Spirit Of Place
It’s a place, that’s all, just a place ~ a knoll of dust & pebble ~ surrounded by a view, a view with next to no sign of humankind.
There’s a little truck-trail passing by below the knoll. At night time you can see an insignificant group of lights way out yonder ‘tween two dark mountains. Other than that, the place & the view is a home of nature ~ lived in by saguaro & creosote, ocotillo & cholla, thorn & more thorn, millions of tiny little flowers in the early spring, jackrabbit, coyote, lizard, red racer snake, stray cow, an irritable cactus wren, a curled-up baby rattler, a grey tarantula lying on its back, some gullies, a drywash under a sky unparalleled ~ & wavy crystalline distance broken here & there by a few volcanic rock pinnacles ~ & out-further-yonder more mountains of rock ~ craggy rock & piercing thorn.
Just a place ~ where nobody ever goes ~ except me ~ at that time a lone middle-aged man of no permanent property ~ in fact, of no permanence what-so-ever.
I was on my way to San Diego to work & buy more books for the Mule, which was a book store & a monk cell in a one-ton `85 Ford van with dual wheels in the back (hopped thru drywashes like a jack-rabbit). T’was the end of winter & a witto bit into spring or somewhere’s around that time, which was the end of the selling season, a witto ways above the Mexican border in Arizona. On my way outta there I decided to drop by this place, one of my hide-outs ~ and say “Good-bye” to the desert.
A good-bye consisted of indulging in a half-pint of whiskey & a warm 12 oz. can of Coca Cola, mixed together by & by in a coffee cup, standing around looking at the desert, & leaving in the morning ~ or something kin to that.
This was a very holy place ~ to me. I mean, for example, in early spring, in the glittering good-morning dew, when the drywash was a wild cacophony of bird song & the desert floor was a thick carpet of tiny colorful flowers, when I lost the trail & had to step on the flowers to get from point A to point B ~ I felt guilty. Of course you can’t touch the bigger plants when you’re walking along or you’ll most likely get pierced by savage thorns. When I almost stepped on the curled up baby rattler, I certainly did not kill him or even disturb him, but observed the snake, stoic little critter, then walked around him (or her). The whole area, in other words, besides being a hide-out, was also a shrine.
So me & the Book Mule ditched the highway, rattled along a washboard road for, oh, about 7 miles, turned right on a particular wagon trail, hopped thru a few drywashes or whatever you want to call ‘em (arroyos?), lollygagged along with a silent song surrounded by gorgeous desert & sky & no reason why & backed into the hide-outty shrine without bothering a twig just before twilight time.
The wonderment begins. You can hear a pin drop 100-yards away. But when a desert critter lets go a shriek that bubbles thy blood, you wonder whether you heard anything or not. And the only thing making any noise is the bell ringing inside your head. Stark silence is dominant in this realm. If the Author Of All Things has anything to say to you ~ He says it now. Otherwise, you’re deaf & dummified in an eerie land of splendor. So go ahead ~ holler like a coyote!
I stood upon the knoll, cup of whiskey & coke in hand, head bowed, wondering how a ring of rocks at my feet got there. Inside this ring of rocks a few scattered sticks lay. Nearby was a jumbled pile of more sticks to feed an anticipated fire inside the circumference of stones. There were no footprints around here except for my own. How long had a campfire been waiting to be lit here? 100 years? And why hadn’t I noticed this campfire set-up before now?
“Well, I’ll be…”
Then I looked up ~ and what do you suppose I saw? A huge full moon had just slid up into the twilight sky from behind the nearest mountain. Whoa, what a sight.
I gulped down the rest of my heady mixed drink ~ but it really wasn’t that heady. What was going on around here?
Then, behind me, I heard the faint, tiny, but unmistakable sound of a ~ no, it couldn’t be! I swiftly turned ~ and behold! Three desert squirrels with minute musical instruments ~ a midget mariachi band!
No, not really, just kidding. But the mysterious fire ring & the magnified full moon, not to mention the other myriad miracles of twilight-hour tweeking the landscape all around, gave me the distinct feeling that I was not only saying “good bye” to the desert, but the desert was also saying “good-bye” to me.
Ain’t that somethin’?
I didn’t light the fire that night. The following day I took off for San Diego, got work, bought books, and returned the following winter on New Years Eve.
Then I lit the fire. And I had with me half a quart bottle of Old Overholt rye whiskey to make sure we enjoyed the flimmering flames & the swirling stars. We had a, uh, melodious conversation that night ~ me & the quiet, gentle, tremulously shy spirit of that place.
(Copyright Clyde Collins 2012)
Back Desert Trail
Paintings via note cards by Douglas Johnson