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James R. Stout


            I watched an old movie tonight in which there was an extended scene where a group of people were stranded on foot in a burning desert. The camera would pan out and show them trudging along in the sand with the wind blowing making waves in the dunes. In the far distance were barren mountains with no hint of water to be found there. The group had lost their horses and all of their canteens and water bags were kept on the horses. Have you ever really been thirsty and so hot that you couldn’t even spit? That’s how this group was by the time they finally got to a tinajas. They all ran to the water and took long drinks and splashed the cool water onto their heads and faces.

            In 2012 I found myself in a similar situation. I was out in far West Texas and had taken it upon myself to go on a long hike. The trail was rocky and steep. Up and down it went. Nobody else was anywhere nearby. Frankly, it was a stupid for me to go alone. Oh, I took along a large water bottle that I had slung around my neck and I was using a walking stick to help navigate the trail. I couldn’t do that hike today due to health issues with my legs. I have lost too much muscle in my legs in the last 7 years. That’s life. But on that day, I could still do the hike. I had gotten to the top of part of the trail and there was a great vista before me. I spied a large boulder near the edge of a long drop-off, and I decided to take a rest on that boulder. I leaned up against the boulder and stood there enjoying the wild country before me. I took the water bottle from around my neck and as I went to unscrew the lid from the bottle, I developed a bad case of butterfingers. The end result was I dropped the water bottle and before I could pick it up the darned thing rolled right off the edge of that drop-off. I’m guessing it was about a 200’ fall. There was no getting that bottle back. The trail spiraled upward in another direction. I was already thirsty and hot and now I didn’t have any water. For that matter, I had nothing at all to drink. There was only one thing to do. Go back to my truck which was about 5 miles down that trail.

            I started back down and with each step I became hotter, thirstier, and weaker. Not another soul was coming back up that trail. I just kept putting one foot in front of the other. I started making more and more frequent stops to rest. I knew that I was becoming dehydrated. At least I was wearing a large rimmed safari hat. But even it didn’t help much. My feet started to hurt very badly. I didn’t know it then, but the problems with my feet and legs were probably already beginning. They didn’t become a real issue for me until about a year ago.

            The sun didn’t seem to want to budge from the sky. It kept bearing down on me and before long I was praying for God’s help in getting back to my truck. I likely made some promises and tried to barter with God. But in the end, I knew that all I could do was keep going and if God wanted me to make it back, then I would. I finally got to a point where I could see my truck off in the distance. The sun was bouncing off the windshield and looking at it was difficult to do without hurting my eyes. I was within ½ a mile of the trail head and where my truck was parked when I saw in the middle of the trail about 20 feet ahead a large rattlesnake crossing the trail. There was just no way that I could ever outrun that snake if I needed to. I wasn’t wearing snake boots either. Another dumb move on my part. After about 10 minutes of me standing there in the sun the snake appeared to move off behind a rock. But I couldn’t see if it kept going or was just sitting there ready to pounce on me when I walked by. Finally, I gripped my walking stick and slowly walked down the trail. I hoped I would be quick enough with the stick if the snake was still there and decided to strike. As it turned out the snake was long gone. I still had a bit to go, but the closer I got to the truck, the more invigorated I became.

            I stepped off the trail onto a smooth dirt path that lead to the parking area. When I got to that truck, I slung open the rear door and opened the ice cooler on the back floorboard. I had 15 or 20 bottles of water in that cooler and they were all well iced down. I probably shouldn’t have had them iced down because it would have been safer to drink water less cold than that, but I didn’t think about that when I headed out that morning. I unscrewed the cap on the first bottle and drained it as fast as I could swallow. I downed another one when I finished the first bottle. I took the third bottle and after removing my hat I poured it on top of my head. I didn’t care what I looked like. I poured another one all over my neck and face and upper torso. I grabbed another bottle, got in the driver’s seat of the truck, started it up, and turned the a/c on “Max”. I felt alive again.

            After watching that movie tonight, I could almost feel how I felt that day 7 years ago. In our modern times of today we take water for granted. Most of us have water easily available in our homes. Many of us have cold water dispensers in our refrigerators. Heck, I have my regular refrigerator and a little one out in my shop. There’s cold bottles of water in both. I could go right now into one of two bathrooms and stand in a shower with water drenching me. I could go outside and do the same with hoses from the outdoor spickets. The point is I don’t have to worry about having water here. There’s even a cold artesian spring on the property with piping that we laid and a spicket to draw water from the spring.

            There must be hundreds of things that we have readily available to us and we take them for granted. All this is making me thirsty! Now, what else do we take for granted? You may not want to admit it, but at some point in your life you have probably taken a friend or family member for granted. You may subconsciously think that they’re always there. Maybe they always have been. But then one day they’re gone. We told them we loved them often, but now that they’re gone, we miss them so very much. A dear friend of mine from high school lost her daughter about a 12 years ago. She misses her daughter so very much. I doubt that she ever took her daughter for granted because that’s not how my friend is, but she sure didn’t expect to lose her so suddenly and without warning. They’ll see each other again in Heaven, but in the meantime my friend will miss her daughter every day. I have never lost a child and I am thankful for that. They say that losing a child is the worst kind of loss because we feel like we shouldn’t outlive our children. I have experienced a great deal of loss though in the past few years. My mother, my father, my sister, my son-in-law, two uncles, and three aunts all passed within a two-year period. Sometimes I feel another kind of thirst as opposed to the kind I felt that day 7 years ago. I thirst for my loved ones that have passed away. But there’s no way I can quench that thirst for now. I’ll see them again someday, so I’ll just have to be satisfied with that. But I will never take for granted my friends and family. They are more precious than anything. If there’s something that has come between you and a friend or family member and you don’t speak to each other now, then I urge you to reach out and tell them that you love them no matter what your differences may be. Don’t put it off another day. Let them know that you love them. There’s no time like the present.

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