Tuesday, July 26, 2005

Mountains and rivers sutra, again

For a while now I have been occupied trying to salvage old photos, mostly color slides, faded, that have been stored in bad conditions, and some of which, regrettably, are water-damaged. I have far more than I can scan, but I have been scanning the ones I like, and putting the rest in archival storage sheets. Slow going, and it has interfered with my blogging, I suppose.

The batch of photos I just went through were from New Mexico. I have pictures of myself with a bunch of archeologists. I forget now why we were camping with them up in the wilderness above Three Rivers, where there is a big prehistoric rock-art site.

But I remember that it was a summer night and we were anticipating an eclipse of the moon. We had our tents where a bright cold creek smashes out of the high pine forests and slows as if surprised at the sudden change, on its way down into the desert sand where it disappears a few miles from a crazed and heat cracked lava flow which lies at the very bottom of the desert floor. Beneath an alligator juniper I watched Venus, which seemed big as a pearl, and Saturn light up above the gunflint cirrus sunset, and I nibbled on trailmix while the archaeologists got drunk and told extravagant stories full of baroque detail about heroic excavations of the past and the fearful hardships of the present one.

Bats laced the evening air with squeaks.

So I told the story of an earlier night in a tent, in Big Bend in Texas, when I was camped with my girlfriend near the Rio Grande at Big Bend National Park on the hot June night after Robert Kennedy was killed, when we had been forced to sleep inside a tent because of the disturbing feeding habits of the large white bats eating Junebugs. The bats would flop fearlessly down on the ground right beside you to nab their prey, and I had visions of being awakened by a Junebug crawling over me and a bat choosing to flutter down and eat it right at that moment. So, we crawled inside the tent and we didn't get much sleep inside the sweltering tent that assassination night with the occasional thump and scuffle of a bat against the tent fabric. In the morning we found Junebug legs in little double threes clinging to the netting of the windows, signs of an alien world traced like a code on the most intimate and human of habitations, our tent.

The archeologists scoffed, that's nothing, they said, and began telling stories of more painful and/or horrific bug or bat adventures.

During that eclipse night in the White Mountains, later on, the moon got darkened from the lower left, and finally at about 11 o'clock it was entirely a luminous orange-brown, Halloween colored, and all the stars got brighter. It presented the "illusion" (as compared with the flat diskness of the regular full moon) of being really spherical, and it hung in the claws of Scorpio like a kumquat. I went to bed, lay in my sleeping bag and watched the moon and listened to the coyotes sliver the night with their thin yelps, yip yip yee-ip, and I imagined them silhouetted on rocky outcrops slicing out their cries. Crying thoughts of sheepkilling and bone-gnawing.

The next morning I walked up the creek. I had read that Indians never slept by a mountain creek, because of the noise, like traffic; they liked to hear what was going on. The creek noise drowns everything else out. I took a bath high up in the Douglas fir and ponderosa forest to get the desert dust of the day before off, and the snowmelt water hurt and made you numb almost instantly. I bathed in it about 15 seconds, making gutteral shouting noises. Then I kept walking up to the tree line. Up at the top of this space I looked out over the distant bolson, where the stream disappeared, down below at the bottom of the empty sky. Quite a view, but the dip in the creek had taken my breath away already, and you can only have your breath taken away once per walk.

Jim by creek

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