All your questions can be answered, if that is what you want. But once you learn your answers, you can never unlearn them. ~Neil Gaiman, American Gods
I wish I could have seen Garden of the Gods through virgin eyes, eyes not tainted by previous experiences, not undergirded by unrealistic expectations. I wanted to feel again the initial shock giving way to ecstasy when the seal is broken and I immerse in wonder. But I could not. My bell was rung years ago, has been reverberating ever since. The original hot shot injected directly into my soul turned me into a desperate addict, a hopeless junkie, suffering the gnawing monkey since 1985.
That single taste, a first taste fixing stained red claws into my psyche where they grip with the force of a terrified lizard clamped down on the soft parts of a hand threatening to do it harm. I have only been able to appease it, temporarily appease it a half dozen times. The last a brief taste bud tickler, a flick across the nubbin, four years ago. Next year, however, I’m planning a 2.5-week pilgrimage swimming solo through dust dry dust desert canyons, sleeping viscerally beneath the vast star blanket whose extent is visible only on pitch nights from isolated desert heavens. Until then….methadone, simulated experiences designed to ease my withdrawal symptoms. Continue reading
I pray to the birds. I pray to the birds because I believe they will carry the messages of my heart upward. I pray to them because I believe in their existence, the way their songs begin and end each day—the invocations and benedictions of Earth. I pray to the birds because they remind me of what I love rather than what I fear. And at the end of my prayers, they teach me how to listen. ~Terry Tempest Williams
The Last Hikes: Cathedral and Bell Rocks
Vox Nihili / Vox Deus / Vox Avium
We are laying in a crotch at the top of Cathedral Rock hidden away from the trail’s terminus and buzzing people seeking, in their own way, communion with nature. How they can find it in a hive of humanity is beyond my ability to comprehend. To feel Earth’s heartbeat I need solitude.
The final ascent bringing us to the official end of the trail was the steepest section of the hike/climb. We scrambled on hands and feet the final stretch moving out of the sun and into the shade, a shade that felt cold with the constant breeze. I felt frigid when I took off my day pack exposing my sweat-soaked back. This cleft in the rocks opened with magnificent views of the valley far below. It was heavenly…but for the noisy crowd. People whisper in church, why don’t they exhibit the same reverence in the sacristy of wilderness?
May your trails be crooked, winding, lonesome, dangerous, leading to the most amazing view. ~Edward Abbey
I hesitate quoting Messr Abbey in an essay on Sedona. It feels like another act evoking the reeking, bitter stench of betrayal to South Utah. I need to remember, Cactus Ed was a capital ‘P’ Prophet speaking in defense of all Wilderness for wilderness sake, not just the bottom third of one Western State and, I guess, that makes quoting him appropriate to this occasion. In hindsight, it is also apropos for the hikes over the next three days were crooked and winding and hundreds of feet dropping dangerous and we experienced some amazing views particularly while resting in a crotch at the top of Cathedral Rock.
Unfortunately, this was Spring Break so the lonesome component was mostly missing. Not lonesome as in longing for company. Lonesome as in the solitude from which one can enter the serenity necessary for the soul to become whole.
Pull out your pocketknife, open the blade, and run it across your burnished arm. If you draw blood, you are human. If you draw wet sand that dries quickly, then you will know you have become part of the desert. Not until then can you claim ownership. ~Terry Tempest Williams
With the first reading of Terry’s bleeding sand quote in her lovely book, Red: Passion and Patience in the Desert, I have taken to testing myself every trip to red rock country. I need to know if I am an interloper in desert lands ghosting through or can claim desert kinship and the earth will accept my roots. My soul says, I am desert but my head needs physical proof, hard evidence, liquid testimony. Once maybe twice, my flowing blood appeared to contain minute traces of red sand. It was just as likely the blood loosed sand grains stuck in my pores trapped while scrapping my flesh over difficult scrambles up the Slickrock. I didn’t take proper precautions for a valid experiment and isolate the variables. This trip will be different. I’ve come prepared.
This fifth sun, the sun of movement, illuminated the Toltecs and illuminates the Aztecs. It has claws and feeds on human hearts. ~Aztec Theology
Dead Hearts Walking
We are a steady stream pushing ourselves up the steep stairs one by one. They walk without difficulty. I am winded by the exertion, gasp for oxygen in the thin air. With step 248, we reach the summit of the Temple of the Sun, the largest pyramid in the Americas. Each of my companions, a devotee has a cleanly sliced, horizontal hole in their chests just left of center, slicing through the nipple region. The ghosts walking the street do not have the hole. Only those ascending the pyramid do. There must have been a ghost priest near the base performing the ritual.
In their right hands, each holds a beating heart, their own beating heart dripping phantom blood. The drops are low luminance red. They contain too much pigment to be transparent, not enough to be opaque. Translucent blood, translucent as the mixed-blood people inhabiting a society happy to push them to the margins. Out of sight. Out of mind. Translucent. Preferred invisible.
The Aztecs believe they started up in what’s now New Mexico and wandered for 10,000 years before they got down into where they are now, in Mexico City. ~Jerry Pournelle
The Ranger Station
“Are the glyphs here similar to the ones down South?” I asked the uniformed Park Ranger at the Petroglyph Visitor Center as he directed us on the map to a few readily accessible trails featuring a variety of petroglyphs. He wasn’t wearing the light tan Smokey the Boar hat, I guess because he is indoors. I like the iconic hat. He speaks the monologue I had already heard him spin through a few times to other inquiring visitors, a monologue I imagine he spits out hundreds of times a day, thousands a week.
The Quality of Light
Elsewhere the sky is the roof of the world; but here the earth was the floor of the sky. ~Willa Cather
Picture crystalline waters at the source of a frigid mountain stream formed when snow cries during the first warm rays of spring. Picture a turquoise ocean offering a warmth as welcoming as an amniotic bath birthing a blue as succulent as the first kiss with a person who perfectly fills the void in your soul. Mix them together with curls of airy bird down and you will begin to understand the near perfect light and wispy cloud sky engulfing you when stepping off the plane into Northern New Mexico. Continue reading