For me, birthdays are about quietly celebrating all I have to be grateful for – every moment of my past, and every moment yet to come. Yesterday I chose to celebrate on perhaps my favorite drive anywhere – the Sonoita / Patagonia / Nogales / Tubac loop.
It was a day filled with quiet natural beauty, fabulous art, Mexican food and tequila, and one of my favorite bookstores in the world. It was also one of the rare days I relaxed enough to shoot a bit, so I thought I’d bring you all along for my birthday ride!
Heading south and east of Tucson is the Sonoita Highway, an official State Scenic Route. Rolling hills dotted with juniper, open range, dipping down into the grasslands town of Sonoita.
On the other side of the hills, beyond Sonoita to the south and west is the tiny town of Patagonia. Bounded by the Sonoita Creek, Patagonia is delightfully green. Stopped at the Nature Conservancy’s Sonoita Creek Preserve. The sky was turning stormy. Hummingbirds were out in force. I closed my eyes and let the sound of the breeze through the giant cottonwoods spill over me…
Heading south is Nogales – the border. I stopped to shoot poppies alongside the road, then looped through Nogales to head north along Interstate 19 – the only road in the whole U.S. that is signed in metric (a reminder of the Carter years…).
I-19 follows the Santa Cruz River, one of the few streams that flows from South to North, starting in Mexico and ending just this side of Phoenix. Towns along the Santa Cruz are layered in history, beginning with native peoples centuries before Columbus blundered into the “new world.” As “New Spain” expanded north, these towns became mission sites. (The sky grew dark, and I was hungry – skipped a visit to the late 1600’s era Tumacacori mission.) These days the towns along the Santa Cruz are primarily tourist towns.
The walled presidio of Tubac is one of those towns – a historic community turned artists colony. It started sprinkling, a grand birthday gift. Sat quietly for a Mexican lunch, roamed around fabulous metal art, and then to the last stop, TJ’s Tortuga Bookstore. (TJ is “Tubac Jack” – the jackrabbit standing guard outside the store. TJ is the handiwork of the store’s owner, an artist whose sculptures have graced museums and universities across the continent and whose sketches of desert scenes include the mountain lion logo of the Arizona Sonora Desert Museum.)
The day ended joyfully as well – little surprises. Rain, for one – a huge gift here in the desert. For those of you who don’t live in the desert, rain here is not just rain. It is a sense of being. It is the smell of creosote, coolness in the air, people sitting on porches waving to each other, grinning and quietly watching. It is the inexplicable feeling that everything is just perfect in that moment. A gift from the gods, birthday or no.
Then a gift I never would have expected. As I went to put away a bottle of wine I had received as a gift, I found an old bottle I’d been saving – a 20 year old port that just about leaped into my hands. And so I spoke with friends and with my daughter, read good wishes on Twitter and Facebook, all while sipping this more-delicious-than-cake gift.
This morning, I got to walk in the mists and the clouds, explore a neighborhood I don’t normally walk, chat with friends. My ex-husband is here right now, repairing the wall where a pipe leaked last week. (Having our relationship be calm after years of turmoil is a gift in and of itself.) Later, I’ll head to the best video store in the whole world (I’m not kidding) to rent a movie, then I’ll pick up Grandma Rose and cook her dinner, to thank her for giving me this amazing life.
My sincerest thanks to all of you, my friends and colleagues around the world, for being part of this amazing journey. May every day of your own life give you reason to celebrate the simple things.