Friday, July 15, 2005

Off the path

Needing a break from the sky, I escaped to the movies with Gino. He drives this funky yellow and black truck with a few bat-symbols on it. Who better to see Batman Begins with. It was much better than expected, a dark tale of fear and rage. The training scenes set in what was probably remote Tibet or western China made us both want to disappear awhile.

So we drove toward Acoma sky city. On approach, we saw signs telling us that the city was closed, no doubt due to some sacred ceremony. We continued west, deeper onto Navajo land, along a road set at the base of where the Acoma mesa ends. The cliff face was pockmarked by caves, their blackened backs the remnants of old warrior customs carried out in the dark. Across from the mesa were the ancient lava flows, realm of the feared fire gods which kept the Acoma people up on the safety of the cliffs. Only the truly brave did descend.

As the mesa dropped away, we cut further into their territory, bouncing along the dirt road in the Bat-truck, listening to this crazy Arabian pop--my touch since I'm all about dry desert irony. A few miles in, we passed a large group of elk, a few calves in tow. Gene counted four and told me that it was a good year, for usually half the calves have been taken by coyotes this late in summer. The road bounced on, into an arroyo, then along a low canyon of wild dirt spires. Here and there were the ruins of old homesteads, long given up to this high desert. Beyond these were mountains which looked low, but Gene assured me they shoot up to over 9000 ft. We stopped across the valley from where their shadows ended. Just prior to stopping, my attention was pulled to low hills to our right. Gene, knowing my eerie penchant for rooting out "power" spots, asked, "You can already feel it can't you?" This was our destination, the sacred ground of the Acoma.

The moment I stepped from the truck I felt great. The lightness and headiness which had been plaguing me since my return to NM was sucked through the soles of my feet into the red earth. We wandered along the gradual slope, footing made soft with lichen. Trees had been scraped by elk-horn, and other large branches littered the ground. We took care to look for scorpions and rattlers, the latter starting to wake up now after the heat of the day had faded. We found an elk trail and got quiet, moving alongside it so as not to leave our scent. The trees began to thin along this route. Gene was moving in the fashion that he'd learned from an old Jicarilla elder he'd studied with before the old man had died. Gene stopped and asked, "Smell that?" I caught a musky scent, tinged with acid. Some predator had been through and had marked the area. Coyotes probably. They'd scared off the elk. We walked for another hour following side trails but didn't see any. It was strangely quiet. Even the birds who should have been singing our presence had nothing to say. The only life we saw were a few tarantula wasps. They sting the spiders, paralyzing them long enough for the wasps to lay their larvae in the spider's skin. The larvae then eat their way out. We figured the wasps would lead us to tarantulas, something I've never seen, not even after 25 years in NM. Nothing. We did find some bear tracks, days old. It hadn't rained in quite awhile, so all the tracks we found couldn't easily be dated. We followed them back down in the direction of the truck. The monsoon clouds which had been sitting to the east had moved in, throbbing with thunder. We left the elk trail and hugged the treeline, staying out of the clearings. The lighting soon came. Thunder's percussion moved along the same route we did. Gene said, "I love that sound." Me: "Only because I'm taller than you." We moved a little more quickly now. From this height I saw the wisdom of having a bright yellow truck, easy to spot in the wilderness. In one of the lower clearings we found a few pot shards scattered about. They'd long ago been purposely broken in order to let their spirits escape. As I turned a shard over and over in my fingers, the rain began to fall, drops so large they almost hurt. The gods have their own wicked sense of irony.

Driving out, I saw the wisdom of having a yellow truck which is light. We travelled quickly over the wet clay road, moving more sideways than forward. Going along the top of the canyon was a real nailbiter, and Gene grinned when he saw me gripping the "Aw, Shit!" strap above the door. He slowed only to cross holes filled with brown water, uncertain of their depth. I relaxed a bit once we'd crossed the arroyo, it's water not yet begun to flow. That could've meant a night spent camping. We let out a harmonious sigh as the truck's tires once again bit the dark asphault of a road newly built with tax money. This last fact reminded me of Ginsberg's awe -struck quip, "You mean there's a senator for all this?"


On the turntable, Joshua Redman, "Wish"
On the nighttable: Jack Kerouac, "The Subterraneans""

2 comments:

-c said...

Beautiful!

Aww...the southwest...natsukashi....

Setsunai said...

Great piece Ted. You seem to be moving up a gear these days.