Ron Carlson

       Certainly many of my most optimistic moments have been spent checking the oil of my car in motel parking lots early in the morning. There’s a paper cup of coffee balanced on the bumper. A little packing, a search under the beds for lost treasures, and then: away! The world awaits! Today, we (all eight, two families) draw away from Cedar City under blue skies and head toward Phoenix.
       Climbing east into the mountains, we tour Cedar Breaks State Park, a shocking panorama of red and white towers in a canyon that yawns from over 10,000 feet out over the good if not great plains. I’ve never been here. The nearly empty viewpoint itself is rustic, a huge log rail over the precipice, and there at land’s end is a writer. Some kid, probably 15, stands on the wrong side of the rail with his notebook propped against it, writing. If he takes three steps backward, he’ll be a scream and a memory. I watch my wife Elaine and our friend the novelist Barbara Nelson circle the area, pretending to take in the radical view, but they are watching all the children, thinking them away from the edge. The writer wants what we all want. He wants me to come over and ask him what he’s writing and if he knows he’s in danger.
       Early afternoon we pull into the Kaibab National Forest and everyone climbs out. The ponderosas are huge and fragrant in the warm day. This is secret; one of my family’s caches. Up a logging road and under a tree Colin digs up what we buried when we were here last, over a year ago. I can’t say what it is, but we share a pungent and foamy toast. Everyone makes offerings for what to put back, and we gather over five dollars and Elaine’s bead necklace. Brian Nelson (13) hands over his ticket stub from Hamlet and it was headed for a scrapbook. There’s more there right now, buried under a special marker which Barbara threw in a special place, after five tries.
       We’ve always had caches. For years we had a jar of money buried by a fence post off Highway 40 in Utah near Starvation Reservoir. We’d dig it up each year and then simply add more cash. The bills in there were brown. Then two years ago we stopped and they’d widened the road for oil exploration and moved the entire fence. The boys walked in circles for a while.
       Winding down the Kaibab Plateau, I pull off at the newly paved turnout. I’ve been worried about not being able to get any sex into any of this until now. We can see clearly to the red rock notch that cuts toward Page, and a 1,000-square-mile desert floor lies below us like just what it is: some primal thing, that eerie shadow snaking through it is the Colorado River gorge which 10 miles south becomes the Grand Canyon. This very turnout was the site of a magnificent tryst 30 years ago, and my associate in that tender endeavor is now 12 feet behind me in this vehicle reading. Our children and our friends sit between us. When I ask her if she remembers anything, if she remembers any particular thing about this particular place, she looks over her book, tilts her head, and says, “Can it, Ron.”
       Five hours later, we’re throwing our duffels onto our driveway in the dark. Everyone is jangled, whacked out, splenetic. The hulking recreational vehicle hums ironically beside our farewells, as if it were innocent. I can see a FedEx mailer glowing by our door. It is too late to get the cats from jail, the kennel closed, and we four stagger inside. This building, we see by the mail, must be our home.