Jerome clings to the side of an old miner’s mountain like ketchup in the bottle, the ascent to reach the tiny town of approximately 350 people and about two streets as steep as the red stuff in a glass bottle of Heinz is thick.
The Bus was pulling, 1st gear for sure, doing everything she could to deliver the Lady and I to that miniature piece of history. I’d been through the town before, but on a daytrip and certainly in more of a rush than she and I would take it today. Instead of gawk about in souvenir shops over trinkets and tourist traps, we did as we always do, picked out a bar and tucked in for some much deserved happy hour. Mexican beers followed by an intimate little dinner where we were the only two people in the restaurant–a fancy, at least for nowhere, Arizona, little closet sized Italian eatery–save for the owner who also wore the hats of chef and waiter. He dawdle over us, extolling the virtues of his beer selection, trading small talk about the town and the Lady just stared into my eyes as though he were no more than the background clack of a train in a railroad worker’s slumbering last night thoughts.
We indulged into the night, heavily, and retired to our room in a restored old hotel where, as surprisingly smoking was allowed, we spent the evening talking ourselves late into the morning.
And morning then came officially, the bright and sunny type, hot by 9am like Arizona, even in Winter, loves to do. A giant white letter J was painted into the rocks on the side of the mountain that served as the very foundation for the town and, as was our custom, we wasted no time finishing our coffees, outting our morning nicotine and making haste straight up the thing. There was no trail, just the winding streets and then the winding streets end. The Lady looked up through a pile of ruins, old mining dwellings I assumed as she scampered between what were left of the stone walls and scattered loose rock down toward me. I dodged and pursued. As I had been for 10 years in mind, in my heart, now I was always in pursuit of her on these types of mornings, these beautiful gloried blue sky days when it was just her, and I, and whatever we could fill our time with, whenever we wanted to fill it or not, sometimes just lazing away hours imagining what we could be doing had we anything better to get done than one and the other.
The mountain rock went from small and scattered and easily sliding out from under our feet (making you feel, at times, like we’d send an entire avalanche down on the residents of Jerome and our dear waiting Bus below) to larger and larger stones until finally we were full scaling boulders our size, twice our size sometimes, our hike turning into more and more of a climb and the thick haze of the morning’s green hanging heavily from my eyelids, desert heat enhanced cottonmouth soaking in every drip of the water we brought. The Lady’s head pounded out an Army drummer’s bang from hangover or dehydration, perhaps. She soldiered through and we peaked the mountain.
At the top was a familiar site, though I’d never climbed this particular mountain before, a small room, perhaps better referred to as a rock gazebo, roofless, made by who knows who or how many climbers working, unorganized, over the years, everyone adding a rock or two as they reached the top until we were now afforded this wonderful little space to take a little shelter in the shade. I had seen this before in Lake Tahoe. I added a rock to the pile and she worked through her headache. I smoked a cigarette and she pressed her thumbs to her temples. The clear day and height of the mountain put Cottonwood, the next town over, in plain view. Behind us the mountains kept swirling out and a snowy ridge fought the typical desert terrain. The town below couldn’t have looked more like a toy train model setting. My legs burned as did the end of my cigarette and we took only the few moments we needed before starting back down again, a different way, as random and unnecessarily certain as any of our movements.