First time I came out from San Francisco for Casey’s 60th birthday. I had not ever been to a desert home built on the banks of a river. The home is surrounded by a is a mix of mesquite, cottonwoods and sycamore trees. Last night I saw a scarlet tanager. Morning we drank coffee watching cardinals, finches and sparrows eating seed we’d left out on the porch. You take Salt Mine Road five miles south of Camp Verde to get to out to the estate where this home is set.
Arriving here in 1970 this is Casey’s second home, the first is next door, it is set back further. Casey’s best home is built to take advantage of the natural rise along the banks of the Verde River where if you sit out back on the porch you can enjoy listening and looking at this water as it makes its way south toward its final destination near Cave Creek.
As desert rivers go this one owes its existence to a modest sized watershed higher up and to the west of here. There are no dams, no spillways, no reservoirs, there’s no nothing between the headwaters and Casey’s home. If it rains hard water can come right up to the front door, usually it happens when a real super soaker of a storm stalls over the top of the mountains where the Verde River is born. We had a big storm this year, there was another in 1994, and there was one more big water event one other time.
Casey’s the kid’s grandmother. I like Casey’s memories of her days cocktail waitressing in North Beach after World War ll. Her and a friend named Ann had a pretty good time of it until they got married. Casey settled briefly in Fairfax, Ann was out in Muir Beach. The 1950’s was the heyday of famed radio personality Don Sherwood. Casey was fond of gossip, comedy and jazz. A husband was found, children born, and the one girl in her family I got close to became the mother of my one and only child.
I worked out here in Arizona October through April for decades. When I wasn’t working I was often up here between shows hanging out with Casey. We’d drink coffee in the morning, listen to jazz music on the FM radio, settle in for chores and meet at the end of the day to make food for dinner. My mom passed back in the late 80’s and my daughters grandmother and I somehow struck up a friendship that proved durable and useful to a motherless man such as I found myself to be.
Casey’s best house is for most of us impractical and inconvenient. Too far from anywhere is one thing, the nature of the persons that live here not the best fit for most of us too. Rural desert Arizonan’s are good souls, but they are not kindred spirits. You’ll want to be prepared to spend your time minding the pesky javalena, skunks and coyotes here. If you do enjoy great hiking, Indian ruin exploring and birdwatching you just might find what here has to offer being something you could build a life upon.
I’m here a few days. Casey’s son Ian and I spend time swapping stories. Appreciating the scrappy insect loving desert dwelling Casey Nelson comes with a visit here. The river house is all we got left but the place isn’t nothing and there’s plenty of something in the spirit of this home’s old bones that speak to us of the great woman that build this place. It is a rotten deal this missing our mom’s turns out to be, it is plain hard work to accept their passing and get on with your own living. I’m grateful the river house is here to still use. Enjoying her place, mesquite grilling, river reveling, and sunset watching all tend to be a kind of cure all for whatever might be ailing you. This place will fold you into the patterns of the day to day, sunrise is for building a fire, sunset for winding down with a good book. Best of all you can feel Casey here having spent most of her life whiling away any and every of her days doing much the same.