a bathroom visit. But, my day has been full of firsts. I’ve never been so ready for bed. Damn skunk.”
On the road back to Alpine the next day, they made frequent stops to gaze at the sights.
“I didn’t realize all this stuff was out here. Maybe I need to pay more attention. After all, everyone knows Mother Nature is just one great big toilet,” Buzz observed.
“Yeah, but it’s a pretty toilet,” Arlene added.
“OK, if we’re going to do this camping thing, I need a handy crapper. You’re gonna retire in another year, so maybe we should check into a bona fide camper. One with air, a dish, and even a cup and saucer.”
“Is that whine Burgundy or Chablis?” asked Arlene.
“Which ever you want, my dear,” Buzz chuckled.
“Maybe we can do a big loop somewhere. There’s so much to see. Besides, a road trip would be great fodder for your book. We’ll call it ‘Buzz Don’t Stop’!” Arlene smiled.