Carol decided to make one of her fabulous omelets from the freshly laid ostrich egg that was given to us by someone who just didn’t know what sort of treasure she had. One egg fills our big iron skillet. We always save the shell, which leaves me with the task of putting a hole in each end without getting shell fragments into the egg white. I found the right bit for my Dremmel tool. As I rolled the egg about in my lap, thinking about Olloo and the strike falcons, I had a flashback.
Not so very long ago, Carol and I taught at Peach Springs on the Hualapai Reservation. We lived in a trailer with our son Will in the rocks beyond where the buzzards gathered in the morning to sun, far above the mailboxes in front of the Bureau of Indian Affairs building and the half dozen other houses called Valentine, Arizona. To avoid going crazy from teaching, we’d spend our weekends having adventures, wandering in the vacant lands round about.
One morning, we started out at sunrise with Will in order to find a way up to “Car Top,” the tallest peak in the Peacock Mountains, some miles away across the valley. Gamble’s quail called from the scrub oaks in the wash as the first breezes came up the slope. We put our backpacks into our weathered Ford Festiva and set out along the roads, graded out of the sand of the valley floor, its wheels hammering along the endless washboard as we swerved here and there to avoid the worst of it.
Eventually we came to a cattle guard on the far side, swamped with sand and piled up on one end with tumbleweed. We could just make out the white of a house up in the feet of the mountains, beyond the mesquite and scrub oak as we began to climb, speeding through patches of deep sand and straddling gullies in the lane. Presently the lane reached the house, windowless and forlorn, across from a grey barn and its fences, still able to hold cattle, but never to be part of a ranch again. On we went, lurching and climbing into the piñon pine, over a series of ridges, eventually finding ourselves churning our way up the sand of a dry wash for a very long time, until the thought of getting stuck made us turn about and park. We stepped out into the silence and mounted our backpacks. A canyon wren called. We sat on a glistening schist outcrop, tied our tennis shoes and set out, trudging through the sand of the wash.
When the sun was overhead, a narrow lane left the wash to climb through the piñons and agave to a gravelly clearing with a squeaking windmill, still pumping water, and a stunning view of nearby Car Top. We spread out a picnic and studied the vista. It would be another day yet to reach its peak, if we were to go this way. It was past time to start back. Supper would probably be late.
When we reached the car, I strained out from under the straps of my pack and set it in the sand. Undoubtedly was a waste of time, locking the car, I thought. We’re at least a good six or seven miles from the nearest human being. Still… I reached into my pocket. “Oh no!” I cried, as I frantically grabbed at every sort of pocket I had. “Keys! I’ve lost the car keys!”
Will started back up the wash, retracing our steps. He was gone a long time. We were sitting by the car in despair when he reappeared, shaking his head. What would we do, just walk home? It would take all night, at the very least. We were already nearly out of water, and there were a lot more hours of afternoon sun. This was the Mohave Desert, after all. Could we make it? Suddenly he stopped short. “Here!” he hollered, snatching up the keys out of the sand. “I found ’em!”
Just like Olloo, I thought as I turned up one end of the egg and switched on the Dremmel, ‘way out in the middle of the Great Strah in Elf Killers, finding the impossible one thing that saves everything.