Glancing at Belle, I can tell she needs water, and soon. I lead her away from the beaver ponds before she’s tempted beyond her ability to resist to drink from its giardia-laced teapots. I hurry her to the shade of a big juniper, another of my stops, and sit down in the dirt beneath a broken branch that hangs across the trail. Obviously, Belle needs more water than I can provide by cupping my hand. I relent and pour her a drink in the canteen lid. She laps four or five lids full then lies down in the shade without my prompting, her shoulder pressing against my knee. She pants rapidly but seems to have gotten enough to drink, refusing another offered lid.
Looking around inside the juniper’s shadow, I notice a single penstemon blossom, looking like a wind sock on a pole, glowing red against the litter. Its color leaps to the eye from a backdrop of live blue-green and dead brown juniper stubble; last year’s curled, tawny oak leaves; green wisps of grass growing in a clump; spider webs clouded with dirt and other debris; and round, purplish-blue juniper berries dropped into grey-toned soil speckled with blacker grains, probably of decayed organic material. From somewhere up-canyon, a canyon wren’s laugh pipes its downward-falling scale.
On my way out of the canyon, I stop to play with my breath again, closing my eyes and following through the dark the cooling of my trachea and lungs as the air draws down, then the ecstasy of the breath’s release back into the space around me, where it’s picked up, remixed, and restored by whatever bellows makes these currents blow. As it rushes up from behind, the northbound air parts around me and brushes by, evaporating sweat on the outsides of my bare arms, pressing my shirt against my damp back, zest in its touch. I turn around and face into the stream to cool my hot face, open my eyes, and see a white-throated swift bank through the wind, slicing through the near view, flying at high and acrobatic speeds. Behind the bird, young cottonwoods standing by the spring Belle and I just crossed flicker and heave fluttering sighs. The cottonwoods’ watery chime mixes with the low-pitched whush of wind through surrounding juniper branches. I take out my notebook to write. Belle settles patiently into nearby shade to wait.
As we near the second spring crossing, a large black and red beetle about three-quarters of an inch long flies across my path and lands at the tip of a juniper beside me. It’s eye-catching, and a species new to me. It fidgets a bit then settles into perfect stillness. I wonder what it will do if I touch it. I don’t usually touch wild things anymore, except when the need arises, like when we have to remove hummingbirds from the house. But the beetle has frozen into such stillness, I’m curious about how responsive it is. I touch it lightly. No movement. I give it five or six good taps on the exoskeleton. Still no response, not even the tightening of its grip on its twig. It seems to not distinguish my touch from the jostling of branches.
As I walk home, legs somewhat tired and a bit sore, I notice that I feel more energized and alert than I have in two years. I credit the wind with the change, with breathing it down, swapping out each pleasurable outbreath for yet another heady draft, bathing my brain and rousing my blood in its elements. It’s a quick turnaround, better than expected from three and a half hours in the canyon. Rather than feeling taxed and broken down with effort beyond my means, I arrive home with enough spirit left in me to stand at the kitchen counter and make fresh salsa—tomatoes, Vidalia onion, diced garlic, fresh lime juice, olive oil, diced New Mexico chilies, a jalapeno, fresh Italian parsley and a few chopped basil leaves. And so I top off several rounds of fine breathing with a serving of spiced garden goods.
Abram laments that we have forgotten the air. I don’t think I’ve forgotten it, but I admit to not knowing all of its phrasings and customs. I’m still figuring it out. I wonder if anyone who has ever lived on the earth has learned it as thoroughly as it can be learned. I’m also interested in all the ways in which we fashion our Edens and situate them in the past, in how we describe a wide variety of seductive fruits and Trees of Knowledge that led to our banishment from some fully-furnished, more nearly perfect native state. I wonder what it means that we insist that we have sinned against whatever transactional power we suppose ourselves to have traded with for the security of this dreamtime or the other. Have the evolutionary pressures that changes in our ancestral environments brought to bear on us–pressures that could only be weathered through adaptation and the abandonment of treasured artifacts of settled behavior, impossible to carry with us in the transition except as stories pickled in nostalgia–knitted into our DNA a sense of recurring and impending loss? Just how many times and in how many ways can we fall from the peaceful stasis of Paradise?
Or what about the idea that Pinker puts out there in his narrative take on our millenia-long migration out of the “state of nature”: Despite all the obvious problems and mistaken ideas about perfection that cloud our vision, maybe, instead of falling from innocence toward some point of no return, we’re really, very slowly, rising toward spheres of human nature and toward prospects we haven’t yet imagined. Maybe, instead of plummeting toward destruction like cast-out angels weighted down by all our impurities, we’re actually falling up.