April 21, 2009 (pre-Earth Day)
Today, as I head out for the trail into the canyon that will take me past the dead coyote, I decide to call that trail Coyote Trail, or maybe Coyote Way, to remember that coyote mouldering at the trailhead. As I pass those remains, I try to satisfy my curiosity about the animal’s gender, but the back legs are frozen together in a rigor of modesty. A cloud of black flies on and around the carcass goes a-buzz at my intrusion into its community feast and fur-lined creche.
The day turns out to be warmer than anticipated. I walk with my fleece jacket tied around my waist, but I’m not long on the trail before realizing that bringing it was an unnecessary precaution. After weeks of cold wind and an unusually undecided early spring, the weather has at last begun to pool into something fully vernal. At night, from my back porch, I see Orion set in the west just as Scorpio begins rising over the easternmost, juniper-lined knoll. It seems as if in the movement between these two the season hangs in some balance.
So I take Coyote Way down into the canyon, becoming over-warm in process. I’m happy I didn’t leave my canteen behind, as I’ve sometimes done on the cooler, more in-between days.
When I reach the canyon bottom, I walk to one of my favorite sittin’ logs near the creek. Scanning the canyon’s west rim, I pick out a distant silhouette perched atop a rock near the rim. It’s too far for me to make out clearly, but its shape suggests strongly that it’s a golden eagle keeping watch. If it is an eagle and not some eagle-mimicking feature of erosion, it will of course be fully aware of my presence below it. Not to slight rocks, but what stone knows or does not know lies outside of my ken.
I wore one of my husband’s old henley shirts today, medium brown in color, though that’s much faded. It’s a long-sleeved, warm thing. Too warm for conditions. But wait. Not fair to blame just the shirt for the discomfort I’m feeling. As I sit on the log, I peel the shirt off then remove the garment top I wear beneath it. It’s an extra layer that in this weather, in this place, puts me at a little extra risk. I stuff the top in my jeans pocket and squirm back into the shirt.
Maybe I’ll have to answer to God for this one day. Perhaps this is how the conversation will go:
God: Why did you take off your garment top?
Me: Why did you make the sun so hot?
God: To test you!
Me: After all that’s happened between us, why would you feel the need to do something like that?
Suddenly I’m overcome by the exquisite quality of life, despite all the odd challenges that have caught me by my tail. I’m overwhelmed by how it feels to be-in-this-world and by a wonder that seems to grow in my organs and warm in my marrow. I’m grateful for my life, that it somehow managed to form forth and survive this long to see yet another spring, which anymore opens like a random gift given for no special occasion, a gift that unfolds clarity and mystery together. I have not lost one grain of the attraction I’ve always felt between myself and this world. It’s hard to express, because I am, of course, not something apart from this world, like the pole of one magnet touching the opposite pole of another, but part of it. And how is it that one feels attraction for what one is a part of?
I don’t know what I’m trying to say. Perhaps I can’t say it, not in a brief flight of words like this, but maybe in a lifetime of saying it will come out well said.
I start walking again, knowing my path will take me a hundred yards nearer the eagle-figure-on-the-rock. I expect that if it is eagle, it will take flight if I cross whatever boundary it has set between us. As I loop around and reach what I suppose to be the nearest point to the eagle form, I look up at it. At the touch of my eyes, which any eagle can feel more keenly than I can, the silhouette sprouts wings, takes to the air, and the matter is settled.
I hear swifts calling as they prowl the vining tangle of canyon breezes, and maybe I hear swallows. Anyway, today the canyon is a different world from the one it was two mornings ago, when the wind pinned me against stones and few birds came by. Today the air, still a complex of breezes and gusts, is much moved upon by turkey vultures, eagles, swifts, and yes, finally, the cliff swallows.
The eagle flies cross-canyon to the west rim, and together we make our ways northward, me covering ground along the canyon bottom and the eagle looping against the cliffs. Mourning doves’ calls pipe and echo, sounding like stray notes a some rustic flute.
As I begin climbing out of the canyon, I hear the heavy vrrrrr of big wings diving past. I look around, accidently into the sun, then can barely make out in time an eagle, wings flexed and rounded, split the air as it passes making the sound of a high velocity projectile. Looking back at the ground, I find myself momentarily blinded.
I stop at one of my lower perches— not the best seat in the house from which to watch the bird flight extravaganza, but it’s comfortable and bejeweled with flowering rock echeveria and some frilly yellow flower lifting its impressive bloom from a tall— well, not very tall, but straight plant bearing long, narrow leaves. This plant’s blossoms are shaped something like heralds’ trumpets with frilly bells.
Beside the flowers, I have a friend here, a lizard. I remember this animal from last year. It lives in the rocks that form my perch and we’ve become somewhat accustomed to each other. It will bask nearby, on the top of a rock where it can watch me without too much concern. I enjoy this creature’s quiet presence and hope that always, when I stop here, it will come like this, up onto a nearby rock, where we might share this space and look at one another from time to time. It’s only half-grown, so if, like me, it manages to survive being-in-this-world for a few more years, we may become better acquainted.
A large black fly keeps landing on the page of my hiking journal, following the pen’s tip as it moves across the paper, tracking the wet ink with quick, jerky fly-steps. ???
With the swallows’ return, one more stone of loneliness rolls off my heart.
Now I can bless even the turkey buzzards.