The Syncline was wet, sanded smooth with surface wash, all the rocks bright.
Everywhere there were little tinajas, rain pools, like eyes looking upward. A plunge pool guarded by a Cooper’s hawk and a tiny, lively frog. The sunny vanilla scent of many ponderosas.
There’s a Zuni word, ołdi, for the smell of the desert right after rain.
It’s a race to the finish. In the last warm little sun-pools of the monsoon rains, toad tadpoles are growing legs as fast as they can. Ravens and garter snakes have gobbled most of them, but a few laggard babies are still working on pedestrianism.
The cold is coming. The tiny survivors need to tuck up somewhere against the frosts.
Toes & Toads
Concretions form in a slurry of mud or sand, when a bit of organic material starts a chemical reaction that alters the minerals in the surrounding slush. Most often it forms a sphere, but sometimes all kinds of weird shapes.
Eventually the reaction stops and the slurry hardens into stone. Aeons later, when the stone is exposed, the concretions—usually harder than the surrounding rock—weather out.
As in the top photo, if you break the concretion open you may see traces of the original reaction. Pretty!
Placitas. From the high trail, the Sunday church bell’s ringing fills the valley below.
A scream: two hawks and a raven, harrying all over the sky. The hawk’s keening cry falls like its falling body, streamlined stone.
A slight rockfall in a narrow canyon.
A coyote turd with three dozen apricot pits.
Malpaís. The McCartys flow rivals anything in Hawaii. Underfoot the clink and chink, the almost metallic scraping ring of scoria where flat sheets of it have popped off the still-hot surface.
Black, black. Splits and fissures with grasses, mountain mahogany, and a few cacti clinging to their walls. As we scrambled west—wearing leather-palmed gloves, too aware of our bare legs—we climbed a pressure ridge in the lava, a standing black crest so steep we clambered up it on all fours . In its glassy crevices claret cup cacti were just beginning to bloom, the most beautiful red I’ve ever seen.
May is mockingbird month, when they return from their winter grounds. We listened to their changing carols all day.
The badlands escarpment west of the city is grotty and bitter, covered in crap: old refrigerators, truck cabs riddled with bullet holes, abandoned hardware—we saw a double sink complete with faucet—blowing trash, mashed beer cans. As we hiked down into the breaks, dirt bikes droned and snarled along the skyline. Light planes buzzed overhead.
Everywhere the gun people were out. Shots echoed from every side. A party of gunmen stood on a distant parapet, shooting out into space. The ground at the escarpment rim was littered with every conceivable style of bullet casing: slim, fat, stubby, long. Here and there was a spent slug, mashed on impact with a sandbank, and the occasional unspent bullet.
Explosions all around us. I was afraid to walk along the skyline, for fear some gun-happy soul might go temporarily insane.
As we hiked out of the red-rock canyon on a well-worn trail, we came upon mountain lion scat. A lion will make regular rounds through its established territory; evidently this path belonged to a particular cat. There were three enormous dumps. Lots of elk fur.
I’m careful around snakes, but mountain lions are the only animal I actively fear. The size of this scat made me feel too edible.
In the sand near the ruin of a Hispanic homestead, a chicken house woven of barbed wire. Lacking rabbit fence or hardware cloth, the settler had laboriously knitted his own: the enclosure’s six sides were crocheted like an afghan, crossed and criss-crossed, basted and pleated and pleached.
The wire itself was old, corroded by the patinating desert sun. Someone desperately wanted to keep coyotes out of the poultry—yet even the bristling homemade mesh wouldn’t have kept out weasels. The patient work of dead hands had been abandoned with the house.
Tumbling chant of a canyon wren.
On the San Luis road, a family of bald eagles on the plains west of the road, eating something: two adults, three juveniles. They rose lazily, the sun flashing on the adults’ white heads, and settled again farther away. They looked as big as sheep.
Hours later we left on the same road. A little marsh hawk came skimming along above the fences. Then a big, moth-eaten redtail sat on a telephone wire, sick or in molt. I stopped the truck right underneath it. It looked at me over its shoulder, lifted its tail to show its fluffy vent, and shat. Missed me.
On the Dinetah. A long, bright canyon ruined with pump stations and the smell of gas. A four-point buck bounded away with noiseless leaps; it stopped on the far side of the wash and looked at me.
Doug said the spacing of hogans in a historic Navajo dwelling cluster is “shouting distance”: a son-in-law may not see his mother-in-law, yet family groups must communicate. He demonstrated this by shrieking, mother-in-lawishly, “Dor-eeeen!”