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Creek Running North
October 03, 2004
From the field
Dust devils followed me all the way into Arizona. At times they would pitch their shoulders, lean toward my truck as I sped past. It was a struggle to stay in lane.
I keep seeing ghosts at roadside. Someone flagging me down, and I look and she's not there. In Bakersfield this happened, and in Barstow and Needles. Outside Blythe, I stopped at a set of intaglio figures, old native artwork scratched into the desert pavement, people 170 feet tall atop a mesa. I stood and watched the Colorado River roll past.
In the center of one of the figures' heads: a pile of broken brown glass.
My hosts in Tucson were generous and gracious, and their party a delight. Writers I've admired, offspring of late writers I've admired, all sitting convivially above a dry wash as the quail and coyotes sang. At last year's party, Bill said, a rattlesnake sauntered past a group of guests on a narrow part of the patio, heading deliberately between their toes. No panic ensued. Those guests were all herpetologists.
I parked the truck at the base of a tall, hot mountain covered with such snakes - and cacti and ocotillos and woodpeckers - and hiked to the top yesterday. At a saddle atop the first canyon, a large boulder offered shade, and I accepted. The rock felt good against my back as I opened my throat and poured water down it. And listened, for some minutes, to the silence of the desert. A noisy silence: flies trying to drink from my brow, gila woodpeckers' insistent calls, the whirring cacophony of cactus wrens.
And the flapping of wings. I looked up to see two black vultures inspecting me. Sixty miles west of here in the Cabeza Prieta, it's a safe bet that any person they find leaning against a boulder in mid-day is fit for them to eat.
We made eye contact, and they arced away reluctantly. Not yet, I said. Not yet. Soon, far too soon. But not yet.
Posted by Chris Clarke at October 3, 2004 06:51 PM
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I love the desert, and especially the gila woodpecker and the cactus wren. Watching them slip in and out between the cactus spines... too amazing.Posted by: susurra at October 4, 2004 10:09 PM
what a treat - something to read during the drought. hurry home, and bring stories. lots of them.Posted by: Anne at October 5, 2004 10:14 AM
I am also quietly amused (and pleased) by the snake-visits-herpetologists story.Posted by: Rana at October 5, 2004 03:23 PM