Broad-winged fly on rock shard, ant across pebble terrain. Sun from-behind-cloud-striation early morning blaze. The near ground in sage brush, mid ground in palo verde, cactus clumps catching light. Feathery deciduous trees to left, igneous rocks to right. Maiden hair, crone delight.
Cricket chirp, bird wheet, ant returning over pebbly route.
Farground maize upslope massif-approach. Wash channels separating light from shade. Pale grey fragile purplish plants half way up author-already-mounted slope. Sun warmth cleaving sinuses. Breeze in light up-gusts.
View of plain: tall saguaros cacti; spike-like rock formations against-horizon silhouette. Light washing down through crevice divide.
Relocation. Panoramic mountain rise, saguaros perspective points. Broad-leafed bushes. A progressive down-scale chirp. Fly buzz. Cactus on gravel ground, sun to author’s back. Green-dotted downward slope several miles to foothill upslope pale beiges, red tinctured, first bare-rock emergence. Cirrus overhead wisps, giving way to mackerel involution. Above: pale blue of early morning moving behind ridge peaks.
The tetons project from flatly graded recesses, basin drifting westward.
A fly investigates author’s perspiration, notebook, pen. Breeze page up-whip. Hawk overhead-observation, floating on currents, shunted sideways, propelled by stronger gust, gliding off in double, triple wing-flap. Westward repeat of perspicacity: large, graceful, more tightly circling motion, downward glide.
Dark-skinned mother, black top, turquoise slacks; shirtless father in Levis, boots; white tee-shirted sister, white shorts; baby brother in diapers.
Sand flies attacking author’s lips.
A snake slides past through sage, his tail in three bands of black, white rings interspersed.
Bird overhead downrange passage, ratchet-voiced. Rabbit cautious hop-past, large eye in author attendance. Whee-wheet of nearby bird.
Yellow butterfly flutter-by.
Close up, palo verde structure: sandpiper across-road approach, its yellow filigree acidic, luminescent. Spiky evergreen, tips feathering, reaching sideways; trunks bending inward. Woodpecker’s ke-ke-ke.
Close up, cactus tree-structure: two-trunk spiny brown, receiving light and rejecting it. Arms prickly with luminosity, pendant below with globular clusters. Wind sway, shadow motion of ribbed, inveterate bush.
Lizard slithering in and out of sunlight.
Yellow cliffs, green hills, blue range.
Flaxen-grey roadside formation, green-grey conical sedimentary structure. Black hawk oversoaring roseate upthrust.
Canyon-gulf, saguaro-poled, uptilted plain. Author approaches lake surface, where water nibbles at thousand-foot pink cliffs. Rose-grey hills recede behind a distant blue ridge. A single cactus high on a peak above surveying all.
Waterlevel 90-degree rotation: face of beige, green-moss-dusted cliff, broadly massed. Wind fluttering yellow/green cottonwood. Upward mounting cliffs through road between roadside boulders gap.
Orange and black monarchs into spruce-upgrowth for careful plant by plant investigation.
Prickly-pear cactus leap-off into brown canyon, verdure-deposited vast slope upward to major formations, along a pollen-gold hundred-yard slab. Near ground in dead and decaying palo verde, grey-barked, peeled-to-tan, russet-encrusted branches. Immediate ground in boulders; rocks; stone-fill; gravel; shale. Dragonfly buzz-past. Low bird behind-another chatter.
Small fly into-author’s-ear aggravation.
A forked saguaro in the middle ground.
Sun 60-degree elevation. Clouds in dissipated fiber, multi-intention immanence-significance-presence. Wind off-ridge flurry. White butterfly over-grass-tops dance.
Beside-road thistle, deciduous bush in-window poke. Author head-out-rolled-down-window eight-hundred-foot-red-overhang observation. Toward-canyon abutment in pale-green moss on sandstone, single saguaro at its base.
Canyon-opposite maroon-sandstone-uplift-consideration. Mighty in scale, mighty in mindless massiveness, though a living interaction pervade its myriad particulars. Black-splotched rain-activity runways.
Off-road occluded lake view: solid ridge, steep-ascent mountain face. Green-dappled yellow grass; beige sandstone rock slide; light green gully-wash, carmine striation. Upheaval ridges in lifted plates leading to peak, atop which irregular row of saguaros, four birds in slow holding pattern above them.
Youthful roan leg splay at corner of quilt-fenced lot, palomino diagonally opposite. A gorgeous white spot down his nose, the roan approaches author’s car. Palomino too takes step; pauses; shakes his head. Two bay mares freeze before a grey pickup truck. A sandy close-cropped field leads past grey-brick ranch house.
Behind all: late afternoon sun-touched verdant hills.
Encroaching darkness seeps across an imbricated sky, a heavy range beneath.
High-elevation early-morning pine-scent from sandstone escarpment overview. Purling creek audible below. Charred stump-remains. Evidence of rainwash; pebble revelation, pine needle topping, twig overlay.
Down-escarpment, a single yellow flower, five daisy-like blossoms, four as yet unopened. Earlier bud-displays desiccated brown.
Midday pine/spruce intermingle. Beyond: a great mountain. Not-far-distant shoals of sturdy limestone forested in deciduous, ridges lined in pine.
Heavy grey cloud-cover tumble, breaking up into cumulus clusters as they approach a sunset horizon. Green schist-line descent into grey cirrus stretches, pink-tinged.
Needle bed morning-sun dapple, large/small twig, sere-leaf interspersion. A pine cone half chewed away. A reddish-brown six-inch chunk of wood. Lozenge-shaped five-pound rocks of rouge sandstone.
A green fly circles author’s head.
Watery chirps from distant melodious birds.
A white moth hovers 30 feet away, light catching its wings.
Carpeted in russet, a chute descends, pink-trunk-bordered. A charcoal pine in shade, its bark cross-hatched, its shaded/sunlit needles forming a textured matrix.
Younger spruces lean toward a void.
Four long-needled adolescent pines, still sparsely foliated, angle gently away from each other, maintaining their distance.
Low-growth deciduous trunks in triple, quadruple groupings. An arched pine bent to the ground rises in the wind, its branches making calligraphic shadow-gestures.
Twenty feet distant: a dead, fire-smudged stump, gouged open, ravished by insect, decay, erosion. Carpenter’s refuse fills the cavity’s lower half. Pine needles in stylish disarray lie atop its opening.
To the right: pine-shaft denseness, interaction movements as author sways head.
To the left: near/mid ground rhythms, in shadow, in mild sunlight. Over-left-shoulder view of blighted elms, their branches writhing in arrested witch-like fingers.
Over-right-shoulder rock assembly display: mottled granitic, pitted sandstone, flat feldspars in the sun.
Down-ellipsoid, over-pinetop view of elongated syncline, covered in mesquite ridges, the slope forested in white pines.
Large hemlock branches burdened with cones, their trunks corrugated: ashen deposits in their reddish bark ridges. One of them grows directly from the sandy soil with scarcely a flare at its base. Its trunk is true, deliberate, independent.
Planted in the same plot: a squamous grey-barked tree, its foliage a waxy green. As though with two arms it embraces a fine masculine pine, sending out higher branches to repeat the gesture. The tree culminates in full, confident swags.
Author takes seat on forest floor. Needles at hand are mostly tan, rouge, russet, but some are the hue of Caucasian flesh. By turns the forest carpet is sun-dazzled, dappled, obscured. In amidst soil and pebble have lodged coniferous off-cast in a counterpoint of rouge and rust pods, crumbly to the touch.
Pine and boulder: more beautiful than man; more permanent.
The pine has no physical flaw. If a branch be dead or gnarled, it appears but an adjunct to the total effect. A boulder has no irregularity: it is what it is. Its solidity reaffirms a permanence, its shape a randomness.
The pines in our purview form a near perfect circle. They vary: from free-standing poles to dependent groups of two and three to an intertwined pair, which, slender at base, bows its double arms like a pre-classical, pre-Minoan, Early European figurine. Curving with exact parabolic lines, the paired branches extend upward, bulging slightly, as with a deliberate entasis, to follow a course slightly divergent from the parallel, on to a mutual summit.
The circle’s outer ring is composed of ten trees; three more make up a triangle within; five more, a semi-circle at the larger circle’s center. All are placed as though by some design, however unspecifiable. Together they spread their arms to control a cylindrical volume slightly curved to accommodate the burgeoning middle branches. At its top the cylinder tapers toward an assembly of cones formed by the half-dozen highest members’ uppermost branches. They administer this space without dominating it.
Sunlight strikes the nearest branch of the nearest tree, though the light seems rather to emanate from within its fans of needles. Together they serve as a musical introduction –an arpeggio recurring as leit-motif – to the structure of the tree of which they are part, to the group of which it in turn is part. The undersides of the branches are predominantly dark, their uppersides bathed in light, though our simple model is rendered inadequate by the interplay of light and shade arising from neighboring branches.
To the right of the circle, some twenty yards distant, stands a single heroic pine, like those in the circle, long-needled. At the midpoint of its ascent begins a covering of foliage from a decorously distant holm oak, who shades his neighbor’s lower half, not so closely, however, as to keep rays of sunlight from reaching its foot. His own summit rises clear of the high distant mountain behind, a blue sky reading through his sparser branches twenty feet from the tip, where a ledge of vacancy meets the background ridge. His uppermost needles, themselves less arboreal spire than rocky peak, gently slope upward to conclusion, join with the cottony mass of a cumulus cloud which, as author concludes his observation, moves on northeastward, leaving behind an empty azure envelope, through which drift diaphanous cirrus in the process of nebulous consolidation.
To the left: a patient descending group of epicene warriors, assured in their serene beauty. A group of four, through whose timber a fifth, slightly sturdier, member is glimpsed. The fourth’s lower branches, gently swayed in breeze, catch the highest intensity of light to form a warming wand of seduction. An uprising gust catches successive branches, mounting higher up the tree. Wind muffled, the fourth tree, quiescent, no longer reads as part of a special quartet, but rather as soloist against the ground of a larger woodwind chorus, through the center of which marches a nearly true line of six more instrumentalists. Analyzed, this half dozen reveals a front wall of five members, serried behind which are clusters of vacancy; in their dispositions vis-à-vis one another the individuals belong more to conversational or familial groups than botanical distribution. At mid-breast all merge, their trunks providing the only means of clear individuation, these complex relationships in turn hiding greater complexities.
Free standing boulder through adjacent semi-submerged pendants, through gnarled hackberry group, parasite spotted/spattered. These patches appear as scrofulous spreading disfigurements, blue grey at center, pale-green fringed.
The boulder is ovoid, as though the egg of some superior dinosaur. It is sculpted, maternal, dormant, but hardly dead. Three of the five trees obscure the large rock, which itself is not free-standing but entrenched. Clefts disfigure this hieratic head, which might belong to a gasping, stranded whale.
Behind the boulder stand two white pines, now receiving the warmth of a sunlight that transfigures the trees, infiltrating their russet needles. A robin perches on the boulder, whose surface is dappled in white patches.
Author moves to take seat atop the boulder’s grey solidity. Its surface is pitted, flaked, already degraded by human contact.
Boulder-to-sky trajectory, through deciduous leafage, up past coniferous units, past free-standing intermediate spruces, on past mountain upthrust, through the branches of a towering pine, to reach the clouds, which move at various paces: lethargic bolls, swifter fleece, unraveling gauze.
Mountain-descent quartz-sit, brush surround. Delicate legumes growing out of rocks, in whose crevices the shells of nuts, on whose surfaces sere leaves, grey and russet. An Arizona Cypress emerges crookedly from between two nearby boulders. Two young spruces wave at author. This thousand-foot lower climate is equivalent to elevated conditions experienced three hundred miles to the south.
A wind-inflected symphony of orchestral motions: long grasses, leafy foliage, huge spruces, all pushing in different directions. The quartz is warm to the touch. A bumblebee bumbles past in black jacket, yellow pants.
Sp-ee, sp-ee, sp-ee, says a bird at author’s back, clearly concerned with his presence.
Outward over-small-spruce view toward 40-mile-distant, faintly visible, white-grey mountains, solitary peaks even farther beyond. Toward-author progression: ridge of milk-rust, twenty miles away, topped in cloudy green; foothills in darker green; mid ground, still mist-beclouded, in rouge-rust and lighter green. On up into near ground: sultry carmine, coral, mauve, amidst which a ribbon of pink highway, disappearing into shrub-dusted conical foothills.
The bumblebee returns.
Thunderstorm outburst, wind pushing forward rain-loaded reefs. Gullies suddenly awash with puddles. The tempo increases. Momentous thunder, a second electrical flash piercing the sky. Ca-rack! The water bubbles, its surface pelted. Above, more tidal waves of wind-swept precipitation. Upbeat increase. Followed at once by a lull. Then a
recommencement: gullies flooding, plants awash in precipitation-laden, incoming wind.
After-storm vagueness: sky in mottled lavender-grey; retinal images of whiteness; distant range in fog-bound mirage, the horizon behind muted, softened to grey. In the middle ground shrubs have been subdued by the force of the rain; behind them glows a band of clean-rinsed turquoise sage. Roadside gully-to-river conversion, swiftly flowing, effervescent, white froth scudding over a roiled café au lait. The banks of the streams have filled to overflowing. Now the rain returns to a steady intensity, as across the valley another thunder sequence erupts.
Cool pre-rain Holstein hillside-observation, author outdistancing storm by having driven twenty miles. The cows are smaller than the dark green shrubs they range among, are infinitesimal against the vast pale-green flats stretching beyond. A single peak raises its head, followed by chest and belly tumescence, massive thighs and knees to descend to a water source, which a rancher has captured in a small lake.
Beside which, in a grove of lindens, grazes a family of Guernsey: three mature females, a bull, four young calves, the latter scared by approach of author. Cautiously they edge away, quicken their pace, full of panicky indecision, to achieve proper position in relation to their elders along a narrow shoreline trail. Distant thunder continues to rumble over the passed-through plain, over cavernous valleys just traversed. On the small lake’s opposite margin a family of four Holsteins grazes under gradually graying skies. At last the thunder abates, the distant skies begin to clear.
Highway 666, heading north, exiting Clifton. Two-hundred-foot disharmonic folds at 35-degree angles, reddish white detritus, low scrub in emerald. We have joined another slope of half the steepness, deeply gullied in dark red sandstone, darker scrub.
At the intersection of the two folds rises a 50-foot copper refuse mound, a hundred yards across. Fundamentally grey, it is streaked with veins of black; beige; eggshell; cupric yellow. The first signs of human activity appear in the form of a tonsured peak. Atop the summit sits a giant radio antenna.
Having entered Morenci, we exit again by Route Triple-Six, past another man-made ridge of mining detritus, composed of upper and lower courses in tan and brown. As we swing around the curve of the narrow road a theatrical space opens out in white and green, a long flat slope of intermingled sandstone and foliage topping a hill behind. We enter as though into a lunar landscape, the mining operation having produced a crater-like spill of red sandstone onto a beige limestone base.
One turn higher out of Morenci, mounting steadily, we discover the source of the refuse: a mountain has been cut away: twenty-four terraces in magenta, russet and gold; in green cupric oxide interspersed with red. Black tarmac connects the stages. Beyond, more evidence of the operation: a giant slag heap, mountainside devastation.
Top-of-mountain-view (upper terrace) downward-glance reveals that ledge author was standing on hid full view of the vast amphitheater, which now opens out before us. We peer down into the open pit, where mining is still in progress. From its white floor the eye rises through yellow ore-lode to green-stained deposits. Recent rain has puddled the terraces in a dirty turquoise.
The breeze picks up, wafting the aroma of cupric oxide across the theater’s rain-rinsed rim, across abandoned mining sites, run-off gouged, in various stages of deterioration. To the east, through conical hills a multi-peaked scape emerges, alternately red and green, brownish in the shade.
Early-morning whole-world presence. General hum of wind through pines. A gnat’s high whine. Dead skunk smell.
Author stands before a 220-degree view. Off his left shoulder: a monster-shaped mountain, its shoulders hunched; neckless, overbearing, its base is hidden by an intervening ledge. In the distance, conical hills, verdant with scrub; a further dark blue range; beyond, an upward sloping mesa. The sun caresses the middle ground, which rises in yellowish fantasy peaks, grey-green encumbered.
Flowers: a gloved bonnet in palest magenta; another in saturated mauve; tiny caps in chromium. Red bell-shaped flowers awave in the breeze. Lavender delicacies about a charred stump. A light green cactus, its arms ending in new growth, its fingers made of white blooms, red-stamened. Purple flowers descending into a sunlit glade, it in turn awash with coral-blush-blossoms on grey-petalled stems, a field of desert paintbrush beyond.
Suddenly two deer in the roadway, brown-eyed deep-consciousness regard. Sure-footedly they scamper off the shoulder, on down a 45 per cent grade.
Upland meadow sparse green on fine grey gravel; young spruces, low junipers ornament the scene. Four cows (white; brown; tan; black). Author, in careful non-interference posture, approaches for observation. Once seated, he glances up to find that all four have disappeared.
Scree-scree of small bird. Crow caw.
Nine-thousand-foot elevation piñon-juniper upland sit, sun-warmed/sweater-removed author islanded among fair trumpets, lupin, columbine, mutton grass, a Gambel’s Oak in near ground. At his back, multitudinous evergreens: white fir, with its fang-like featheriness; Douglas Fir, with its parsimonious branches; spruce, juniper, cedar.
Overhead, amidst full sunlight, the scene darkens; an ominous slate-undersided cloud dominates two thirds of the upward-visible sky.
Two black flies, copulating, descend ponderously onto notebook page.
Under foot: the splendid detritus of recently rain-washed forest clearing, rich brown-black humus, wood fragments, rock shards, intermingling almost indistinguishably. The double buzz of fly and bee.
Two meandering insects explore involuted crevices.
A white pine tilts, reorienting the universe.
Mt. Mickley: locust, vetch and rue beneath a blackjack pine.
Undergrowth scumble, scramble, tumble. Rocks of a piece now broken apart.
Lightning-wasted pine, slivered to stump, its open trunk gorged upon by insects, turned to bark-mould. A tall tree, adjacent, its needles in bright russet.
A blasted log of ancient vintage, stripped of its bark by time, its subcutaneous surface beetle-bored to reveal a grey, satin film, mushy to the touch.
A not-so-majestic Douglas Fir, its phallic arch serene amidst lost
needles, lost branches, lost beauty. Chewed pencils of burnt wood, as though stuck in instead of growing out of its ancient trunk.
Higher still, ten thousand fluttering birches.
How the pine lives. Singly; in pairs; in small groups; in large families; in groves; in forests. Ringing small glades, surrounding whole meadows. In semicircles off the sides of mountains. On ridges rarely, if ever, traversed. In single file, in double file. Planted by man, more often self-planted.
As here: with cones at its feet, with a sapling nearby. With an equable underfoot of needles, cast-off branches, twigs. With bright faced ferns (in the sunlight), facing upward. With dark-faced forms (in the shadows), somberly contemplative. All nonetheless waving gently, nervously, in the mid-morning breeze.
With fellow saplings all bent westward.
With sunlight as it almost halfway encircles the trunk. With cloud to mute the light. With air to breathe and to be breathed into.
With the kingdom of friends, beasts, birds, enemies, insects.
Open meadow, fine creamy flowers lightly dusting tan grasses, these giving way to muted greens, in turn to taller emerald growth, interspersed with randomly clustered golden cecropsis. Little spruces, little firs; mid-sized spruces, blue and blushing; cloud-like cedars; all surmounted/pressed upon by pines.
Grey roadside gravel gives way to daisy, clover-filled pasture grass, where ten adults, one calf are grazing. Rrunch, rrunch of cropping mouths.
The calf lies resting, or asleep, in the high grass.
Mountain downpour percussion: tree-cleansing, rivulet-starting. Followed by drizzle decline, cloud-browed-sky light-infiltration. Trees in mist-shroud. Modulated thunder, as storm activity moves elsewhere.
Drip; drip; gentle sprinkle. Water flashing in rivulets, running progressively clearer.
After-shower large upland-meadow consideration. Five horses, two in conversation, standing before one another, changing from left cheek on left cheek to right on right. One is a brown-forelocked bay, the other
white with black forelocks. Surrounding them, a studious group composed of outward-facing chestnut, grazing tan, author-regarding grey. A solitary sorrel pursues her activities 40 yards distant.
Three youthful riders approach to circle a small herd of trough-feasting milk cows.
Across the plain more cattle are visible: Black Angus, Poled Hereford, almost lost in the waist-high beige grassland.
In the after-rain somberness a black dog trots down the asphalt highway.
Author receiving radiant heat from volcanic roadside boulder, view toward sensuous pasture, its tall grass waving, white wild flowers intermixed with violet and saffron.
Through a barbed-wire fence, a meadow carpeted in daisies.
A pastel-green, perfectly-mounded volcanic rise, touches of evergreen at its crest, thickening clumps on its downslope.
Clouds in a light grey weave lead the eye to their smoky interiors, to misted, secret passages, their undersides trailing off into wisps of precipitation. The sky has opened westward into a smudged grey-blue against a white foundation.
Author gazes past pines into the starry night, into its flood of luminosity, at individual constellations, at the Milky Way. A rabbit rustles past through blackened brush.
Horizonal flush, followed by darkness. Again, the star-brightened heavens, ever receding, ever enlarging. For reference points only the faint yellow of pulsating stars.
He peers into dusky surround, its smoky black, its nebulous grey. Stars appear through trees outlined only in charcoal.
The galaxy is dissolving, others are forming.
A cabin light in the distance.
Two-county dawn landscape, one view behind, one ahead. Welcome to the world of the butte. Pines adieux, hello scrub.
Miniature mesa, midground feline descent. Behind which, distant ridge-rise sudden alizarin eruption, shaded hollow, high under-cloud linear continuation. Behind which, white-grey, barely discernible, gentle horizon blue.
White irruption of pure sandstone gashes, misty grandiose mesa activity. Sudden single nearground bending deciduous upthrust. Distance continuation in new sunlit mode: vagueness, plenitude.
Mid-morning from-highway view, through near ground cutaway rush: brown sandstone, red crustiform banding, white-veined trough. Sudden roadway descent into mid ground, prospect of white chalky cliffside in far ground.
Into/through precipice-regard. Outward valley landscape northward tail end. White cliff eastward recession, beyond which sunstruck, irregularly-chiseled, hillocked, pale red bluff-emergence. Westward distant sprinkled mesa movement, into white downward-slope, sunlit level top, blue ridge beyond.
A field of lavender-blossomed horse nettle, mid-range light-leafed Arizona Walnut, honey mesquite; bland intertexturing of wind, grass, bare plain.
A diminutive cypress, its gnarled trunks intertwined.
Southwestward: peaked cumulus distant ground, above it blue-grey sooty humpback configurations, one assertive, one more modest. Quickly they metamorphose into island states, their misshapenness accountable for by overswooping white blowby – fierce-upper-wind indication. Beyond: a menacing, overarching, grey-bottomed, white total-event.
Above: heavens mottled in cosmos-formation, inside-out, concave-convex-complex. Dissolution into further widening wash-substantial swirl, a figured depth overhanging gorgeous light grey designer smudge.
And abruptly into a blue field, light reflected off new white cumulus, overlain by gallant soot dab. Suddenly a rainbow patch, red, yellow, greenish-blue, at 30 degrees, isolated, reading against galactic wisp, stationed in between overarching zenith mass and huge Gondwanaland formation, the latter ceding its interior to other masses of cumulus, grey vagueness, distant white-faced puff formations, pale blue sky.
Author continuation. Hello red, hello green above: roadside layered sandstone in Arizona red (below), in greenish blue (above), tufted grass growing out of its ledges. Closer approach: red stone, red dirt, red dust residue sifting down from rock whose squarish forms suggest early pre-mortar masonry.
Pale green ground cover on ledge’s horizon, eye rising from cypress to shrubbery to yucca. Backdrop of dark green bush-spatter.
On up highway, to red sandstone pillar cluster, congealed lump with elegant shafts. Eastward-formation, vegetative clutter on its indented sides (first stage), beige, pink-striped, glory-filled creation (second stage). Arabesque of solid green on beige outline tracery. To upswept down-sliding orthoconglomerate in lighter vegetation beige. On across its horizon to intersection with flat-topped dark evergreens on neutral ground of erosion-bedded solid mass, tiny leafed desert tree in foreground.
Ten-miles-downroad author pauses before a buttressed, nearly conical structure, slip-slide vegetation upgrowth, long downside in gentler grasses. Pert truncated pyramid in deftly punctuated periodic units. Then onward to looming sculpturally balanced sheen-thrust, undergirded with rib-roast orange-red supports, next to which the inner face of light beige shelf. Northward retrospect of same foundation, profile effects: bulbous inward-chiseled rhythms in delightful downgrade sostenuto.
Thence to centrally situated bell-rock and her delicate distant cousin, the white girl. Crossroad genius of upsurge, structure repeated in overhead northeast-tending cloud mass, a blond Amiens of cumulus, lofty, comforting, but opportunistic. And transient.
Canyon-bottom through-trees freshet-glimpse, under glow-green deciduous umbrella, past cypresses, red pines, shale agglomerative chunks, whited on their surfaces; nearby barley grass, orange-cupped flowers, double prickly-pear cactus.
The canyon’s breadth viscerally unsettling, top to grey-bouldered depth too great for sidestepping down into. Trees on its downland face skewed in perspective, sloping up authorward, mountainward, skyward, as they say who we are, alors. Great patches of matrix conglomerate splay the divide between lower slope and upward rise, itself mostly strewn with mixtite fall. Above which, ledges in blackened/whitened striation, leading to eye-level cap, on which sits a mound, a double mound, a mammary vulva, deeply inroaded with generative pines, over which a lordly phallic spire.
A freshet, flood-backward flowing, viewed from author’s posture on pitted scoriaclasts. To: three-thousand-foot summit growing out of elm, hackberry, feathery locust. Cleft in near streamside branches offers prospect of white-patterned surface-dance over brownish bottom, where moss-covered, rounded magnetic pyrites read as dark, then as lighter innocuous elements in the stream, which washes them as it whistles forward.
Downstream, through-foliage larger clumps of rounded grey boulders, the brook’s plane slanting shoreward. From its fall behind author it flows swiftly by, lingering to divide as it passes dry-topped stepping stones.
Feet in water (five miles farther up), a different matter: the stream no longer stream, nor creek, but little mountain brook.
Author in shade, page in half-light, boots on rock in sun. Water falling at back, gurgling to crest of rock, sliding over it to dabble amidst stones, to eddy, to form a pool, out of which more eddies, as the flow crests a ridge, holds there in suspense, forms double intersecting arcs with adjacent holding pool, then ripples outward to convergence.
Feet now warm again, not yet quite dry. Upstream breeze in cool effect.
Boulders tilted upstream into sun and self-revelation: a lumpish mass, igneous and grey; a porous volcanic lozenge sleeping on the bank. Within the verges tall duck grass in clumps attach themselves, their roots moss-laden.
A leaf floats past; submerges, nearly catching under rock; floats on its back; flips over to continue on, surmounting a dam, overtaking other leaves. It settles in a pool, turning one way, then the other; dips, and is off around the bend.
Dragonfly, in awkward jerky indecisive flight, heads in leaf’s direction; settles mid-course on a rock; flitters, alighting on a clump of thick horse-hair-like verdure, moss in a velvet robe about whose base.
A minnow in its upstream course, pausing, darts successively to three corners of the nearby pool; no exit to be found, it returns to the center.
Black butterfly, its wings in white lace-like finials, floats toward author; stops; circles full three hundred and sixty degrees; returns downstream.
What, then, of the cliffs, of the altitudes, of the higher reaches? We begin in the near ground, with a clump of five tall pines, so tall that only the lower, evenly scaled trunks can be seen without tilting the head. Conveniently the central tree shades author from a declining sun, still five degrees above the highest cliff.
From the pines, so tall and straight, so sparsely branched and needled, to the two willows on either side, growing out of the bank recently visited. They catch the light and hold it, or their long leaves let pass the light transformed.
The sun retreats behind a cloud. The willows rest, awaiting something. The breeze! Which rustles them, making them nod, their leaf-laden tentacles gesturing up and down.
On the further shore stand two darker, more mature deciduous trees, matrons secure in one another’s friendship, overseeing without judgment the nearer shore. The light returning catches their upward reaches, turning flat apices to golden heads, enlivening these now more youthful-appearing figures.
Beside their equals, then above – more solitary, grand – begin the greater conifers, red pine and white, cypress and fir, who find their improbable setting atop a sheer, russet sandstone face, whose slate falls have left deep brown impressions.
Above the reddish mountain slope, in a rarer ether, loom its higher reaches – grey-washed beige shale – surmounting a footing of finely wedged-in yellow sandstone, faced with sparsely spaced pines. These high cliffs are bastion-like, the fortress at their summit guarded by yet another row of evergreens, too distant for clear distinction by species. The conifers continue like a mighty bulkhead, a hundred yards across, subsiding into a deep cleft, only to flourish forth again yet more ferociously.
The sun has disappeared. Its light, though, suffused around the corners of a central grey mist-mass, gives to the general scene a muted but clarifying definition: pine trunk, leafy tree; red, yellow and grey cliffs layered in sequence.
To the left of the fortress a brilliant cloud emerges, backlit by a falling sun. It silhouettes the row of peaked evergreens, whose essential character nonetheless persists. A grey cloud mass darkens the scene; the page goes dull, the mountainside dutifully quiet. As the grey deepens, a hint of rain to come. Birds circulate with an air of expectancy.
In-forest steady-rainfall dusk observation. Nearby boulder assemblage: sandstone, lichen-covered volcanic, metamorphic facies. The metamorphic alone glistens, its surface repelling droplets.
Under the force of wind and rain, oak leaves bounce and rebound, flutter their upturned faces to reflect for an instant the waning light.
Confident in their positions, the absorbent trunks of conifers, black with moisture, have not yet beaded.
Canyon observation, as steady rain turns to downpour: higher limestone reaches sheathed in mist, sheets of water cascading down their fronts. Ponderosa pines sway gracefully in the wind. Leafy trees stoically endure successive waves of gust-blown rain.
Lakes of water begin to form – have formed – at base of/between standing bankside pines; the pocking bubble-dance modulates into a symphonic turbulence. Elsewhere – on the surface of large-pitted volcanic boulders – potholes serenely receive drops, one, two, three at a time.
Thunder makes its play, but half-heartedly: subsidence is imminent. All waters have found – have had determined – their exitways and now, diminished, diminishing, they see the end in sight. The rain abates in fury but does not cease. The wind is gentle yet firm. The sprinkle continues to penetrate ponderosa umbrellas.
Near-author pine immense in light/darkness, the black outlines of others searching skyward. Wind up-motion in apparent concert with the object of its resistance. Tree top shake-out/down-sprinkle leads to an
intuition that the rain has recommenced. The pine-breath/fertile-stenched soil has not yet had enough. Across-gorge rises a dampened, darkened form, not mountain but cuesta.
Storm at last depleted, author resumes new station, 30 miles distant, amid freshly rain-washed brown loam and grey pebbles, a pale green stand of grass in the sun.
Bands of Apache Pines mount a mesa on separate shelves, each tree-high.
By morning, the winds deflated, atmospheric clarity returns; cross-horizon gradations of pale blue, azure, cobalt. High over straight-ahead rocky saddle, a robin’s-egg void filled with lazy stratocumulus, wheeling crows, one taking off from the grass in arduous ascent.
Noon glare above volcanic crater, rim peak sharply defined, blow-out shelf beyond; smaller, darker peak. All forested in long-needled pines, bright evergreen shrubbery at base. Foreground splay of brown-eyed Susan, attentive, wayward, easy, sweeping on to an undulating stand of roadside pines.
A single palled cloud over wooded slopes that lead past conifers to upland grasses. An afternoon peak, in tan, delicately washed with foliage. A second peak, its upper reaches still snow-dusted.
Lava-spew (ploughed-field illusion), followed by remnant lava-flow commencement (dunelike hills in mocha, valleys in grey-black). Dust from abraded volcano debris.
Sun bright, sky clear. Linnet to ponderosa branch; quick departure; glide on into volcanic vale; arrival at pine cone; resettlement on fist-size rock.
Heavily encrusted, highly porous boulder sitdown. Cumulus over snow-capped peak, triangular pine atop it. Beside the road, lavender thistle-broom, three-feet-high. Blasted cedar stump. Dappled vulcanite ground-scatter.
Author mounts cinder path to arrive at juncture of two abyssal plains. Along the black upslope, a wind-indented umbrella pine; a hyaloclastite boulder. A florid venereal butterfly, sunstruck green, into-lava-spew directional indication.
Higher still, onto volcanic slope, pine-spotted, grass-ridged. Past red-berried inedibles, past yellow snake’s brush, abruptly into boulder-scattered incline. Past pine heart-high upstart, head-high spill-rock to russet-needle-covered upslope in pure black ash.
Onward to valley’s heavily shadowed crevice conclusion.
A subtle scene: yellow desert buttercup at author’s cuff, leafless spike bush. A large-eared jackrabbit has sequestered himself behind a breeze-infiltrated Arizona Cypress.
Black-grey ash-dusted cuesta to west, blocks of argillite; large purplish, rust-red outcrop. Back southward, a similar geologic disposition, topped by mounded cumulus, the foreground in shadow-darkened bulbous piñon.
Through barb wire strand: a grey-pink, mauve, whited-green terrace, atop a hazy mesa, cuesta-shaped cloud formation overhead. At twenty degrees a longitudinal taffy pull, splayed and softened.
A curving ten-mile desert route-incision, brown-velveteen shoulder, purple-washed fringes speckled with cinders. Beyond, a low pastel green, piñon-landscaped hill, the near ground overspread with pulverized breccia.
Colorado plateau northward renouvellement: weather cooler, sage crisper. Fossilized plain tilting upward, leveling; long limestone shelf, ten miles distant, hardly distracting horizon line; its downward slopes are gradual with pale foliage, whited watercourses. Over mauve-layered reaches, a dark green skein of vegetation.
Further to south, in mid ground one mile distant, a low pistachio mesa extrudes itself, slotted with rouge sandstone shelves.
Moenkopi Plateau midday panorama, sun near zenith, southern hillcrest bare but for wind-waffled sage; mounded cumulus, blue-fronted, grey on its underside.
True butte, fall-off rims, gullied slide. Pebble, rock, stone variety ranging black to white, mudstone to quartz, conglomerate interspersed. The superficial landscape also an agglomeration: of debris, fine grasses, water-washed-free pink sand interstices.
Second panorama, ten miles east of first, looking back on cliff formations, pleasant cooling wind on author’s face, temperature 85 degrees: a ten-mile-wide stretch of playa, sporadically light-green covered, nubbed in darker fabric.
Beyond: several miles of red sandstone, green sward encroaching upon it, sloping to a pink mesa with green ingrown upper ledge. Followed by miles of vagueness.
Author pink mesa-top sit, queasiness overlook into yet another hitherto unseen landscape type: dryer, moraine-gouged, appreciably less habitable/inhabited. Single piñons separated by great distances. Boulder down-rush for more than a hundred yards. Black carboniferous streaking of pale sandstone.
The wind buffets, moderating 95-degree heat. From vantage point to horizon 50, perhaps 75 miles.
Cool breeze, 55 degrees. Sun up over horizon but not yet up over cottonwood stand. Sand dune, glistening in the sun, gives way to limestone col, which deepens from pale pink-tinged buff to ocher-grey. It in turn gives way to intervallic grey pebble, to dun-colored dune, which rises gently but steadily to a twenty-five-foot crest, coming to rest above author’s head.
Delicate yellow desert flowers; isolated clumps of desert beard; pale green clusters of sage. Fingers of author’s writing hand chilled by the wind.
A large ant, having climbed atop his boot, pauses indecisively.
Canyon overlook, northeastern sky in cloud cover. A swallow, veering below the rim, descends into the hollow; beneath: sheer, inward-slanted sides drop two hundred feet down carbon-patterned, water-stained, pink sandstone.
Far below, a turquoise river, its circuitous tributaries tracking the canyon’s floor. Cottonwoods back up away from its sandy shore into a copse, continue single file along the water’s edge, open up again on the opposite shore. Beyond the stream, cultivated fields, horse-ploughed in irregular furrows.
Canyon second overview, 600-foot drop. Opposite-bank billion-ton sandstone mass, layered top, mighty bottom, each intervening stratum swirled; below, a bottom bedding plane detached, supported by conical mounds.
A tiny cow, as though in slow motion, departs from an enclave, disappearing into the shadows of a cottonwood grove. A rooster’s crow is amplified by the canyon’s recesses. The riverbed divides, its far half resting on red salt pillow, its near half on buff-colored, green-glazed limestone. Author looks down onto bordering trees from almost straight above.
Downstream two mules – one white, one brown – negotiate the river’s course, wading shallow waters. The rooster’s crow reechoes. In progressive bursts of energy a flea follows a line across author’s notebook page.
On the canyon floor a sudden outbreak of barking: the mules, accompanied by a farmer, are passing another farmer’s hut. Fifty feet below us a black hawk rows by, the sun silvering his wings.
Third view into canyon: nearby descending wind-shaped Permian, tilted. On the distant floor a flock of sheep; an uprooted tree fallen by the river, whose rippling is audible three hundred feet above. A prehistoric lizard pauses several feet from author, then scampers to the ledge.
Four buffaloes feed at a trough. Nearby a salt lick has been pushed off its stanchion. Light strikes each of the animals, one on its hind parts, one on its forelock, one on its flank, one on its nose. As they shift their positions a fifth – a baby calf – emerges into view.
The first of the females, drooling spittle, approaches, a brand seared on her rump, her large eyes attentive. Cautiously she moves to fence position twenty yards away, from which to view author. A second female approaches, accompanied by her calf, taking up position downfence from first arrival.
The large bull departs from the salt lick, ambling over to join the two cows and calf. In his fur leggings he wearily shuffles fenceward, his beard almost reaching the ground, his hind legs remarkably slender. Left behind at the trough, the third female, using her snout, tosses green hay in the air.
Author to lakeside campsite for final Arizona overnight. The sun is declining quickly. Stocked fish splash, as they leap above the lake’s surface, centered by a limestone extrusion, as though in reminiscence of the great landscapes. The shore is lined in dull grey outcrop. Overhead a yellow cumulus in perdurable stasis accumulates rose luminosity. As the sun breaks through, it turns the cloud to gold. On the water’s deep blue surface the reflected image reads as twenty feet submerged.
Evening has almost fallen. Venus, alone, hovers over the brown earth mass in a lavender-light-strewn western sky.