Zane Grey loved this country and made his fortune writing about it. I am well aware that I could never be the writer that he was, but he couldn’t have loved it more than I do. I will tell my story as best I can.
From the top of my mesa, I could see more than a hundred miles in every direction, except south. That was because the Grand Canyon cut a swath several miles wide, thirty miles or so to the south, and the land on the other side was at a lower elevation.
Vast swatches of color marched across the landscape to the north, at the Utah border. The vermillion cliffs there rose up to meet the forested highlands that led to snow covered peaks on the other side of Zion National Park.
Scattered Juniper and Cedar trees dotted the landscape as far as the eye could see, with Zane Grey’s purple Sage lending additional color.
Eight mile high thunderheads boiled up from the desert floor to the east, while the view to the north was black, with massive amounts of rain being dumped on Zion park. Between the thunderheads and the black storm clouds, fluffy white clouds shared the sky with brilliant blue sky.
Ah! Heaven! At 6000 feet, our elevation is well above Denver’s highly touted mile-high altitude. At this elevation, most popular conceptions of desert life went out the window. The temperature drops to freezing ten months of the year, after sundown. Even in July and August, the two warmest months of the year, the temperature seldom gets unbearably hot, as most people would imagine, on hearing that this was the Arizona desert.
Truth be told, my land wasn’t desert in the official sense. To be classified as desert, there needs to be less than 10 inches of rainfall per year. Our County Agent told us that the size, distribution and type of trees that we have were proof of at least 12 inches per year.
We bought the land many years ago, my wife and I and her mother. We lucked into a situation that allowed us to buy one of the very few privately owned sections of land in the 7.5 million acres of the Arizona Strip. This is the portion of Arizona that is on the north side of the Grand Canyon. The total population is just over 6000, concentrated in the towns of Colorado City and Fredonia.
Our section (one square mile which equals 640 acres) is a rarity in being privately owned. Nearly all the land in Arizona, and especially in the Strip, is owned by one government agency or another. There are Indian reservations, Bureau of Land Management (BLM), national forest lands, national monuments, state park lands and other agencies that own just about everything outside the two towns.
Our section had been homesteaded when the west was still wild, but the man who homesteaded it was long dead and his sister offered us a deal we couldn’t refuse.
My wife is gone now <sigh>, married to someone who is much better for her and her mother succumbed to the cancer that was visited on the area by the fallout from the nuclear testing that was performed in Nevada. They called those who shared her calamity, “Downwinders”. The U. S. government stonewalled their claims for many years, but finally agreed to reparations.
I had waited for many years, trying to get my affairs in order sufficiently to be able to live here, but until now, it had remained a dream. Although I would not be able to share the experience with the woman I loved, at least now that I was retired, I would be able to build a place for myself.
I was ten miles from a paved road or electric utility, eighteen miles from the nearest store, twenty miles to the post office and forty-five from a Walmart. I needed to be completely self-sufficient or be prepared to spend a lot of time and money traveling back and forth.
The world has changed a lot since we first fell in love with this property. Mobile telephone and Internet service are now available here, which makes a tremendous difference. The availability of solar power panels also makes a huge difference.
Even the BLM road is in better shape than ever, due to increased traffic as isolated homesteads began springing up, miles apart.
My appreciation for the better roads was at a peak, at the moment. I had managed to time my trip to coincide with one of the infrequent rainstorms. Not only was it difficult to see, but the challenge of dodging the rapidly growing pools of water was increasing. I was so intently focused on driving that I almost missed seeing the flutter of white to the side of the road.
I had driven this road often enough to know that the only colors out here were some shade of red or dark colors. There was no white, other than an occasional bit of paper blown in from the miles-distant highway.
Still, there was something about that blob of white that made me stop the truck and run out into the driving rain to investigate.
It was a girl! A young blonde girl, wearing the uniform of the nearby polygamist settlement--an ankle-length, long sleeved dress. What was she doing here?
She was in no shape to offer explanation at the moment and the rain made it prudent to get both of us to some sort of shelter as quickly as possible. I managed to get her in the truck and belted up to hold her upright and continued to my trailer before the road became impassable, which it frequently did after one of these gully washers.
My first concern was to get her to shelter and administer whatever first aid she might need, assuming that I had the necessary tools and supplies. I desperately hoped that she had no broken bones.
She was still unconscious when we arrived and although she probably weighed only a hundred pounds or so, her limp body made the process of getting her from the truck into the trailer a real task.
I blotted as much water as I could manage, from her hair and face, but it was very obvious that she needed to get out of her wet clothes. She was already beginning to turn a bit blue and was shivering uncontrollably.
Although well aware of the potential consequences, my mind told me that her only hope was to get dry and warm as quickly as possible.
Somehow managing to roll her unresisting body back and forth as needed, I managed to strip her completely of all the complex clothing she wore. Once again, I blotted all the moisture I could from her body and rolled her under the covers before stripping and joining her so I could add my body heat to hers.
Almost immediately, I joined her in dreamland. The adrenaline that had been surging through my veins left in a rush.
Morning came in a fog of incomprehensible sensation. The sunlight streaming through the windows was normal, but why was the bed shaking and what was that snuffling sound?
I rolled over and remembered. The girl was curled up into a tiny ball as far from me as she could get in the small bed and she was sobbing quietly into her fist.
“Good morning,” I told her. “You have nothing to fear from me. I found you on the side of the road and brought you here to get you out of the rain.”
The sobbing continued so I slid out of bed as decently as possible and wriggled into some dry clothes.
“My name is John. I’m going to fix something for us to eat. Maybe you will feel better after eating.”
When she continued sobbing, I told her, “I’m going to put your clothes out in the sun to dry.” If anything, her sobs grew louder.
I gathered them up, wondering at the purpose of some of her underclothing, and carried them to my clothesline. They might be a bit stiff after drying without washing, but at least she might feel more secure with her uniform to hide in.
When I had breakfast ready, I took some of my clothes into the bedroom and told her she was welcome to wear them until hers were dry and that she could eat when she felt like it.
There was no change in her manner, so I closed the bedroom door and left her to her sorrows. Sooner or later, she would have to get up. There was no need to put pressure on her.
I finished eating and puttered around to be nearby when she decided to resume contact with the world.
I tried once more. “I’m going to go outside and check for storm damage. When you need the bathroom, it is the door next to the bed and there is food in the kitchen. Your clothes are outside in the sun and should be dry before long. I’ll be back in an hour or so.”
Still no response, but I didn’t really expect any, now.
I really did need to go out and check for damage. There were a few places here and there that had suffered minor damage, but nothing drastic. Output from my temporary solar panel array seemed to be slightly down. A few depressions in the panels indicated that there had been some grapefruit sized hail along with the rain. I would need to check the roof of the trailer for damage, as well.
I quickly gave thanks for the relatively minor damage and for our escape from a worse danger than I had realized. Hail of that size can be deadly.
After checking the weather forecast and my e-mail, I spent a few minutes scanning for any news of a missing girl, with no results, although there were reports that the nearby town had suffered hail damage.
I jumped in the truck and rode around the property, looking for any other signs of damage. Evidence of the severity of the storm was everywhere. When a storm dumps enough water to leave standing puddles in sandy soil twelve hours later, it qualifies as a major event.
When I drove back up to the trailer, her clothes were gone from where I had hung them, so I assumed that she had made it out of bed.
I announced my entry loudly so she would not be surprised, but did not find her. She must have decided to hike out to the highway. There didn’t seem to be any food missing, but hopefully she had at least taken something with her. This wasn’t a true desert, but it was close enough to use common sense rules of desert living.
“Never go very far from shelter without carrying some sort of food and water.”, is a very sensible rule and has saved many lives. If she was planning to hike over ten miles without being properly prepared, she could easily get into trouble.
I had lots of things I needed to do, but I couldn’t simply abandon someone who showed no experience with desert life.
She had made it a couple of miles. I saw her in the distance as she topped a rise on the road. She appeared to be staggering.
When I caught up to her, she was once more curled into a fetal ball. I had to find some way to get through to her.
“Miss, I wish you no harm, but I can’t stand by and watch you try to do something that could result in great harm to you. If you will tell me enough about your situation to be able to help you, I will do so. Otherwise, all I can think of to do is to take you to the Sheriff’s office and let them deal with your problems.”
When I mentioned the Sheriff, her head jerked up and I could see her parched lips.
I handed her my canteen and said, “If you will allow me to help you, then I will, but as long as you won’t let me help. All I know to do that I could live with is to take you somewhere else. I can’t leave you in a place in which you have no ability to survive. Is there someone anywhere around here I can take you to?”
Her continued silence was getting on my nerves. Her actions had dropped a huge burden of responsibility on me and she was refusing to acknowledge it.
I gave her a few more minutes to drink and ponder her situation, then stood. “Ok, if that’s what you want, we are going to the Sheriff.”
Finally, she mumbled something I couldn’t hear.
“Please speak louder. I can’t understand you.”
When she eventually opened up, it was like a flood of emotion had been released. She spoke so quickly and quietly that it was hard to pick out her meaning.
I stood and pointed toward the highway and town with a question on my face.
She vigorously shook her head.
I pointed toward my place.
She ruefully pulled a wry face and nodded. It was clear she didn’t trust me or want to be around me, but she was smart enough to realize that there were no other options.
On arriving back at my trailer, I told her to go inside and eat something. Then it would probably be a good thing if she took a bath and got some more sleep. She could lock the trailer if it made her feel more secure, but I had no interest in invading her privacy whether or not she locked the door.
“I’ll go check the fences and give you a little more time to get yourself together, then you need to give me enough information to help you or I will have no other option available to me other than taking you to the Sheriff. I can see that you don’t want to do that, so please find a way to let me know enough to do what needs to be done.”
I left her to stew on her own.
When I drove back up later, I raced the engine a bit to let her know I was back, but then saw her sitting on a rock a couple of hundred yards away. She pointed toward the trailer and I saw a note on the door. I took it and went inside to read it.
“Sir,” it began. “I apologize for being a burden on you, but I have never before known a man who truly wanted to help me. All the men I have known were determined to control me. The Sheriff you threaten to take me to is my uncle and one of the worst men alive. If you take me to him, | will be beaten and must still marry the old man that my father promised me to when I was twelve.
That old man already has 15 wives and I don’t want to be number 16, so I ran away. I had no way to know where to run to. Everywhere I looked, all I could see were the houses of the others who would force me to do what my father told me to do.
I got to the highway, then it started to rain. A truck came along and some boys picked me up. They said they would take me to the next town where I could catch a bus, but they turned off onto the road heading to your place.
One of the boys tried to put his hand in my clothes and I was fighting him off, then the driver said we had to turn around because he was afraid of getting stuck in the mud. When he was backing up to turn around, I managed to get the door open and jumped out of the truck.
The one guy started after me, but the other one made him get back in the truck so they could get back to the highway while it was still possible.
I walked as far as I could, but fell and was too weak to get up. The next thing I knew, I was in bed with no clothes on and you were also naked. I had no way to know if you had violated me, or not. All I could think about was escape.
After you stopped me on the road, I realized that you are my only hope and that I must depend on God to protect me.
Please don’t hurt me.”
My heart went out to her.
I wrote a reply and carried it over to the truck, leaving it on the hood under a rock where she could see it, then went into the trailer to get a bite to eat. All this tension was wearing me down.
My note said, “All I can do is to repeat what I have said all along. I have no interest in harming you in any manner and will do my best to help you if you can tell me what you need. I would like it if you would stay around at least until we can think of a plan, but that is up to you. There is no way I can simply abandon you. From what you said, you have no money, no other clothes, no food, no one to turn to and no way to get there if you did. You have nothing to lose by staying here until we can work out a solution to your problem.”
“You are safe with me. Scout’s Honor.” I drew an outline of the Scout’s salute, hoping it would lighten the mood a little.
A bit later, there was a timid knock on the door.
“Come in, please”, I said, invitingly.
“Are you really a Boy Scout?”, she inquired.
“Not any more, but I was an Eagle Scout at one time. You can always trust an Eagle Scout, you know.” I was still trying to put her at ease, but she acted like a whipped puppy.
“Do you always sleep naked?”, was her first question.
Wow! Didn’t see that one coming. “Actually, I do, but the real reason I was naked in bed with you was to heat your body as quickly as possible. You were in the early stages of hypothermia and were starting to turn blue. If I couldn’t heat you up quickly, you might have died from exposure.”
I hope that this explanation would ease her mind, but apparently, I had not resolved her question in her mind.
“I mean you really sleep with no clothes on your body?”
“Yes, I do. It feels more natural to me. In fact, out here where nobody can see me, I normally go naked all day long.”
“But isn’t that wicked? Won’t God punish you for not wearing garments?”
“So far, so good,” I quipped, then realized as her face fell that she was not equipped to handle flippancy at the moment.
“I’m sorry. I realize that you were asking a serious question and I made a joke of it. The answer I should have given you is that I don’t believe that God cares whether I wear clothes, or not.”
“But the Bishop says that being naked is sinful.”
“I’m sure he has his reasons for saying that. On the other hand, I have my reasons for paying no attention to what he says.”
“But aren’t you afraid?”
“No. When I was much younger than you, even, I read the Bible and realized that it says that the only thing you must do is to love your neighbor as you love yourself. The world is filled with people who make up their own rules and tell others that they come from God. In many cases, they do this to gain power over others. At other times, they may simply be honestly repeating what they have been told. Their honesty does not make them correct.”
“Don’t you follow rules?”
“I follow my interpretation of the wisdom of those words from the Bible. For what it’s worth, every major religion has the same message. The organizers of those religions frequently discard the simple message because it does not give them the power they seek.”
“Aren’t you afraid they will put you in jail?”
“I’m well aware that they would love to get rid of me, so I do my best to stay out of their sight and to simply live my life as I think | should. This is why I can’t just walk away from you. You are a human being with a need and it is within my power to help you, so that is what I hope to do. Perhaps some day I will need help and it will be available to me. Actually, there are probably dozens of times it has already happened. It is a better way to live.”
“Do you go to church?”
“Only the one you see here.”
“What do you mean?”
“There is no reason to go to any special place or to meet with other people in order to live a good life. It is only necessary to believe in the wisdom of the greatest advice ever given for happiness.”
“Then you won’t try to force me to do anything I don’t want to do?”
“That would violate everything I believe in.”
“What if I wanted you to do something?”
“That would not violate anything I believe in.”
“So, it isn’t what you do that’s important? It’s only a matter of what I want?”
“That’s about it.”
“What if I wanted you to kill my father?”
“He is also my neighbor, even if I disagree very strongly with his actions toward you. He has no doubt been taught all his life that what he is doing is rightful.”
“But he hurt me.”
“I won’t allow him to hurt you any more.”
“Why? You’re not my husband.”
“No, but life has placed you in my care for the moment and I have no moral choice other than to protect you to the best of my ability.”
“You won’t try peeking at me in the shower?”
“Does that mean you are thinking of staying?”
“Maybe. Would you like that?”
“I always enjoy the company of beautiful women. I enjoy it even more when they are intelligent and are willing to discuss concepts and ethics, as opposed to the clothes worn by the latest famous person.”
“Do you promise to respect my privacy and personal wishes, even if you don’t agree with them?”
“Of course. You have a right to see the world however you wish.”
“Ok, then. I will marry you.”
“Uhhhh! Say what?”
“I said I will marry you.”
“Don’t you think that is jumping the gun just a little bit?”
“Why? You said you would do everything in your power to help me achieve my dreams and that you would do everything in your power to take care of me. That’s more than the man my father wanted me to marry would do.”
“But, but, how old are you, anyway?”
“Old enough for my father to give me in marriage. Don’t you like me?”
“Of course I like you, but it is less than an hour since you even began talking to me. Don’t you think a courtship should last at least a day or so?”
“I don’t know anything about courtships. I’ve never heard of anybody having one. The father decides who you will marry and he tells you. That’s it.”
“Do you even know what husbands and wives do together?”
“Of course I do. I’m not stupid. The husband works and the wife keeps house. What else is there to know, Silly?”
“Do you know how babies are made?”
“Of course I do. I told you I’m not stupid. The woman prays for a baby and God puts one in her tummy.”
“So, you think that we should be married?”
“If we are going to sleep together naked and you are going to take care of me and you will work and I will keep house and take care of the babies, isn’t that being married? Isn’t that what you were trying to get me to do?”
“Have you ever been kissed?”
“Silly! Of course I have. My mother and sisters kiss me all the time.”
“Do they kiss you like this?” I showed her.
“Ooooooh, oh my! I never heard of anything like that. Can we do it again?”
“That is the most wonderful feeling I have ever known. It makes me feel warm all over and gives me tingles in places I can’t talk about. What did you do to me?”
“I just did a little bit of what husbands and wives do with each other.”
“Just a little bit?”
“Do you mean that there are more things a husband and wife do that will make me feel that way?”
“Yes, little Darling. There are a great many things like that for us to share if you want to be my wife.”
“Then I want it very much, Husband. Are we married now?”
“If you promise to be my wife, to stand beside me in good times and bad times, to love, honor and obey me as long as love shall last, then you can be my wife.”
“Ohhh! I can do that. Will you be my husband?”
“I do promise to stand beside you in good times and bad times, to love, honor and obey you as long as love shall last.”
“Are we married now?”
“I believe that we are as married now as it is possible to be.”
“Will you show me the other things husbands and wives do?”
“Whenever you like.”
“Can you do it now?”