Part Two of a three-part post. To read Part One, go here.
Nearing the grove, I find the trail leading into it paved with a light mosaic of shed brown and yellow leaves. I resist the impulse to resent fall’s steady encroachment into summer’s back edge. When I reach the interior of the woods, Belle, very thirsty, trots ahead to a beaver-felled trunk, our customary bench, and plops down to wait for me to offer her water. I open my waist pack to discover that I’ve forgotten to bring her little plastic water dish. Thinking about how that might have happened, I can’t even remember why it isn’t in the pack. Maybe I took it out of the pack when I refilled her water bottle in the kitchen then forgot to put it back in. This is the kind of mistake I make when I’m worn down. I’m unhappy about this error and try to figure out what to do. I cup my hand and pour water into it, continuing to pour as Belle laps water off my palm. Looking at her face, I can tell it isn’t enough. The cap on my canteen is big and will probably hold 4 ounces of water, but I don’t want to offer the lid of my canteen to my dog’s tongue unless the need becomes urgent.
Sitting in the grove in this wind is rather like being simultaneously at the surface of white water, at the level of its rough and tumble, and below it in the deeper, shady pools. The liquid roar and variable current rolls through the grove. Depending on the wind’s velocity, quite changeable, the ambient temperature of the grove shifts up or down, cooling or warming by half a degree and more. Likewise my skin: there’s a slip of different temperatures sliding across its surface depending on where the wind touches and for how long. The back of my neck prickles as sweat blow-dries off. The trees are alight, the cottonwoods’ leaves sparkling like windblown riffles. I watch the trees yield to the wind’s fluency. Most if not all of the leaves and limbs on every cottonwood shuffle, but not in unison. The flex in any branch’s sways differs from every other branch on the tree, expressing something I can only describe as harmonious singularity.
As I sit eating trail mix and writing, Belle becomes impatient and starts wandering out of sight. Like me, she isn’t wholly safe in this environment. Coyotes, perhaps irritated by the prolonged drought, might find her a repast too easy to pass up. I heard recently from neighbors that coyotes have killed a couple of elk calves born to the domesticated herd being kept in my neighborhood. I call Belle back and snap the leash on her to teach her to stay close. Besides protection, she needs the rest, maybe more than I do. She sports a head to toe coat of long hair and runs around in it like a puppy with no sense.
After resting, I decide to cross the empty creekbed and walk up the eastern slope to a middling-sized Pueblo II – Pueblo III site on a bench a hundred feet or so above the grove and floodplain. As I exit the cottonwoods, I pass one of the last of the blooming skyrocket plants, its five or six crimson, trumpet-shaped blossoms vivid against leaf litter. I cross the stone dry creek and head for the trail that leads to the rim of Mustang Mesa, breathing deeply as I climb, feeling the pleasure of each full cycle of breath. As I get above the grove I exchange the water music of the cottonwoods for the more taciturn company of the junipers and pinon pines who don’t shiver so. Junipers can set up a ruckus, all right, but it takes a stiffer wind to move them to song. Their voices are drier, their branches more prone to slicing up terse gusts rather than trilling them. Among juniper branches, the wind develops a rushing, throaty whish slightly tinged with whistle.
Despite my poor condition, I get up the brittle soil of the decaying trail with little trouble. The creek may be dry, but there’s still a brimming current running up-canyon, against the creek’s own proclivities. Here, I begin to feel most strongly the heady effect of taking in big breaths of running wind. I wonder how to moderate my breathing so that I don’t become falling down drunk on its clear wine. Not a stitch of lactic acid buildup burns in my legs. When I reach the bench, I wander around the edges of the site, standing at different points to take in views across, up, and down canyon. I locate the lightning-stuck juniper whose fallen trunk I sometimes sit on to eat trail mix and to write. The tree’s pithy heart low down in its trunk was blackened by the bolt. Except for the scorched stump, each portion of its split trunk fell outward, filleted by the fiery blast. After taking a quick turn around the site, detectable by its wall fall, kiva depressions, and midden slope on the southeastern edge, I return to the trail and head back to the streambed.
Below what I think is the main beaver pond, the creek remains damp but has lost its ponds and trickles, its water gone to grass. Nurseries of willow and cottonwood saplings and rushes and other plants have crowded into the crease where the spring-fed current once gathered into knots between deteriorating dams. I find the lowest active beaver pond clear of algae. Fresh black mud packed into the dam shows it’s under repair. Ripples explode across the water’s surface as we approach: fish, startled by our arrival. I stop on the edge of the bank, about fifteen feet above the water, and catch sight of two large bluegills hovering at the pool’s edge just below. They pivot to face us, wary of our intentions. A dragonfly’s reflection zigzags across the surface of the water but locating the dragonfly casting the image takes a moment of concentrated effort. Cat’s paw ripples, fracturing reflections, and other visual bric-a-brac make finding the real bug moving above the liquid mirror an optical puzzle.
To read Part Three, go here.