The OV-1 and Three Little Javelinas
by Linda Thomas
If food is the measure of a good trip, then ostrich in mole at the Cottonwood Cafe and a buffalo burger at Big Nose Kate's Saloon made my recent visit to Tucson a gastronomic success. If sunsets characterize a trip, then the deep red that flooded the sky over the Mission San Xavier del Bac colored the Tucson journey Madeira. If the odd catastrophe chisels a trip onto the brain forever, then the fuse I blew in the Tucson motel circuitry when I ran my hair dryer off the same plug that was handling the coffee pot--well, that's a shower in desert darkness I will not forget.
But sometimes travel is distinguished by the company I keep. My companion in Tucson was Robert. We are, as a couple, imperfect. At home in California, we can preoccupy each other for weeks with our distinct maladies--my single-minded work ethic, his mad drive to impulse and play. After eighteen years, we remain reluctant to make marriage vows. "He's not a good risk," I say. "She's afraid of risks," he says. No one asks anymore why we never married; instead, most assume that somewhere along the rutted road, we did.
We did not. I am aware, nonetheless, that strangers--such as those who surround us when we travel--take us for old marrieds. Handholding in historical cemeteries, sharing a park bench to lick from the same ice cream cone, finishing each other's thoughts--we are distinguished by that mutual familiarity commonly recognized as "married." For Robert, being mistaken for a husband is not a problem. In fact, he often contributes to the illusion.
In Tombstone, for example, about sixty miles southeast of Tucson, in a small shop crowded with trinket displays, I was browsing alone behind a tall stand of postcards when I overheard this exchange:
For a complex web of reasons, I resent being called "wife." On that morning, however, the term fell out of his mouth with an organic loyalty that softened my heart and--consequently--determined the remainder of the Tucson journey.
I plan a trip by reading extensively about my destination before I board the plane, climb into the car, step onto the boat, or strap on the parasail. I am thorough because it would drive me nuts to think I traveled hundreds or thousands of miles, then missed the one monument to architecture, the one endangered species, or the one local food that could have tied the knot on a consummate journey. Robert does none of this; instead, he travels with me. I am the guide. I know what's up. He just drives, looks, eats.
I had my list for Tucson. On the list were javelinas. Javelinas are not pigs; they are peccaries, wild boar that live in the deserts of the southwestern United States and northern Mexico. A Tucson writer of children's stories, Susan Lowell, wrote a book called The Three Little Javelinas. I wanted this book, and I wanted to see javelinas. I knew that I could do both by visiting the Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum in the Saguaro National Park. And I planned to do just this...
At least, this was my plan until Robert referred to me as a good wife. Men are notoriously passive-aggressive this way. Digging potholes in the best-planned routes. One minute, posts of boring incommunicability; the next minute, objects of compassion.
The Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum lies west of Tucson beyond the Tucson Mountains. But on the east side of Tucson, I also knew, is the Pima Air and Space Museum, and a display of more than two hundred aircraft, including an OV-1. Thirty-five years ago, stationed at Lackland Air Force Base in San Antonio, Robert was trained to fly an OV-1 Mohawk, a Grumman twin engine turbo prop plane used for observation, reconnaissance, and surveillance. For Robert, a kid whose parents nearly killed him when he was eight years old, flight is metaphorical--not that he knows this. But I do. I know that his adoration of aircraft, his ability to name any aircraft on sight, and his sheer love of being off the ground are talents borne of his need to escape.
And so, that second afternoon in Tucson was divvied up between javelinas and the OV-1. Just as I hoped, I saw the sturdy bodies of the javelinas, their wedge-shaped heads, their short, stiff black hair sprinkled with white, their sharp incisors. And unplanned, I saw Robert's face as he peered through the cockpit window of the OV-1 at the side-by-side pilot and observer seats beneath the bulging cockpit canopy. He looked like a boy again. I felt like a wife.
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Linda Thomas has been writing poems, stories, and essays for over twenty-five years, and her work has appeared in numerous print journals and magazines. She is a native of southern California, and though she travels frequently, she finds the Pacific seashore, inland deserts, and local mountains of her home territory endlessly fascinating. When she is not traveling, teaching writing, or writing, you can find her online as Lou. All photographs accompanyingRambles are taken by Linda herself.