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Sedona, Arizona. Photo© Erika Burkhalter

I Once Had a Pair of Sunglasses…

The world, somehow, looked different through them

I once had pair of sunglasses — round, John Lennon-style, with tinted rosy-gold lenses and coppery frames. The world looked different through those glasses, brighter somehow. I wore them when I was young, when I envisioned the whole world before me.

I hiked the Grand Canyon with my lover wearing those glasses. Together, we slid on the ice at the top of the Bright Angel trail, and emerged, blinking into the bright sun at the bottom, where the river cut through the red sandstone walls and wound its way, in a glass-blue tumble reflecting the desert sky, into the future.

Hiking the Grand Canyon

One morning during that year when we lived in the high desert, we drifted through the soft-focus green of the forest, our hiking boots laced tightly, and were shadowed by a herd of deer. As if swept into a land of enchantment, we hardly dared to breathe, for fear of breaking the spell. Like fairies, they moved about us, the young and the old together, and vanished into the dappled shadows.

I remember watching a tiger in India vanish that same way.

Huddled in the back of a jeep with our cameras clutched tightly, we had been in search of her for two days. Heading out into the morning, the sun’s pink fingers just peeking up over the rim of the world, hot water bottles snugged up against us, we held onto the cold metal rails of the jeep while our guide and driver maneuvered and jockeyed with the other guides for the best route that day to spot a tiger.

We had seen bright blue and red kingfishers, crocodiles grizzled by years of combat, Blue Bulls, and all manner of monkeys. And, we were leaving later that afternoon, headed to the pink palaces of Jaipur. But, we hadn’t seen a tiger.

And then, like a mirage rippling through the golden grasses, the Tigress appeared. Leaping to a limestone rock, which hugged the shadows at the edge of the stubby trees, she dipped her pink tongue into a shallow pool, lapping at the water. She was almost invisible. If our guide had not known where to look, or seen or heard the subtle signs — the call of a barking deer, the stilling of the bird chatter overhead — we would never have known she was there.

But, she saw us.

Stretching, she rose, droplets dripping from her nose to the sky reflected in the pool below. And then, she swaggered with the grace of one of my domesticated felines across that rock, leapt up onto a dirt bank, backed up to a rough-barked tree and did that “shiver” pee that cats do when they mark. Just like my kitty, Naranca, who liked to mark everything (even me sometimes, when he was old), the Tigress marked her place in those woods.

The Tigress, marking her place in the woods

And then, she sauntered off into the tall grass and shadows, and just….disappeared.

That other day, in Sedona, years earlier, before a photo safari in India was even a dream, after the deer storm in the forest, we found ourselves being stalked, not by a tiger, but by an angry pig.

Walking backwards, clanking rocks between our hands, we held our arms high, trying to look as large as possible while we began an uphill scramble through desert brush. This javelina mother, for all the world looking like a punk-rocker with that bristly ridge along her back, was just tending to her tender piglets.

But, we had stumbled into a nasty situation. You see, those squinty little javelina eyes can barely see the world in which they walk, but they “see” quite clearly through other senses. Their ears, bristling with spiky hairs, are like antennae turned up on high. And those piggy nostrils can smell a grub, or a birdfeeder full of oiled black seed and nuts, from a mile away. And those tusks — they curve up like a razor-edged smile against their cheeks, capable of uprooting the most spikey of cacti and of goring tender hikers in a heartbeat.

At home, we had a terra-cotta birdfeeder strung up to a one-seeded juniper tree outside of our bedroom window. One night, when I was alone — these were the days before cell phones — I woke to the sound of footsteps crunching on the gravel just outside. I slithered over the edge of the bed, dropped to my knees and crawled to the window, where I peeked out under the louvered shades to see —

— a pig party!

They had somehow extricated the bird feeder from the tree and dragged it across the gravel, spilling the bird seed in a wide arch across the stones. Snorting and jostling, noses deep in the seed, they savored their midnight special.

This soon became a nightly ritual. Visitors from out-of-town would be woken for the buffet. Hanging from the bedroom window with our cameras, we were almost welcomed into the pig-fold.

Then came the night when we woke to find a half dozen pint-sized piglets dining with the rest of their family. They too, wore their fur spiked up in little ridges along their spines, and sported curved little tusks, glowing in the pale light of the moon as it rose over Elephant peak in the distance.

Javelinas with piglets, raiding the bird feeder

I remember agonizing over the piglets when we had to move back to California. Who would feed them each night? But, the piglets, I imagine, learned to fend for themselves, as we all do.

I lost my sunglasses the day of that afternoon scramble up the hillside, when we escaped the wrath of the mother javelina.

I mourned them for a while, partly because we didn’t have any money back them, and replacing them was costly, but mostly I missed the way I had seen the world out of them. They seemed to offer a glimpse into the brightness of the future — a future which has now galloped along for twenty years.

But, I also know that although I love to savor these memories of different times, of adventures passed, I equally as much embrace the possibilities for the future. So, perhaps, one day, I will splurge on a new pair of rose-tinted glasses.

Erika Burkhalter is a yogi, neurophilosopher, cat-mom, photographer, and lover of travel and nature, spreading her love and amazement for Mother Earth’s glories, one photo, poem or story at a time. (MS Neuropsychology, MA Yoga Studies).

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Photos and story ©Erika Burkhalter. All rights reserved.

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