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Creek Running North

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January 30, 2006

In the Joshua tree forest

Clark Mountain alpenglow

There are sage sparrows at Sunrise Rock, and Bewick's wrens. I had not seen either of them before, as skittish and unbinoculared as all my previous visits have been. Cactus wrens sat atop every rock and tree, it seemed. I waited, huddled around coffee, for the sun to top Kessler Peak and the cactus wrens’ raucous burr, call and response, filled the cold air. Coyotes sang me to sleep last night, and woke me up this morning before the light.

I am in Kingman tonight, and plan to drive up Pearce Ferry Road tomorrow through Joshua trees to the mouth of the Grand Canyon. A waxing moon, its arc the thinnest paring of light, set over the Colorado River tonight.

I walked somewhere between nine and eleven miles today, I guess and subject to revision, and gained a couple-five hundred feet on the Levitan Scale. My morning hike was in a direction I have not gone except by truck, and then only partway. An old two-rut headed through a wash past the north shoulder of Kessler Peak, and junipers with bright blue berries lined the banks. It ended when it could go no further. There was not a cliff, precisely, at least not that I could see, but the way was steep and full of granite spires.

Unambitious, I sat at road's end to enjoy the view. There will be a day when I walk down into that spired canyon to find the inevitable unscalable cliff from which I will be unable to proceed either down or back the way I came and no one will ever find me, or worse, a Starbucks. But not today. Water and a sharp rock to lean against were adventure enough.

A vague shape slid against the blue a mile off downcanyon, and I raised my binocs. Eagle! No, wait. Vulture. But... Raven. No. The downside of having very good binoculars for the first time in my life is that I actually feel obligated to ID specks a mile away. There were white patches on the undersides of its wings. That ruled out raven. Another bird of similar affect joined it, and for a time they spiraled up together on the thermal off the Ivanpah Valley as if joined by a cord. Finally one of them obliged with a closer, full frontal view. A dark band along the back margin of the wings clinched it: a juvenile golden eagle. Make that two: two eagles at once in the same binocular view. This identification was confirmed when an astonishingly small by comparison red-tailed hawk harassed one of the eagles: its body seemed the size of the larger bird's head. An awkward mid-air jostle and the eagle flew away, passing directly overhead. Its white patches were faded almost into black. Remarkable that these new glasses helped me pick them out from a mile off.

There was a moment, walking back to the campsite with plans to eat and break camp and go for another hike, that I found myself stopped. I don't know how long I was there, but it was long enough for my shadow to have moved perceptibly eastward. I wasn't tired, and nothing in particular had caught my attention. I was looking at one Joshua tree out of tens of thousands, listening to the cactus wrens and sage sparrows, their songs dwindling toward noon. I was... I was just there. The forest had Joshua trees in it, and red-spined barrel cacti, junipers and Hilaria grass and eagles, prairie falcons and Audubon's cottontails bursting from the Ephedra, and it had me in it as well, as fitted as the antelope ground squirrel poking out from its burrow, a wild sentience leaning against its walking stick, the desert perceiving itself.

Posted by Chris Clarke at January 30, 2006 08:30 PM TrackBack URL for this entry:

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I love imagining you there; I love thinking about you in your own element. Glad you're letting yourself just be.

Damn fine foto, too.

Posted by: Janeen at January 30, 2006 10:21 PM
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Thank you for letting me into your world.

Posted by: Nikki at January 31, 2006 03:44 AM
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Beautiful. I'm envious.

Posted by: SneakySnu at January 31, 2006 05:46 AM
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The picture took my breath away.

Posted by: Charles at January 31, 2006 07:16 AM
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Beautiful, Chris! Thanks!

Posted by: Dr. Virago at January 31, 2006 07:39 AM
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Great photo, thanks for sharing it. dr

Posted by: dr at January 31, 2006 08:01 AM
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Suddenly I realize that sitting under flourescent lights and staring at a computer screen for more than 40 hours a week in some ridiculous attempt to make a "living" is completely absurd and backward.

Thanks Chris!

Posted by: Rain at January 31, 2006 08:18 AM
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i know the feeling you describe. beautiful image of words.

Posted by: Anne at January 31, 2006 08:44 AM
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you have outdone yourself with that picture. takes me right back to the desert. thanks.

Posted by: dread pirate roberts at January 31, 2006 09:13 AM
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You have just lightened my heart with your sage sparrows (not to mention eagles). Give you joy of them. (And especially give you joy of your binoculars!)

Posted by: Pica at January 31, 2006 09:29 AM
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I'm so jealous imagine a Teratorn flying with those eagles. Has Nothro shown up yet?

Posted by: OGeorge at January 31, 2006 10:47 AM
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Thanks for sharing your beautiful view of the desert with us. I haven't seen anyone write the way you do about the desert since Edward Abbey. Growing up in Arizona, reading Abbey's writing made me appreciate the beautiful place I was in - and you recreate that feeling for me. Thanks.

I'm currently going through my dad's old slides and reliving some of those great trips through the desert we took as kids in the wilds of Arizona, before my mom swore off camping forever after the infamous Monument Valley trip. We came back with the red dirt in everything, and three kids with mumps, and she said she would never go again. Sigh.

Posted by: donna at January 31, 2006 10:52 AM
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That's a beautiful photo. I've always loved that look of light on distant mountains. Am I correct in guessing it's an early morning photo, rather than evening?

Posted by: Rana at January 31, 2006 12:20 PM
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lovely report, great photo.

Posted by: kathy a at January 31, 2006 12:46 PM
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Thanks for a hushed and still moment in my day today; it was wonderful to be able to spot those eagles with you.

Posted by: beth at January 31, 2006 04:06 PM
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Spectacular photo, and transporting writing. Thank you for sharing your view, Chris.

Posted by: Kimberly at January 31, 2006 08:35 PM
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I love alpenglow. Some of my best mental photos are of the Alps in Switzerland, in Gimmelwald; pink and soft. It amazes me how light can soften even the harshest of places. I hope that your trip is restorative and softens the view, at least for a while.

Posted by: Kim at February 1, 2006 12:02 AM
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Re: the song of coyotes. One of the nicest natural sounds (from terrestrial mammals, anyway) you'll ever hear, probably only second in my mind to elk bugling.

Back when I had two dogs and lived on a ranch in California, sometimes we'd hear the coyotes tune up out in the manzanita, and we'd all three go out and listen. If they're positioned all around you, three coyotes can sound like a dozen. I always expected my dogs would howl, or run out there into the brush to give chase, but I never saw my dogs or any others do anything like that. Like me, they listened. Interested, delighted, entranced, for as long as it went on.

Here's a link to a short film (with sound) of coyotes doing their thing:

Posted by: Hank Fox at February 1, 2006 09:25 AM
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