One: two-tracks, the dusty, lonely roads that follow the contours of the West. The one above reminds me of a long-ago hike taken from the low road to Zuni.
Two: hiking high and wild, to beat the heat and get up where breathing is a pleasure. Lately that has meant the Jemez Mountains, raked over by wildfires but springing up green with the monsoon rains. We just missed the wild raspberries: the bears got there first.
Shining and blackest black: the obsidian of the Jemez Mountains at one of its prehistoric sources.
The closest road had been closed for years—at least since the Las Conchas fire in 2011—and was blocked by the enormous trunks of dozens of burned and wind-fallen Ponderosas. We hiked the dusty three miles in.
For thousands of years, prehistoric miners knocked down big cobbles of obsidian into pieces more easily carried to distant pueblos, where they would be knapped into knives, scrapers, projectile points. What is left is debitage; whole acres of mesa glitter with a pavement of black glass.
A local group, “Art as Antibodies” asked for pieces about how we’re coping with the Covid lockdown. I sent a painting of the wide and windy desert, which is how—and where—I cope. Not covidy enough, they said. So I sent a corvid.
Slot canyons are spooky, mysterious, intimate. Ravens nest along the rim. When you emerge from the dark strictures of a slot canyon you feel reborn.
Beautiful hiking. Winter has lost its bite, but it’s still too cool for snakes. We crawled all over a Triassic-Jurassic hillside full of red and yellow ochre. We’ll take some to our Zuni friend Tim Edaakie, a traditional potter:
On a ridge in the low hills near the highway, a micaceous mano rested like an Easter egg in a nest of cobbles nearly the same size and shape. It was Archaic, a rounded lozenge with one smooth and one pecked side. There in its stone nest it will stay, with the hill slowly eroding out from under it.
A good dozen bushtits fussed and tsp-ed and fidgeted in the juniper. I sat very still. They seemed not to notice me, coming and going in a cloud like midges.
In an area we’ve hiked scores of times, looking for a place for lunch, we climbed a little mesa that promised a good view. On a smooth sandstone ledge, unexpected, was a bedrock metate: the roughly-pecked surface where a woman had ground corn or wild-gathered seeds.
Around it were rough petroglyphs of a lizard and snakes: probably Puebloan, but so heavily coated with desert varnish that they looked Archaic. It was fine to sit where she had sat, looking out over the late winter piñon and sand, munching corn chips we had not had to grind ourselves.
Two of us and a dog were scrounging along the talus slope, looking for petroglyphs, when my companion said urgently, “Come quick!”
Peering out of a vertical crack in the cliff about ten feet up was a fox-faced ringtail cat. Huge, lemur-like sad eyes, big bat ears, a bushed-out tail that seemed to float behind it. Bold, totally silent. It crept out of the crack and down toward us, examined us thoroughly, then slipped away into the rocks and brush.
It was like an apparition but domestic, like a fox spirit. Quite unafraid of us. The dog, transfixed, did not bark.
Betsy James on Writing, Art, and Walking in the Desert