Spring in the Desert

by Wil S. Hylton

IT WAS ONE OF THOSE RADIANT NEW MEXICAN SUMMER DAYS, 105 degrees, with the heat oozing from the city pavement and the sun making pinpricks in the air, when Andrew said, "Let's go up in the mountains," and like Dorothy leaving Oz, I blinked and found myself alone, eight-thousand feet above sea level, trudging toward the Sandia Mountain ridgeline with an empty bottle of water.

Andrew was long gone—either far ahead or far behind; I had lost track and didn't care. We always hiked alone when we hiked together, meeting up at overlooks and trail intersections to compare notes. But that day, I had no notes. I had no thoughts. Four hours into the midday sun, thirst had taken over.

It was a maddening, desiccating kind of thirst, the kind that clots your blood and sucks the fluid from your eyes until your mouth is so dry you that you can hear the air swish in and out and your brain scrapes the inside of your head. I became aware of every speck of moisture in the landscape—the water content of a leaf, the blood inside of lizards. The sound of the breeze was a rushing river. The call of a distant bird was a squeaking, leaky pipe.

And then, suddenly, I had to piss. It came over me like a flood, this perfect storm of supply and demand. There was a spring in the wilderness, and it was me! I tore open my zipper with a dizzy grin and popped the cap of my water bottle, relishing the sound of it filling up. I knew there wasn't any real value to the fluid, that it wouldn't taste good, or rehydrate me, or replace any electrolytes, or even thin out the syrupy blood pumping through my veins, but I didn't care about any of that. I just wanted something to swallow. The only thing that mattered was that it was a liquid.

When the last drip topped off the bottle, I held it high and tossed it back, open-throating it gleefully. It was hot as bathwater, sulphuric and acidic, oozing across my tongue, but I promised myself that it wasn't disgusting. It was, I told myself, larger than it seemed, a metaphor for every important lesson I knew. It was the essence of self-sufficiency, of risks taken and answers found, options weighed and avenues gone down— this was what a man must sometimes do; what MacGyver would have done if he'd had to. High above the parched forgotten New Mexican treeline, a pint of Molson Golden.

Under normal circumstances, writer Wil S. Hylton gets his water from the spring behind his house in the Shenandoah Mountains of Virginia, which also, come to think of it, tastes a little pissy.

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