Thursday, June 30, 2005

Mountains and rivers sutra

It's getting hot here in Austin, and every once in a while I find myself longing for the mountains. The southern Rockies. Kay and I used to spend a lot of time in the mountains in New Mexico and Colorado.

Somewhere in the Black Range, in the northeastern part of the Gila wilderness, is the most beautiful spot I have ever been privileged to see, or perhaps ever will see. I will probably never find it again--not that I will look for it, I am not that foolish--a meadow covered with flowers up in the mountains, with hummingbirds all around, big Ponderosa pines upslope a little, and a view for miles the other way. I know roughly where it is, but I'd have to get there at exactly the right moment again, if I were ever to try to go back, which, as I said, I won't. It's better to find new places, and remember old ones the way they were.

I have no notes to reinforce, or falsify, that memory, but I just found some from 9 years ago in the Gila. Kay and Eve and I were spending the night at the Lower Scorpion campground near the touristy cliff dwellings. We were going to walk up to the cliff dwellings in the morning.

The campground was pretty empty because of fire danger. We shared the place with a big fella with a Minnesota Swede accent, who had a very modulated but resonant voice explaining with Scandinavian matter-of-factness the putting up of tents and other mysteries to his little daughter, who was maybe 4 or 5. Later he sang the doe, a deer, a female deer, re, etc. song to his daughter in a very good show-business voice. He sounded so much like Garrison Keiler I had to look twice to be sure it wasn't. It wasn't. He knew all the words, and the words to several other songs, children's songs, which he sang to the campground. His wife was small and quiet. They were enjoying their stay.

Two women who had been hiking all day came back, tired, heaving enormous backpacks onto their picnic table. One of them, after searching unsuccessfully for something in the back of their red pickup camper, leaned on the truck and put her head on her hands on the top of the tailgate. Cried.

A woman with red hair driving a big RV came in and asked in a distraught way if there was a phone at the ranger station. She had a German guy with her, who spoke no voluntary English. They did not smile and each got out of the car and went to a table and wrote in a journal, only occasionally speaking to each other.

Little moment of sharing the campground.

Towhees rummaged under the picnic tables. Stellars jays and towhees own the place. A raven flapped downriver until he found a thermal, then soared like a vulture, making a wooden croak noise like a pull-toy I had when I was a little boy, where the wheels drove a hammer that beat rapidly on the central dogshape plank soundboard of the toy when you pulled it.

Cicadas--one kind made an electric rising-falling buzz, one cycle per second. Another kind made a steady buzz/chirr that lasted about ten seconds, then trailed off.

Hollow whiff of another raven flapping close overhead, a noise like blowing across a bottle hoarsely, though more sibilant--the snick of a long knife separating the wind.

The wind in the pine needles would approach through the ponderosas, like a distant avalanche. Throaty whisper.

A fast white wingflash of a merganser, whiffling like a tumbling artillery round to a landing in the stream beyond some trees.

Eve and I walked up pretty close to 8 deer--they seemed contemptuous of our sneaking, when they finally looked up at us.

The rocks were from blackish purple (weathered, lichened) to pinkish white. Olive colored juniper. Ponderosas had red platy bark, sometimes blackish toward the bottom. In the distance, the dry leaves of the pines looked light smoky green. Oaks with black liveoak bark, striated with elongate diamond plates. They had light gray-green leaves, soft looking, not oakish looking at all.

Horehound, coyote gourd, white thistle poppy, sagey gray plant along river and road. Datura in flower near on cliffs.

Glowing cumulus in the evening.


White moth in the full moon light.

Next morning we walked up to the cliff dwellings. We were the first ones in. The gravel floors were neatly raked. The ranger came along and examined our footprints in a raked area. Asked us if we made all of them. Yes. He said he raked it because sometimes people came in after hours. "What do you do if you find tracks, examine the campers' feet?" Kay asked. He said "well, its an idea." Kay laughed, but it was not clear if he intended to be funny. He took his summer job pretty seriously.

We walked up to the hot springs on the west fork. A sign said the water contained organisms that might be harmful to your health, and not to get the water in your nose. We splashed around, probably got some up our noses.

Later I read more about the harmful organism, an amoeba that is usually fatal. Fortunately, it is very rare.

Slept cold again that night.

We went on to a more remote camping spot, but I don't have any notes for that. All I remember is seeing a giant bullfrog in a beaver pond, and realizing that the the silhouette he presented looked exactly like depictions I had seen of the God Tlaloc. A rain god.

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