This is a picture I took on the morning I came down from the Guadalupe Mountains. In my hand is Broken Arrow, my last water. You may know the term “broken arrow” from the Mel Gibson movie “We Were Soldiers.” Mel and his troops are about to be overrun by the North Vietnamese army, and things are not looking good. They’ve done their best, all they could, but their training and equipment and bravery have not been enough to get them out of this jam. So Mel calls out “Broken Arrow!” over his radio, announcing to the world that he can no longer save himself, and American air power swoops in and blows the hell out of the North Vietnamese army.
My Broken Arrow was a bottle of water. Last time I went to GNMP I let the National Park Service scare me into taking about 500 gallons of water along in my backpack, and things did not go as planned. This time, fortified with substantial experience and a growing sense of the futility of life if you couldn’t just damn well walk wherever you want when you felt like it, I relied on my own instincts and stripped my supplies down to a minimum. Very little food (I’m not hungry hiking, anyway), and only enough water to make two cups of coffee every morning–because life is not worth living without two cups of coffee every morning. Plus my two liter water bladder in the pack. I was confident that this would be enough, but just in case I created Broken Arrow, my last water if things went really poorly. I decided that if I had to open Broken Arrow, I had failed and needed to get back down to my car and showers and comfortable beds and just go home and watch TV.
Didn’t need Broken Arrow. I thought about drinking it on my way down at the end, luxuriating in extra water, but I wasn’t thirsty. Broken Arrow was the child of an adult life spent always knowing how to get out of a rough spot when things don’t go as planned. Because things never go as planned.
There’s a lot to be said for planning, for covering the unexpected eventualities, for getting out of a mess. I have certainly gotten into more than my share of messes in the natural world over the years, and covering those eventualities literally saved me. It is something to know “I would be dead now if I hadn’t . . . .” But, you can’t know everything, see it all beforehand, prepare for the truly unexpected. I’m not sure if you’d really want to .
I saw this thing growing by the trail somewhere up on top. That stalk growing out of the agave is about nine feet tall. I have no idea what kind of agave it is, or what’s going to come out of that thing when it finally blooms. But I think it’s going to be wonderful.