As warm weather is beginning to relinquish its hold, Rim Country can finally ease into winter.
I'm an Arizona native for a reason. I don't do cold weather. With upcoming chilly months in sight, however, I'm reminded of the coldest winter experience I ever had.
Technically, I never got much colder than 98 degrees Fahrenheit, because I was still in my mother's womb. I'm sure she was quite cold though.
It was January 1983 and my mother recalled that the temperature maxed out at around 11 degrees Fahrenheit that weekend.
With the mercury clinging to the very bottom of the thermometer, and icicles clinging to the eaves of the roof, the forest around Show Low was painted white.
My grandfather has always said that winter was the coldest ever in his 25 year tenure at his cabin in the White Mountains.
My grandparents owned a small, brick-red cabin until a few years ago. As a child and into my young adult years, many of my fondest memories revolve around the smells, sounds and sights of that place nestled deep in the woods.
Everything about "the cabin," as my whole family calls it, was conducive to relaxation and escape.
Even the wild animals were friendly, thanks to the patience and genuine penchant for wildlife that my grandfather possessed.
He named all the squirrels. And the blue jays. The bears and woodpeckers, too. Pretty much anything with a heartbeat in the forest had a name.
The squirrels -- Lefty, Squiggy and Company -- would accept peanuts from our hands. The jays (Sammy and his friends) would dive bomb the deck for the nuts while we sat only feet away in rickety old lawn chairs.
The divide between human and nature was bridged at the cabin. The trust between man and animal was visible, tangible.
I learned to respect nature more from watching my grandparents gracefully tend to their cabin and its surroundings than from anything else I've ever done.
Mornings at the cabin always provided good reasons for awakening.
The sound of scuttling feet on the roof was generally the first thing I heard. The squirrels were chasing each other in pursuit of a peanut breakfast.
I can remember waking up most mornings with a smile on my face, listening to the overzealous squirrels.
Bleary-eyed, members of my family and I would meander to the dining area where my grandmother always offered a breakfast buffet of homemade waffles, bacon, eggs, homemade toast and jelly, grits and various other goodies. Naturally, because as children we weren't very smart, my cousins, brother and I would select miniature boxes of sweetened cereal instead. (When we did begin choosing my grandmother's food, boy, did we realize what fools we'd been.)
After breakfast and a few more dashes in and out to grab another handful of peanuts from the barrel inside the hall closet (usually being reprimanded at least once from letting the screen door slam closed), we'd get dressed and begin our day with nature.
My grandfather maintained a bocce court in the back of the property. The pine needles were swept, the divots in the dirt were flattened and filled and the little leather case with four sets of balls and a pea was brought out.
Many cutthroat games of bocce were played over the years. I can still vividly remember hearing the screams of disbelief coming from one of my uncles during a heated match. The cabin was as much about competition as it was about nature.
My grandparents with the help of many family members, etched out a path throughout their extensive gardens. The paths were established primarily for my grandmother's pumpkin-orange golf cart. She'd whiz through those paths with precision accuracy. She has probably done it so many times, she could still do it in her sleep. The confidence she displayed behind the wheel of that old golf cart was remarkable. Then again, she shows confidence in everything she does.
The golf cart hauled whatever load of plants, tools or accessories my grandparents needed to keep their gardens in top shape.
And believe me, they kept their gardens in top shape.
Tomatoes, raspberries, tulips, eggplants, bell peppers -- you name it, my grandparents could grow it. And we'd likely be eating it before long.
There was a hammock, tire swing, seesaw and sandbox (for when my cousins, brother and I were younger), in addition to a ravine on the backside of my grandparents' property.
Of all the recreation features, we grandkids probably utilized the ravine paired with our imaginations more than anything. We'd hide out from enemies, pretend to be surviving a cold winter or set up targets for pellet gun practice down in the ravine near the old lightning-struck tree.
After dinner (which often was held at a big picnic table outside), poker games were usually the order of the evening.
As young children, we weren't usually allowed around the poker games. My grandfather's affliction for a certain four-letter word coincided with his competitive streak. If he lost a close hand, my mother and aunts, I imagine, would cringe at the thought of the forthcoming curse word and the fact that we'd certainly hear it even in the back. I can remember giggling as my mom or aunt would yell, "DAD!!" We still laugh about that.
Cabin times are long gone, sadly. My grandparents sold the cabin about four years ago. The memories remain as lucid as ever.
I miss the cabin and the family time, homegrown food, adventures and laughter it brought.
I'll always be grateful for the cabin, though. It revealed to me a different side of the world. One that allowed me to dream a little bit more.