“Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness” is one of the most famous quotes in the United States Declaration of Independence. I believe in the pursuit of happiness. I believe that complete contentment is obtainable, but it is expensive and hard to come by. I also believe that I have found contentment, life, liberty, and happiness in a desolate location deep in the eastern mountains of Arizona, just south of the small town of Alpine. This is the place known to my friends as the ranch, but between me and my dad, it will always be more than a ranch. It is a way of life.
Sprucedale Guest Ranch is a family owned and operated dude ranch about fifteen miles south of Alpine, Arizona. This past summer was the sixth consecutive summer that we have spent a week at the wonderful get away. And get away is what we do. A twelve hour drive from my dad’s Los Angeles condo, Sprucedale is no easy trip, but it is worth it. The car is replete with anxiousness, but once we arrive it all seeps out into the clean mountain air. We look around and recognize all the familiar cabins, corrals and horses, and smile at the unfamiliar furry creatures running around.
It is a quiet life one leads at Sprucedale, filled with waking up to the cows mooing in the morning, bundling up for the 50 foot walk through the brisk mountain morning air to the main lodge, and eating home cooked meals made from scratch three times a day. We ride the gentle horses for miles along well known trails over meadows, through forests, and even across streams. The wranglers retrieve elk bones and wild flowers for any one who asks. To me, Sprucedale is the most peaceful place in the world where I can sit on our cabin’s porch in a rocking chair doing nothing at all and be perfectly content. If I were to believe in an afterlife, or a heaven, I dream it would be just like that. I also believe that heaven has its flaws.
This past year, a pulmonary doctor discovered a benign cist on one of my dad’s lungs. It is not cancerous and doesn’t cause him pain unless he is breathing very hard. The altitude of over seven thousand feet at Sprucedale made it harder for him to breathe, especially at night. This made my dad so worried that he had panic attacks at night when he would wake up and not be able to breathe that well. When he told me that we may have to leave a day early, I broke down into tears. The thought of my favorite place on the earth hurting one of my favorite people on the earth was too much for me to handle. With a trip to the hospital in the nearby town of Show Low and a prescription of “chill pills” to last the final night, my dad fought through his troubles and won. We set off down the winding gravel road early the next morning immediately after breakfast and headed for home. I remember the trip as if it were yesterday, and I look forward to next year when we will return to my pastoral utopia.
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