Saguaro East (Day 5)
I stuff my hydration pack with camera, an array of lenses from ultra-wide thru telephoto including my favorite 85mm prime, a few carefully chosen filters to nuance my photos, and a UV flashlight to find scorpions glowing bright yellowish-green in the blacklight. The one thing I forgot to include that I will discover later is to fill the backpack bladder with water. I’ll be dry walking in the desert. Walking stick telescoped, I’m ready to go. My stick’s duty is to probe dark, dusty, dangerous holes searching for Rattlesnake and encouraging them into the light. Why? For that million-dollar shot, of course. I’m thinking of an eye-level closeup, maybe with a macro lens to fully detail the eye veins and vertical slit. Better, a detailed full frame of venom dripping from a bared fangs and slow shutter speed to ensure the flicking tongue is blurred during rapid vacillations. Ooo, better yet, a bokeh shot of the vibrating tail with just enough body in crystal clarity creating a dichotomy of stillness and motion.
And the stick is definitely to scooch Rattlesnakes from crevices (in a nice way) while they are sluggish in the reptile blood congealing cool morning temperatures. I’ve been fascinated with reptiles, especially the legless varieties, since I was a socially awkward child. Somethings never change. In my case both the fascination with snakes and the propensity toward social misfitedness.
I cross the street coming to the barbed wire, park boundary fence. I know it is Park boundary because there’s a sign attached to the barbed wire claiming ownership with an undercurrent of mine not yours. I wouldn’t mind the signs and fence if they prevented the real threat to wild places…the government terrorists in political office who rape the land for personal profit. That is a nonstarter because a politician on the scent of money would chew through razor wire with their own teeth.
The four-strand fence is too tall to step over and my cutting tool is too feeble to snip the wire. Fearing spikes ripping apart my ball sack, I opt for a low wire act. Thankfully it is regular barb wire and not razor wire designed to inflict serious cuts on anyone attempting to climb through. I lay my pack gently over, there is no padding to protect my camera gear, then using my stick force the wire higher off the ground, slither beneath on the ground still damp from the previous evening’s storm. There was so much rain the dry land became saturated. The spiky ground is sharper than the damn barbs but my package is safe. A worthwhile tradeoff.
The thicket is dense and will be until I reach the established trail. I scan the ground and find bare patches, there are always bare patches in this harsh landscape where gaining root purchase seems miraculous. Connecting patches is sometimes easy, other times it requires high stepping prickly pear. Dead ends and massive cholla as tall as me require retracing and rerouting. I feel like I’m boldly going where no man (or woman) has gone before. It is not long before I pop onto the Shantz Trail near Lomo Verde Wash. The map shows a 0.5 walk to the to Lomo Verde Trail then 0.9 miles to the Pink Hill Trail finally 0.2 miles to my destination, the Pink Hill Overview. I cover the 1.6 miles in less than half the time it took me to slow dance my way through the thickets.
Sadly, no animal encounters along the way. My heavy footfalls crunching on the soil echoed into the night alerting any and all there is a predator about. Fly away. Slither way. Hop away. Crawl away. The cold conspired against me, too, keeping them in their warm lairs. Of course, they may have been all around but I have not developed the awareness necessary to identify the local fauna with instinctual precision. When (if) we finally move to this part of the world, it is a skill I intend to sharpen rivaling the edge of freshly chipped, multi-hued chert points or blackest obsidian long knife. Slice through the noise to focus on the signal. Come eye to eye with the nonhuman animals instead of existing oblivious of their presence.
The Blue Blooded Scorpion
The final approach to the knoll is two-tenths of a mile along a mild incline. Not high but above the surrounding landscape. One side drops off into the gently lolling monument wash that would be dry except for the heavy storms last night. Throwing my arms back, I open my chest wide and drink in a long draw of the crisp air. It tastes so good! Today is colder than anticipated, low forties at most. Still, I remove and fold my down jacket using it for a seating pad, don’t want spikes in my ass, the hoody remains on, slip off my hiking shoes, and lotus up (almost) to watch the sun (hopefully) and listen to the native voices. When it comes to sunrises and sunsets, I am a heliotrope.
I say hopefully catch a sunrise because the cloud cover is thick blanketing the sky from the north horizon to the south horizon. The 7,049 foot Tanque Verde peak is directly East. I was hoping to plot out my sunrise location yesterday but the weather prevented reconnaissance. Today, I wing it but find my wings clipped and I have fluttered to what will likely be a blind spot. Sunrise or not, it is a great location to welcome the day.
A group of coyotes yips and yaps to the East. A band to the west responds in similar song with fewer voices. A smaller pack. They sound both far and near. A trick of their ululations? I hope for repeated choruses, a symphony, a sing-off but after one round both groups quiet. There are few defining sounds like the call of Coyote in the desert, except perhaps the cry of Loon floating over a glass still northern forest lake, to wrench civilization racket from the mind supplanting it with wilderness whisperings. Chaos to calmness.
I lose track of how long I sit waiting for the sun. There are no indications of time passing. All is still. The wind, violent yesterday, has quelled to the infrequent gentle breeze barely strong enough to vibrate the sparsity of leaves. No animal vocalizations since the coyotes exited the stage. All I hear is my own rhythmic breathing and, when I concentrate deeply, the bdump, bdump of my heart beating…at least…I hope it is my own heart. Mountain Lions roam the area and have been known to harvest a human now and then. I wouldn’t mind my physical remains nourishing future generation mountain lion or coyote but not quite yet. I still have plans for my life
I open my eyes when the inside of my eyelids turn blood pink from the sunlight. As I feared, no angled rays of reds, oranges, tangerines, yellows, or purples paint the horizon. The pink on my eyelids was the sun filtering through the blood vessels in my eyelids. Bulbous clouds disperse the rising sun into muted shades of diffuse white and gray. No golden hour nor even long shadows this morning. Not all is lost. My soul is more peaceful than its been in months leading me to contemplate Tucson may be the right place to move upon retirement. Time to head back to gently rouse my wife and feast on the last, for us, of John’s excellent breakfasts. Later today we are heading back to Phoenix to be close to the airport for our very early morning flight. Today he is serving scrambled eggs with chorizo and peppers. Mild peppers meaning my plate will require liberally dousing with hot sauce. Yesterday he served stuffed apples…delicioso!
I put on my left shoe first then the right. I usually sequence right then left but am trying to break entrenched habits and exist with awareness instead of being lost on autopilot so I chose left first this time. Plus, I need to make sure I’m not doing the right-left order because of some deep-seated superstition the sequence will bring good luck.
I stuff my foot into the right shoe and searing pain shoots in my right toe. It feels like someone is sticking needles into my foot. Still yelping, I shake out my shoe and a scorpion falls to the ground. Raging from the pain, I smash its head with my hiking shoe. So much for embracing ahimsa. Three whacks later, it appears dead. Perhaps only stunned? Not really sure. The combination of its flat body and not smack it hard enough to turn it into mush leaves doubt. I poke with the hiking stick a couple of times. No movement. Satisfied it is dead, I will indulge my artist’s curiosity. Is there any part intact enough for macro photography? This is the first time I’ve seen a scorpion up close and not behind a sheet of aquarium glass.
I flip on my readers, 2.0x magnification now, pinch the tail between two fingers being careful not to sting myself. It is definitely dead. The head is oozing blue scorpion blood. If not, the burning sensation at the sting site would drive me to further vengeance. The body has a translucent yellow cast with a black back. It is close to 4 inches from uncurled tail stinger to pedipalps (pincers) tip. There is only one pincer intact. The other was broken off during my act of reactionary rage. I think this is a Desert Hairy Scorpion. The color and size are close to those I saw on the internet while researching the trip. I can’t confirm now because I’m not getting a phone signal.
Oddly…sniff sniff…oddly, it smells beefy…like a steak cooked medium rare over a mesquite fire heavenly anointed with extra butter and dusted with peppercorn. Interesting. Savory? My mouth is watering. Breakfast with John isn’t for a couple more hours. Scorpions are a delicacy in parts of Beijing, China but not so much in the US where our palettes are significantly less sophisticated. Hmm. Should I? Before another rational thought blocks irrational behavior, I close my eyes and nibble on the lone remaining pincer.
It is slightly crunchy and juicy. The thick juice, thick like catsup, must be its blue blood. These are the true bluebloods of English literature. The texture is reminiscent of eating a chunk of brittle but with a warm liquid core. Crunchy and steak tasty are an interesting combination. Feeling no ill effects thus far, I eat the entire arachnid nibble at a time until there is only the tail. I slice off the stinger with the knife end of my multi-tool. I could have used the pliers and pried it off but I’m a knife aficionado so blade it is.
Free of the piercing stinger, I slowly chew away. A burning sensation floods my mouth when I pierce the telson, the venom bulb, and screams down my esophagus when I swallow. It feels like I’ve eaten a good, strong chili, a chili de árbol. My lips tingle. My scalp perspires. My forehead beads. A crunchy, chili, steak. Yummy. I look around for another, a smaller one figuring it will be more tender and succulent, a veal version of the scorpion…scor-veal-ion.
While searching beneath the flat rocks within arms reach and some a bit further with the walking stick, the mouth burning slowly escalates beyond de árbol levels…approaches habañero heat. Habañeros are at the top end of my Scoville tolerance. Still not as hot as the tiny, Thai peppers I regretted eating in India. Ingesting the venom sack was not my brightest idea. I’m sure it won’t be my worst. There is a lot of stupidity inside my head waiting to escape. I feel light-headed, woozy, airy, blue smoke twirling from an incense stick curling, swirling into the air at once form and formless. My vision loses color, becomes blue-gray before blurring. My perception splits. One eye sees up, the other straight ahead. Two images I can’t force to reconcile. Am I seeing as a scorpion sees or seeing through scorpion eyes? Without a single focal point, I grow disoriented and nauseous. I need some water.
Reaching behind me for the hydration pack tube, I lose balance and roll backward without instinctually extending an arm to shield my comeuppance with the fierce ground. My head lands on my backpack. My back and arms slam into raw earth suffering a thousand piercings, death by a thousand quills that will hurt more when extracted, from the spiny desert where even the sand grains sport barbed fangs embed themselves into naked flesh. Thankfully, brain damage is nil? I think? Or so I hope as I feel the smoke I have become dissipate in the morning breeze.
The breeze carries my smoke soul into the sky soaring high above. I see my motionless body collapsed on the pink hill. Or, is it my corpse? Scorpion venom is supposed to be dangerous only to the very young and infirm of which I am neither. I’m fully recovered from my heart surgeries. The doctor said so. I exercise…sort of. I do look peaceful though. Has part of me finally found contentment?
The higher I ascend the larger the circle of isolation surrounding my body expands. Other than the cactus people, I am alone. Completely. Totaly. Alone. It feels right. It feels purposeful. The isolated nature of my being attuned with solitude. We, solitude and I meld into one, inseparable. Symbiotic? I can no longer exist outside of solitude than solitude can exist with my reclusive propensities. Perhaps I was a recluse in a previous life reincarnated to seeking the sanity existing on the prolonged side of isolation? I close my eyes to the sensation of floating on the wind.
The Yellow Woman
When I again can open my eyes, it is twilight dark. Giant saguaros completely surround me but these are not the typical green. These are a hodgepodge red and blue and orange and yellow and diagonally striped and swooshy rainbow and slashes of electric blue and so many color combinations I can’t grasp. I feel as if I am centered in a 3D Andy Warhol painting. Two inches of space, at most, are between their giant cactus bodies. They are bending at what I can only describe as their waist. They hover over me their extended arms leaving a narrow opening, smoke hole at the crown. Did I dissipate exiting that hole and congeal upon return? The saguaros are shielding me from the high noon sun creating the darkness in the light. They’ve created a multihued, living wikiup. I wonder if they have color vision and can see their colorations or are stuck in monochromatic vision and see no difference in each other?
Outside, a squadron of Javelina, a cacophony of adults and baby reds, grunt while rooting for food with their tusks. I would hate to be on the business end of those tusks. How can they find anything edible in this hard-packed, spiky earth? A red squeals sending a shockwave into the squadron. They bolt a few yards then stop packing in a tight bunch with the reds safely in the middle. They all stare in the same direction. I follow their gaze and see why. There’s a tawny mountain lion with muscules flexing with every step as it paces back and forth just outside the cactus circle stopping here and there looking for an opening wide enough to enter my circle. The cacti are too close, the thorns sharp. I am protected. Is it hungry? Does it see me? Smell my fear?
I read a book ages ago about a man studying wolves. He urinated in spots, just like the wolves, to delineate his territory from theirs. The wolves, he claimed, respected his marked space. I stand up slowly so as to not unnecessarily agitate the big cat, unzip my pants, and relieve myself at the perimeter completing almost two fall circumferences before the weasel is drained. My signature scent will hopefully keep the cougar at bay and, as a bonus, any sprints, evil or beneficent roaming the countryside outside my sanctuary. Do the spirits of the dead dwell where they lived or where they died? What if spirts were already in my circle? They would be trapped in here with me. Shit! What have I done?
I hear guttural hisses above me. A committee of turkey vultures is perched, one or two, at the apex of each saguaro, their naked red heads facing down the center at me. A solitary raven swoops above them harassing the much larger birds. More vultures are slowly circling high in the sky. Vultures gather for the death feast. What died? Who died? Is something going to die? Am I dead from ingesting the venom or alive and in the midst of a scorpion induced vision?
Frightened, I slowly lower my eyes to avoid startling the massive buzzards. No sense in enticing them to kill something for a change. There’s a woman is standing in my saguaro nest directly in front of me. I can tell it’s a woman by the gentle curve opening below her narrow waist. She has the same yellowish glow of Scorpion in black light. Her raven hair is parted in the middle and draped over her shoulders exposing her entire neck and back and lower body. She is completely naked. Why does she face away from me? In shame? In humility? Am I too ugly to look at? Does she even know I’m here?
She’s marked. Monochromatic images…no symbols…are tattoed across her back. What do they mean? Are they symbols of a dead language? An alien language? Perhaps she is a message for me. I strain to touch her but can’t rise from my seated position. The fangs in the sand have dug into my pants, hold me fast to the ground. Nor can I move my hands. Looking down, I discover why. There are scorpions lined in battlement fanned around my hands. They face toward me. Pincers gripping my fingers, tails flipped over the backs, and stingers planted into each of my 10 fingers. Yet I don’t feel pain. I can only guess the venom pumping into my system has numbed my senses. A mantra pulses through my head…look…look…look at the woman. Look…look…look at the woman. Look…look… What am I supposed to see?
Hold on. Something is a bit off. Are those tattoos inked on her or petroglyphs etched into her flesh? Gentle shadows cast tell me they are layers below the surface skin. These are images carved into her body. My eyes scan downward. On both hamstrings red, ragged lines extend from mid hamstring and curve around toward the front. There are three on her right, five on the left. Claw marks? Blood? Was she tortured? And that’s when I remembered where I saw her before. She was part of a mural that entranced me when I saw her on two different visits to Las Bellas Artes in Mexico City. What is she doing here? Why now? Why won’t she turn and look at me?
She shimmies around the circle, a sideways shuffle always keeping her face turned toward the cacti, turned away from me until she is behind me. I can’t turn my head to watch her forcing me to watch side eye. The venom seems to have induced localized paralysis. My extremities are locked but my internal’s, breathing, heart pounding continue unhindered. I hear a thunk as she drops to her knees behind me, her small, firm breasts press into my back. Her arms curl over my shoulders, around my head, hands move in front of my face. She is holding a long yucca leaf which she expertly peels from the spine down until only the needle-sharp spike and integral long yucca fiber remain. She grabs my lips, brings the needle and thread toward me. I try to scream and fight her off but she’s too strong. When my lips are sewn tightly shut, she walks back to her original position still hiding her face. Thankfully, she didn’t also sew my eyelids shut like I’ve seen in shrunken heads. Dumb I can handle. Blindness would drive me insane.
She squats with the control of Yoga teacher, smooth, effortlessly, balanced. Her body contracts 2, 3, 4 times and she drops a large, steaming package from between her legs. She stands, appearing to suffer no ill effects from the delivery, and walks toward the thickest saguaro. As she draws near, it splits a vertical seam and she, head first, disappears into the folds of its flesh before they close like a giant zipper from the bottom up. The metaphorical implications are obvious but the dangling question lingers. Was she being unborn from this reality or born into a new reality? Perhaps both and was reincarnated from here to there? She crossed my Maginot piss line. So much for bodily fluids being a barrier to spirits.
As soon as the giant saguaro shuts, the entire circle of them, there’s got to be close to twenty, begin swaying side to side, each synchronized with the other in perfect harmony. Almost like line dancing…line dancing in an arced line that meets to form this circle…circle dancing. The steaming bundle the yellow woman deposited on the floor is swaying to the same rhythm as the cacti. The cadence matches perfectly. The bundle unfolds as if breaking free from an invisible chrysalis and sits up. An old man faces me. Holy shit! It’s…it’s…
The Return of Grandfather
I’m sitting face to face with the being I know only as Grandfather. He is thin as a corn stalk with long white hair extending to his waist. His skin is leathery from a lifetime spent in the sun and bronzed to the color red Earth. Despite his apparent age, his muscles are taught. His posture mirrors mine but for his legs which cross in full lotus and mine…well…my knees don’t bend that deep anymore so I sit in a defective lotus position. Despite the cold, he wears nothing more than a breechclout.
The problem with Grandfather is…I am not really sure he exists. I see him…I think I see him. I hear him…well…I hear voices I attribute to him. But I have never touched him, don’t know if he is solid or not. He could be a figment of my overactive imagination, an aggregation of visual and auditory hallucinations, or an alter ego manifesting as the person I wish I was.
When I first encountered Grandfather, it was at a petroglyph garden in southern New Mexico, he went into this long diatribe about Rattlesnake, about how he and I were related to each other and to the original crossers of the Bearing Strait. And he foretold of a soon to be trip to the Philippines which was definitely on that year’s itinerary. When my wife found me sitting and talking to myself between the two giant rocks where the spirit being conversation took place, I, barely able to contain myself, told her the whole story. She didn’t believe me, told me I probably have a cancer eating my brain giving me hallucinations.
She wants me to see an oncologist. I say, an oncologist either gives no news in that they haven’t detected cancer which can still mean the seeds are germinating somewhere outside the vision of their machines or bad news and my life expectancy is rapidly diminishing to zero. Either news can be construed as bad. I’m not up for bad news so I will settle for the blissful ignorance of no news.
Grandfather’s existence was reinforced in my soul when my wife and I took an emergency trip to the Philippines a few months later. There I met Tukó who referenced Grandfather and informed me I was on the second step of a vision quest. He didn’t tell me how many total steps would be required. I have always had angst regarding my purpose in life. This quest was supposed to reveal my destiny.
When I returned to New Mexico a few months later for a job interview, we, my wife and I, flew out two days early to determine if living in Albaquerque was for us. We explored another National Park where petroglyphs were extensive. I met Grandfather a second time. He told me there was no single destiny, destiny is a series of destinations. And foretold the vision quest would continue with a trip to Old Mexico where I would meet Puma. Puma, though, told me nothing more about my future other than reinforcing that life was a series of destinies not a single destination. True, he said he was a past seer, not a future seer so would not have the future sight. Still, I was disappointed.
My last reference to grandfather occurred inside a cavernous tree in Southeastern, Colorado back in May where I had an encounter with a tree spirit. This makes the fifth direct or indirect encounter in 1.5 years. Is my vision quest still unfolding? Perhaps. The books I read decades ago told stories of vision quests happening in a flash during a day or a week of focused deprivation and solitude. A year and a half is much, much longer than a week. I am so, so lost. May as well start down the rabbit hole our conversations also prove to be.
“Grandfather, that woman. I twice saw her in a mural down in Old Mexico. Who is she? How is she here?” My lips were no longer sewn together. How did that happen?
“The dancing of the saguaros created undulations in the air. They swayed my chrysalis helping me sublimate through the membrane. The undulations also forced the yucca thread to disintegrate and have masked your scorpion pain. Never underestimate the power of the plant people. The being is Guardian.”
I forgot he had a knack for knowing what is on my mind. It is disconcerting to say the least. He was right. The searing pain had completely dissipated. “A guardian? A guardian of what?”
“Not a guardian, The Guardian. She guards the passages between your corporeal world and the spirit world. As for how is she here…she is Guardian and she exists. There is no other explanation.”
“How, then, did I see her in the Mural?”
“You are not the first person of this world to see her. Chosen others have as well.”
“Chosen? Am I a chosen since I have seen her too?”
“One chosen was the artist who painted the mural. If you recall from the painting, on her left was a rope bound peasant scrawny to skin and exposed bone. That peasant represented the tortured Zapatistas, unsung heroes helping free the people from an oppressive government. La gente back then were in almost as bad shape as those in your country are now.’
“Almost as bad?”
“Yes. Your country is in much worse condition, spiritually speaking. You all are in danger of losing your soul to the false god in highest office. This Donald tRump person is the United States version of Porfirio Díaz. If he had no imposed boundaries, no checks and balances, your country would be run as Pinochet ran Chile…maximize profit for himself and send anyone opposing to hell.”
“Who is the modern day Zapata then? Me? Is my destiny to help free Americans from the yoke of his tyranny?”
Grandfather chuckles. “No grandson. You would have to face your skeletons when they are dredged by the dirt police. You lack the courage to stand up to such scrutiny. No. No. No. The closest you have to a Zapata would be a combination of Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Bernie Sanders. One understands poverty, the other fights for the rights of all commoners.”
“Does that mean, tRump will be ousted?”
“That future is outside my purview. Anyway, in the long run, it is irrelevant. Earth goes on. I do have my doubts he can be defeated. If you remember history, Emiliano was assassinated. tRumps white supremacist backers would likely perform a similar rash act if their cult leader’s reelection looks iffy. As would the Democratic establishment. They claim to hate him but they need him as a focal point to rally their own sycophantic followers. They cheated Bernie in the last election to uphold their own status quo. Anyone threatening the politicians’ golden goose would have their own goose cooked in the process. But this is not why I am here?”
There was so much more I wanted to know including how he knows what he claims to know. But, I’ve learned, he talks along his own songlines and it is useless to try and divert his train of thought. My next question, an obvious question dictated by his presence, “Why are you here?”
“I am here because you summoned me.”
“Summoned you? How did I summon you? I was sitting on a knoll relaxing as much as possible in the cool temps. I didn’t even know I had the power to summon you.”
“You summoned me when you screamed following Scorpion’s sting. Your screams were in the language of our ancient ancestors. The Yellow Woman sewed your mouth shut to keep you quiet and keep other spirits from using your voice as a beacon signal showing them the way from there to here.”
“What is there and here?”
“Here is here. There is there. Here is inside your urine fence, there is outside the fence. Neither those there nor those here are evolved enough to exist in both places and not cause harm let alone cross the Guardian’s bridge. Those time cured to spiritual ripeness, there are not many of us yet, have the ability to inhabit both realms.”
“You said ‘yet’. Does that mean others will achieve the capability?”
“Eventually…but that is so far into the past…it is even beyond my vision.”
“Past? Don’t you mean future?”
“How quickly you forget. Your mind is like a poorly made yucca basket losing water through the seams. Maybe you don’t give credence to my words. As I told you, for me, the past and future are identical, mirror reflections of each other. You can see a reflection in a mirror but not touch the reflected images because they are buried deep in the glass. Those like me have no such barriers. We can dwell inside the mirror and outside the mirror simultaneously.”
“You mean on our second encounter.”
“Grandson, understand with your heart intuition, not your head logic. Time is not a boundary for me. Precedents, antecedents don’t exist for we beings dwelling outside of time and space. All times are now as they are then as they are will be.”
This line of inquiry was getting me nowhere. It is always a circle jerk talking to grandfather. He never shows his hand so I can’t tell when he’s spitting out facts or throwing stars into the sky and I need to figure out which of the infinitude is my guide. I’ll try a different line. “Grandfather, what happened to me? Everything was copacetic until I ate the scorpion then…loopy loopy. I wake up surround by these multi-hued saguaros.”
Grandfather laughs a belly shaking laugh. Tears drip from his opaque eyes. It is the first time I’ve seen him lose his perfect control. Usually, everything he does is measured, his movements sparse, his words carefully presented with hints forcing me to delve deep. How I wish, just once, he would give me a straight message. “You, grandson, ingested Sacred Datura.”
“Sacred Datura? How is that possible? I’ve seen none of the beautiful white flowers so didn’t brush against the plant nor would I ever chew on one.”
“You ate Scorpion, did you not” That wasn’t a question. He obviously knew
“Yes…yes I did.”
“Then it should be obvious.”
“What should be obvious?”
Grandfather exhaled a long breath. I wasn’t aware spirits needed to breathe. Maybe he was setting the ambiance. “Scorpions eat insects. The insects recently feasted in a packrat midden. Among other things, the midden contained seeds, stems, and leaves from Sacred Datura. The insects ate the leaves, Scorpion crawled into the midden eating many of the ‘enlightened’ insects. You ate Scorpion taking the enlightenment into yourself. When the Saguaros saw you unconscious and vulnerable and the hunting cougar padding along a trail that would intersect you, they surrounded you for protection. All things are webbed together.”
Grandfather’s being flickered. I wished for some rabbit ears to tweak and solidify the signal but there were no rabbits about. “I think my enlightenment is wearing off. You are becoming less clear. My pain has returned and is gradually intensifying.”
“There is a easy cure.”
“Really. Then cure me.”
“I cannot cure you of this pain. You need Coatimundi for that.”
“But there are no Coati’s here”
“Are you sure? Look between the legs of the ancient ones. Look closely at the squadron of Javelina.”
The saguaros were close making it difficult to see. I scooched around until I found the biggest gap between their single legs then tilted my head aligning both eyes with the vertical gap. The javelina were changing, transmogrifying into…into…Coatis? The squadron became a band. They flared out encircling the saguaros sticking their noses into the space between the giant cacti. Are they coming for me? Are they angry? “Grandfather, ewhat’s happening? Why are the surrounding us? Why are they breathing so heavily?”
“They are not surrounding us. They are surrounding you. There is nothing to fear. Find one you like and stick your stung toe up to its mouth. Let it perform nature magic.” He drew out the word magic like he was yanking my chain.
I twirled around looking for the one coatimundi that appealed to me more than the others. They were all cute but none seemed different, other than size. How to choose? I closed my eyes hoping my inner sense would direct me.
“There you go grandson. Seek with your heart not your logic. They are breathing heavily because they are getting ready.”
“Ready for what?”
“Stay in the moment, grandson…”
I concentrated on breathing. Theirs, not mine. The heaviness rounded out becoming tonal with undertones. Each coati emitted its own pitch. It reminded me of the cacophony of an orchestra tuning before playing together. The sounds these Coatimundi emitted was starting to sounded like…like…panpipes. Panpipes? I haven’t heard those in years. The cacophony gradually morphed into music, soothing, relaxing music. “Grandfather, how did these Coatimundi learn to mimic Peruvian panpipes?”
“What makes you think Coati learned from Peruvians? The Peruvian panpipes were made to replicate the sounds of Coatimundi. Nature is the source.”
“Source of what?”
“The source of everything that matters. Now, listen to the music with your eyes closed and walk toward the note sympathetically vibrating within your soul. One and only one will access your inner world.”
“Grandfather, the pain is too intense to walk.” It was extreme but, more so, I was very afraid to put any part of my body close to those large canines. I’ve seen raccoons rip things to shreds and these are a very close relative.”
“Your choice. You can do as I suggest or live with the pain. It shouldn’t last more than a few days, a week tops.”
“A week! I don’t have the courage to suffer for a week!” I move to the perimeter, close my eyes, listen closely. Nothing. I walk anticlockwise around and around, pausing to focus on the sound trying my best to feel sympathy with my soul.
“Put your fear away, grandson. Your fear is blocking connection.”
I stop. Close my eyes, breathe long and deep multiple times pushing the fear to the back of my head. There is a pocket at the base of my skull I stuff unwanted emotions. Like a toilet, it is chock full of shit and needs to be plunged but I’m too lazy to do the work. In the meantime, stuff, stuff, stuff, and hope the overflow is minimal. Before I can complete another circle, I identify the one. I move my toe toward the sound stopping when I contact a nose, cold and wet like a dog. The Coatimundi licks my toe a few times then takes it into its mouth and begins sucking.
Their music up-tempos. The pain in my head recedes as it does inch by inch all the way down my body until the last of my agony is drained through my toe. The energetic music becomes raucous not in a chaotic, screeching banshee way rather rhythmical agitating the body into frenzied dancing. I find myself whirling to the beat. I open my eyes and see the Saguaros dancing on their single foot yet still graceful, the coati dancing with twirling tails standing tall, while grandfather sits in the same lotus position smiling ear to ear his head bobbing in rhythm. I extract myself from the mayhem and sit across from Grandfather.
“Grandfather, I need some insight. Tell me, please, when will I finally move out West and become my destiny?”
“Grandson, destiny is a series of destinations.”
“Yes, Grandfather. I am fully aware of that. It’s just that, I have wanted to live in the Southwest since I first step foot here in 1985. I feel like I’ve been wandering for 35 years in a soul sucking…not wilderness…wilderness builds my soul…a soul sucking metropolis. Will I have to wait another 7 years until I retire? Hell, Moses only wandered 40 years before seeing the Promise Land. Will I have to wander longer than Moses?”
“Grandson, I don’t foresee you living in the Southwest….ever.”
Before he finished his next sentence, Grandfather decomposed into smoke and was taken high into the sky by an upward draft where he dissipated and disappeared…again.
He said ‘But…’ Does that mean he is not sure? Does that mean there is a possibility? Was he playing to my obstinate nature and I must navigate a series of obstacles before becoming a southwest resident? Are those obstacles the series of destinations in my destiny? So many questions without a pairing answer or answers.
When Grandfather left, so did the Saguaros…all but one…the same one that opened for the yellow woman. It parts again. Like the woman, I walk in headfirst and feel the skin seal behind me. It’s black as pitch. The darkness consumes the light inside of me as if a giant snake swallowed me headfirst and whole. I struggle to reverse direction and set myself free. But I am struggling against curved teeth, they only dig deeper into my flesh. I am ferried through the elongated body, my own personal river Styx, forced along by strong muscles. I’m suffocating. Just when I am about to give up and allow death it’s prize…prize?…I have a difficult time viewing myself as a prize for anyone…I’m spit out the tail end. Not the shit hole. The tail end opens like a snake with a second head. I slide out and fall onto the biting sand.
I pick myself off the ground, brush the pebbles off my hands. I am back at the B&B next to the circular white picnic bench in the cactus garden facing the decaying saguaro I photographed the previous day. The ancient being leans 15 degrees off vertical. It is slow crashing to Earth with the same painstaking unhurriedness as they grow. An inch of progress over an entire year. A slow, slow death. This magnificent being will spend more time in death throes than I will be alive. What is it like to watch Death approach at a pace more sluggish than a snail?
I don’t recall walking back to this table yet here I am. Was it a dream? Perhaps, another hallucination caused by a funked up brain. Not saying it is cancer but something is not right with my head. Maybe it is all somatic and I need to get shrinked. But that could lead to a schizophrenia diagnosis and loss of my freedom. Then I would never emigrate to the southwest. Better I keep my mouth shut.
“David,” my wife calls. She’s standing beneath the B&B archway. I can see she is only half awake. She walks over to the table. “Did the coyote’s already sing?”
“Yup. There was a chorus toward the East and an answer from another pack in the West. It was so cool.”
“Do you think they will sing again? I’m hoping to hear them this morning.”
“I really don’t know. I heard them hours ago and haven’t heard them since.”
“Hours? You only left the room 30 minutes ago.”
Do I tell her about my Grandfather visit or the dancing Saguaro or the music playing Coatimundi? No. It sounds preposterous. It will just reinforce her notion that my brain is riddled with cancer and worry her. Besides, I’m not really sure it occurred. Thinking back, it sounds too fantastical. I will take the safe way out and proclaim ignorance. “Oh, I guess I lost track of time.”
“Did you eat already?”
“Then why is there blueberry jam on your beard?”
I lick the jam…it tastes like grilled steak…