May 18, 2006

Tsé bit'a'í

Ship Rock - Tsé bit'a'í ("Rock with Wings") , northeastern Navajo Nation

I remember a time when I lived back out in the desert. I still see the views, smell the smells, and can often feel the breeze. It’s a hot desert. And what it lacks in heat it surely makes up for in both length and width. I remember riding across the Res. in my gray truck to get water at the spring near Klagetoh, AZ. They had sweet-water there, and occasionally the trading post had ice. I could drive for hours, hundreds of miles with my skin friend Phil, and we would say not a single word. We would listen to the young guy from Virginia, often drowned out over the rush of wind through the open windows. I’d listen to those odd combinations of muffled nervous speech and hot air, feeling the motor run and wheels roll forward, and wonder if I wasn’t really moving forward so much as the view was approaching.

You can see down the road there. I mean w-a-y d-o-w-n the road. I found luxury in those distances, and in those views. You had time to get ready, time to prepare, time to anticipate and ruminate. Seeing the glow of a town well off into the night sky as you approach through the cool night air. You’d take note of the insects light patter on the windshield through the low flats, and comment aloud at the large splatters as if there was a score being tallied. Waving to the few people you’d see along your way. You never really knew when one of them would be your newest compadre in some unfolding circumstance of road side repair. Watching for angora sheep and noting how the water rushed across the landscape in the summer showers kept you plenty occupied.

Phil and I would set up camp as he would offer me some insight to ways of the world through random stories of his past usefulness at the homes of ex-wives. He affectionately referred to them as number one and number two. I never asked. The Virginian would let me know why I set up camp in the wrong place, and would wonder, aloud, how I could possibly be compelled to think it would rain.

The night would pull up underneath the heat and light of the day and I’d watch the Milky Way take shape for my own personal viewing. Between shows Phil would watch me offer instruction on how not to build fires like a white man. He loved that part. It usually meant that dinner coming soon, and Phil often grumbled about low blood sugar. Then we would critique and sort through the remaining wood-fuel offered by our surroundings, using the best cooking sticks for those ever so important final stages of the dinner prep. Fat and happy after eating, we would sit and enjoy being drunk on our own blood, and continue conversations that had been developing over years.

Phil would speak to me about the nature of the supernatural. Our Virginian friend would nearly be poised to begin taking notes. I would listen, generally half engaged, and wonder what experiences town would entail upon our arrival at the Monte Vista down on San Francisco Street in Flag. The month before, we had had what I thought was the pleasure of being impromptu bouncers at the local pizza house. Phil found it distasteful, but I enjoyed the meal on the house.

The morning would place me watching the early light play at low angles though the small sage, waiting for hot water and the pending complaint of a wet night in the tent. I would think about Henry Holyoak Lightcap setting off in a battered pick-up truck for his ancestral home with his dying dog and his memories. I couldn’t see were home was, but I was sure Phil could be my memories, the Virginian would be the dog by default. He wouldn’t set up his tent down near the arroyo tomorrow.

"One final paragraph of advice: Do not burn yourselves out. Be as I am --- a relunctant enthusiast . . . a part-time crusader, a half-hearted fanatic. Save the other half for yourselves and your lives for pleasure and adventure. It is not enough to fight for the land; it is even more important to enjoy it. While you can. While it's still here. So get out there and hunt and fish and mess around with your friends, ramble out yonder and explore the forests, encounter the grizz, climb the mountains, bag the peaks, run the rivers, breath deep of that yet sweet and lucid air, sit quietly for a while and contemplate the precious stillness, that lovely mysterious and awesome space. Enjoy yourselves, keep your brain in your head and your head firmly attached to the body, the body active and alive, and I promise you this one sweet victory over our enemies, over those desk-bound people with their hearts in a safe deposit box and their eyes hypnotized by desk calculators. I promise you this: you will out live the bastards." – Edward Abbey

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