May 22, 2013
As we scrambled the scree slope to the mesa top, a lovely thing. The limb of an ancient juniper, vibrating in the cliff-edge wind, had worn a deep groove in the sandstone it leaned on, and had rubbed itself down to bare wood.
The fit was perfect even to the wood grain. A protruding knot on the limb had made a perfectly matching, knot-shaped hollow in the stone.
I was reminded of a word from…is it San Felipe Pueblo? Suyu: the sound of the wind as it hits the edge of the mesa.
May 12, 2013
And hunters had waited. On the peninsula was a thousand-year-old Archaic camp, its earth black with twelve to eighteen inches of ashy midden. Eighty feet above the valley floor, craning our necks, we could see that its crumbling north edge was formed of friable Tertiary sediments. The site itself looked “broken in half” like Dun Aengus, the cliff’s-edge fort from the Irish Iron Age, which the Atlantic has half devoured.
Following the game trail, we circled down to the bottom of the cliff. At its base stood an intact chunk of the site. It had slid from the edge where we had leaned and still stood upright, complete with ashes and flakes. On the cliff face rivulets of ashy mud trailed from the broken edge .
Ignorant, we had stood on that undercut, sleazy, brittle cliff’s edge, eighty feet above the valley floor.
April 1, 2013
The day began with mottled clouds that later burned off. No friendly sand to walk in, just acrid mud dust, with now and then a stiff, dried place where a cow had pissed. We hiked down terrifying deep arroyos whose walls, scored by mud-laden runnels, were poised to collapse.
Mudstone concretions: eyeballs and entrails lay in drifts on the yellow-red dirt. We came across two half-buried spheres, both about twelve feet in diameter, like the backs of two huge skulls: Baba Yaga and her daughter.
January 12, 2013
They were old. No historical pottery scatter at all. One of the rings still carried the juniper cribbing of the roof, though it had fallen. In the desert juniper can endure for hundreds of years.
The hogan’s door did not face east as is traditional, because the ring had been built against a sandstone slab; however, the north wall did appear to have been knocked out, customary ritual to release the spirit of a dead person.
The corral had been formed ingeniously by piling cedar to wall up the ends of a cleft formed when a fallen slab split in two.
May 30, 2012
On the McCartys flow, the most recent in the Malpais. Easy walking, the lava ropy and wrinkled as a rucked-up rug, chink, chink of volcanic glass underfoot. I should have worn leather-palmed gloves; I was aware of my bare hands.
Navajo folklore has a story about the flow: the gods threw fire. Because the Navajo are recent arrivals from British Columbia—Athabascan hunter-gatherers who migrated down the east face of the Rockies and got to New Mexico around 1300—it had been suggested that the flow dated to the 1400s. But recent research says it is three thousand years old, so the Navajo myth must have risen from the lava’s burned, cindery look. Three thousand years ago it was the ancestors of the Puebloans who were living here. Surely there were frightened onlookers staring from the sandstone cliffs, watching the quick-running red river torch the junipers to flame.
May 3, 2012
A mourning dove burst whistling from a clump of snakeweed. I thought, Hmm! Sure enough, there was her nest on the stony earth: round, shaped from dry grasses. Two exquisite white eggs in it, the newest things I’ve ever seen.
March 26, 2012
Bushwhacking in the dense piñon-juniper and oak brush that covered the mesa, on a windy day that obscured all sound. I was newly aware of how one tracks companions by constant, quick glances through the twiggage, near-subliminal glimpses every four to eight seconds: a scrap of color, a blink of movement out of place against the moving background. It’s an almost-unconscious art, and takes practice. First we lost Rob, then Gary, then John.
They all straggled in later at the car, remarking on how, in countryside like this, a group can get separated in less than a minute. Their shouts had been inaudible in the wind.
February 25, 2012
The big stock pond where we parked at the edge of the wilderness was desert-dry. Jan recalled hiking there after the monsoon, when there were so many frogs you could hear them two miles away. He said, “Dug in under that dirt are a hundred thousand frogs, waiting for rain.”
On our way back we crossed the pond’s dry bed, walking on thousands of frogs.
November 18, 2011
There’d been rain the night before, and the clouds had half withdrawn over the mesas. Arroyos were dry. But as we crossed the first, and just as we crossed, a slow, creamy tongue of water came snaking down it.
It arrived from some far-distant cloudburst, miles away and maybe hours ago. Traveling, say, five inches per second. It was cream-colored and laden with lumps of tan foam, remnants of some fury upstream, now abated.
Best was its sound. As it moved over the dry sand it made a purr, a hiss, filling tiny underground gaps—perhaps animal or insect burrows—from which the air escaped in tiny gurgling fountains. The flow came slowly, slowly over the rippled sand.
When, five or six hours later, we hiked back, it was still running slightly, but the sand was saturated and completely silent.
October 13, 2011
The Syncline: The sandstone ponds had had a flashflood through them. In the lower pools the willows were torn and full of wreckage, but the higher ones were beautiful. We went in naked on the sandy, gravely mud.
Polliwogs and froglets nibbled us. We slid down the algae-coated water chutes of the linked pools; the stream’s steady drip from pool to pool became overflow as our bodies displaced water.
So quiet! Wind in the cottonwoods, sun on the washed stone, warm breeze on bare skin. Absolute peace.