As we scrambled the scree slope to the mesa top, a lovely thing. The limb of an ancient juniper, vibrating in the cliff-edge wind, had worn a deep groove in the sandstone it leaned on, and had rubbed itself down to bare wood.
The fit was perfect even to the wood grain. A protruding knot on the limb had made a perfectly matching, knot-shaped hollow in the stone.
I was reminded of a word from…is it San Felipe Pueblo? Suyu: the sound of the wind as it hits the edge of the mesa.
The Syncline: The sandstone ponds had had a flashflood through them. In the lower pools the willows were torn and full of wreckage, but the higher ones were beautiful. We went in naked on the sandy, gravely mud.
Polliwogs and froglets nibbled us. We slid down the algae-coated water chutes of the linked pools; the stream’s steady drip from pool to pool became overflow as our bodies displaced water.
So quiet! Wind in the cottonwoods, sun on the washed stone, warm breeze on bare skin. Absolute peace.
Rain-soaked sandstone is unstable. Hiking upcanyon, we found a boulder the size of a Winnebago that had peeled off the mesa and bashed a fifteen-foot-wide swath down the scree slope.
It had taken out the piñones, hit the canyon bottom, run up the opposite side, rolled back down, bounced a couple of times and settled back to dam the creek into a fine little trout pool.
The bashed pine needles were still green, but the pool already had a half dozen six-inch fish in it.
Red Mesa. Up the roughest canyon to the plunge-pool cave, the scoured sandstone channels. We put our backs against the stone and listened to the Ponderosa sigh. In the midst of this communion I found a thermos of hot chocolate had come open in my pack.
Along the arroyo I picked up a clump of breast feathers, each pointed with a tiny dark heart.
Throughout the desert West, the backcountry hiker finds “sheepherders’ monuments”: cairns or slabs of stone raised by turn-of-the-century herdsmen while their sheep grazed, day after day, in the wide silence.
On a hillside of small-grain, gray, dissolving shale we came upon a slab of white sandstone, set on end like a tombstone and blocked up all around with dark rocks. Prickly pear had grown in among the stones.
We’d hiked there a dozen times and never seen it. The desert is like that: bare and open, yet turn your head and there’ll be something that’s been looking at the sun for a hundred, or a hundred million, years.