HANNAGAN MEADOW — I turned 70 this month.

One day I’m a youthful 60-something, and the next I’m in a COVID-19 high-risk group. I’m in reasonably good health. But it’s fair to approach this disease with a bit of paranoia. You know, given my entry into the demographic with a target on its back.

So I wear a mask at the grocery store. While walking the dog, I steer clear of my fellow Americans. I regularly check my oxygen with the pulse oximeter I bought online. My wife Cindy and I make it a competition.

We compare oxygen levels. The closest to 100 wins. A 100 is a perfect score in oxygen concentration. I’m not sure that’s possible. Above 90 is an A.

Cindy usually wins. I clock in at 94, 95. She just has to show off, with her 96s and 97s.

The day I was born, Aug. 11, the high temperature in Phoenix topped 100, if barely. It settled down to the high 70s at night. About the same for Casa Grande.

Sounds downright brisk. The desert heat this August has been unrelenting. Topping 110 day after day after day after … well, you get the idea.

So Cindy, Maggie the dog and I packed a few belongings and headed for the Mogollon Rim, five hours east of Phoenix. Seven the way I drive.

As I write this, I’m seated outside a cabin at Hannagan Meadow Lodge.

I’m wearing a long-sleeve shirt. It’s overcast and a bit chilly. It might rain. Compared to where I was the day before, it’s like being on Mars. A pleasant Mars with pine trees and squirrels. Not the real-life Mars with barely an atmosphere and no oxygen. Not enough to fill a lung anyway.

Hannagan Meadow has oxygen. But not so much as you’d think. The lodge we’re at sits 9,100 feet above sea level. The air is rarified. Greater Phoenix is hell on earth right now. But it has more oxygen, with added pollution.

I noted the oxygen difference my first night here. I went to bed with a headache out of an old Anacin commercial. Hammers pounding on your brain. Some of the misery, I admit, was self-inflicted. I’d had a second glass of wine before retiring.

And there was the fireplace. The fireplace came with a big log, kindling logs and old newspapers. It was chilly out. I know chilly is a hard concept to grasp when it’s 112 every day. Anyway, I decided to light a fire. Make it all cozy as we watched the flames dance and crackle.

It turns out making a fire isn’t all that easy. I spent 15 minutes on my knees lighting newspapers, charring logs and creating a lot of smoke. It got in my eyes. And my lungs.

I gave up on the fire and had that second glass of wine. Then I checked my oxygen level. It had dropped into the 70s. Definitely a failing grade. Cindy, of course, aced it.

She worried about my low score. She worried I had aged right into the pandemic. I turn 70 and, all of a sudden, I’m riddled with coronavirus. She worries by getting mad at me. And by withholding my haircut money.

No haircuts until a vaccine. Or until they start giving haircuts over Zoom.

Cindy says she likes my COVID-do. It has a certain style. Something between Charles Manson and a punk rocker.

I won’t blame the wine for my oxygen-low blood. Can’t do that. I like an occasional glass. I’m going with high-altitude sickness. Thin mountain air has less oxygen on hand.

It’s like the toilet-paper shortage in the early days of the pandemic. Trucks would pull up to the loading docks and go away empty. No toilet paper today. Same with my red blood cells. They were pulling up to the lungs. The foreman had to give them the bad news.

“Sorry we’re low on oxygen today.”

They’d leave without a load. Anxious customers were left high and dry, including my head.

It’s not all bad news. Your body adjusts to higher altitudes, eventually. Your oxygen levels increase. I checked mine this morning. I’m up to a 90. Cindy had a 94.

I lose again. I must be better at something than she is. Hold on. She’s weighing in now. I’m much better at complaining.

Well, I have entered the grouchy demographic.


Reach contributing writer Bill Coates at bccoates@cox.net.


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