Monday, October 19, 2009

My Ride Up Mount Conundrum

It suddenly occurred to me that the good old classic Warner Brothers Cartoons are no longer on television. I guess I just had imagined that they would always be there for me. I mean, even when I was little and they were on, they were ageless, from a completely different era. It didn't even ever enter my imagination that they might just fade away. But, they really seem to have done just that. All those beautiful crazy backgrounds and the voices of Mel Blanc are just gone.

I was thinking this while sitting in a red, rented Toyota on a silent, desert mountain road just south of Phoenix, Arizona last week. It was only eight o'clock in the morning and I was half way up the twisting and turning Park Road. I had pulled over and stopped because, blocking my lane... was a road runner. It wasn't blue, it didn't have yellow legs, and it didn't look at me an say "Meep meep." It just stood there and I rolled down my window. The silence and the blast of hot desert air rushed in and I locked eyes with the little bird as it slowly walked across the road. I said "hello" and it darted under the brambly brush.

After watching the road runner for a few minutes, all the while cursing myself for forgetting my good camera back at the hotel, I continued my journey up the mountain. The road was smooth and well kept and signs were constantly reminding me to go fifteen miles-per-hour around the curves. The signs weren't needed. I wasn't about to go any faster than that, not with the steep mountain drops on each side of the narrow road.

I left the windows down even though it was uncomfortable in the sunny car. I wanted to feel that dry heat from the desert. I wanted to embrace how different the climate was from my green and lush home turf. These extremes were making me think about how big this country is and how big the world is and how people pretty much seemed just about the same no matter where you went. I mean, obviously, we all have our differences and you can pigeon-hole different areas in superficial ways. For example I didn't see any pale scrawny stubble-faced guys with sideburns the whole week that I was in the area. That is, except for reflections in the tinted windows of the same-old-stores and the same-old-restaurants that lined the same-old-shopping centers.

But, I was winding my way through the desert, with giant human shaped cacti waving to me as I went by, thinking about the sameness of the human race. How we all basically want the same things. How we all are pretty much polite and considerate to others. How we all wave or nod or smile at strangers when holding open a door.

Eventually, I came up to a summit parking area. It was still early on a weekday so there was only one other vehicle there already. I pulled over and stepped out into the heat, excited to let the silence of the desert mountains surround me. You see, these desert mountains are different than the mountains I am used to. There are no leaves for the wind to rustle through. In fact, there was very little wind at all. There was just sand and rocks and cacti and the unrelenting sun. These mountains are silent.

They are so quiet, that later, when Lesa and I pulled over at a different stop we could clearly here the bells of an ice-cream truck down in a valley several miles away. This quiet is something that has always been very difficult to find in my life. Around here, you can only find it in the middle of a snow storm. It has to be a storm that is bad enough that the roads are empty, that doesn't have a howling wind, and it has to be early enough in it that the beeping and thundering snowplows are not yet present.

The only other place I've found it is far up in the lakes region of Maine. Again, there can be no wind in the trees, and no chirping insects. It's rare. It's hard to come by. Even indoors, it is difficult to find silence. There is always something, a hum of a refrigerator or the movement of air through a doorway.

But on these mountains there were moments of utter silence. They fell between jets in the never ending air-traffic of the Phoenix sky. The first time I stepped out on one of these mountains, I was instantly struck with it. It felt like the air was being sucked out of my ears. Cool.

So, here I was on South Mountain at eight thirty in the morning on the peak, standing in a State Park parking lot with the sun bearing down on me, peering across the desert valley, in the windless outdoors, trying to get me some of that silence.

On the other end of the parking lot, there was a white pick-up truck. In the back of its bed sat a small family. There were two parents and a child, probably about four years old. They had a camera and binoculars and were gazing out over the desert hills to the higher mountains far, far way in the distance. The door to their truck was open and the key must have been in the ignition because that clear familiar sound of "ding ding ding ding ding ding ding ding ding ding ding ding ding" was coming from it.

In this otherwise silent and peaceful nature reserve, they were sitting there enjoying the view while their truck was (ding ding ding ding ding ding ding) doing all it could to alert them to the problem of their key in the ignition with the engine off and the door open. "Ding ding ding ding ding ding ding".

I stopped and stared at the scene with disbelief.

Ordinarily, I am a great one for coming up with possible reasons for strange behavior. It's an annoying personality trait of mine that can drive those around me crazy, I think. For example when someone complains about someone else acting rude I might suggest that maybe they were just coming from a funeral. It's important to the scientific side of my brain to know why certain things happen, so its automatic for me to come up with possibilities that explain anomalies seen in the actions of others.

I stared at the scene and saw the happy family clearly enjoying their morning respite a top this mountain with the "ding ding ding ding ding ding ding ding dinging" in the background. It was the only noise, besides the occasionally airplane.

"Maybe they are deaf," I thought. But no, they were clearly speaking to each other quietly and would occasionally utter a warning to the young child playing in the dirt.

"Maybe they just stepped outside of a minute". But no, they were there when I pulled in and the were clearly not going anywhere soon.

"Maybe there's some mechanical problem that requires them to leave the key in the ignition but also have the door open." Um, I can't think of one.

"Maybe the alarm sound, that clearly exists for the whole purpose of trying to get you to make it stop...maybe they just like it." Yeah, I doubt it.

It wasn't long before I just had to leave. I was hoping for a silent moment of desert and natural relaxation, instead my brain was in a fury unable to create a situation that would explain the situation that I was observing.

But, before I left, I whipped out my phone and snapped a picture with the intent on sharing it here.

And this all happened in the middle of my contemplation of the similarities of all humans. What's a guy to think?

UPDATE: As I was editing this post and checking for spelling, I suddenly thought of a possible explanation for the ding dinging truck situation. Perhaps there was a fourth family member, a baby, asleep in the truck. The key was in, the air-conditioner was running, and the door was open so that the parents would be able to hear if the baby stirred.

I feel much better.

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