Archive for December, 2008

December 10, 2008

“The Mesa–Part III”

We both slipped on the unpacked soil along the steep path up the Mesa, but we always managed to catch each other. I felt stronger every time I had to support you, as if my arms responded to your need. My steps too, became more solid as the trail proceeded, although the climb never eased until the Mesa’s roof.
The path took a sidewinder’s way to the Mesa’s top; by the time we arrived, dusk approached too closely for my taste. You never want to be trapped out in the desert at night, especially in a place where the usual rules of wind no longer seem to apply. We both staggered to the cliff’s northern edge and sat with our legs dangling.

So, what now? I dug my hands into the loose soil by some brush.

It’s beautiful here, you said.

It was. The setting sun cut long shadows across the mesa and the valley below. The pink shades caught on the high contrails left by a few jets first, and slowly, worked their way to the lower nimbuses blowing in from the southwest. They would stop here, if the surface winds were anything like the currents at cloud level.

No stars tonight, I sighed. Perfect.

You rested your hand on mine, in the soil. Have faith, you said.

On cue, the crested blue phainopepla flitted between us, perching on our hands. He chirped his one-note chant, over and over. Up, up, up, he seemed to say. We looked at each other, wondering if we should listen.

Up, up, up

What do you think?

Up, up, up

I shrugged. I guess we should.

We stood up. Immediately, the phainopepla took off and hovered between us. Strange, since flycatchers—including our blue friend—could not hover. He chirped his order again, and darted backward into the currents rushing up the cliff face. In and out of his spiral patterns he spun effortlessly, always calling Up.

So where’s this meaning? I asked.

Your brow furrowed, then released with a bright smile. I think he wants us to join him, you said.

Excuse me?

Join him. You pointed with your chin. Up there.

We’re not birds.


We can’t fly.

At home we can’t fly, you said. We have to climb old towers. But here, maybe here we can. He could hover; why can’t we fly?

I shook my head. It just doesn’t make any sense.

You grabbed my shoulder and chin, fixing my gaze. To do this thing, we have to suspend our reason. And you have to trust me.

Trust you?


Why would that—

You pirouetted about the dusty Mesa floor and I swear the sand swirled independently about your feet. You say time is meaningless here, right?


What else is meaningless? All I see are heaven and earth. I’ve never heard heaven say we can’t fly here, nor earth. So the only laws standing in the way are ours.

Honestly, I found the reasoning poor. Beyond poor—insane. But the way you danced in the dusklight, the way your voice lilted with the possibilities…I had to believe. I suspended reason for the night, and gave in to the sacred Mesa.

If the winds can come together beyond reason to make this place special, maybe I can go beyond too, I said.

You smiled wide, and ran to embrace me.

We approached the cliff’s edge again, hand in hand, our grip tight. You were fearless, so I was fearless. Night had fallen, and the galactic band shone like runway lights. There was no trace of clouds.

I remember the wind tickling my nose as we hung our toes off the cliff’s edge.

I remember how tight you gripped my hand, and how we both breathed in deep before our feet left the ground.

I remember you laughing as the wind engulfed us.

I remember hearing the phainopepla chirp Up, up, up.

December 9, 2008

“The Mesa–Part II”

Our small house was neither in the city nor the desert, but toed the line between realms. This suited us, as you felt more at home in civilization, while I often required the sand’s solitude. And the stars—you cannot see such heavenscapes where many have settled. The sandy wind wore on our skin sometimes; the dry air would parch us, but we had only to look at the sky at midnight. It was at once black with space’s abyss, and blue with the glow of star patches so thick they became liquid light, rippling and pulsing as if a great and gentle hand brushed past them. Running purple and white across the expanse, the galactic band never ceased to steal our breath. A second horizon, thick with countless suns and worlds and the promise of all things. Once you told me you believed the universe was too big for anything not to exist. To take up all that room, all things must be possible. No—all things must be.

Sometimes I would climb the old radio tower in the dusty fields behind our house to watch the stars and, in the spring, listen to the coyotes howl. You never joined me there, thirty feet up on rickety, wind-battered steel.

So it worried me when I woke to find the space beside me empty. From the bedroom window I could see a silhouette on the tower, sharp black against the sunrise. I dressed and ran to the base of the tower.

What’s wrong? I shouted. No answer. Gingerly, I grabbed the centermost lengths of metal at the tower’s base, forgoing the ladder mounted on the side. Even from the more balanced weight I could feel the structure sway at my added load. But once at the top, all motion seemed to cease; even the wind hushed a moment while I tracked your eyes’ path eastward, to the Mesa. You watched the rivulets of sand snake up the sheer cliffs, pushed on by shrieking desert winds. At the top the sand exploded into golden clouds slightly falling, slightly sailing across the Mesa’s flat top. The great rock had always seemed sacred to me, and watching the sandstrings roll up every side, I felt it was a place of convocation so ancient even the winds knew to meet there. But then, winds should not meet, so it was also the kind of sacred place for which I love this desert, where reality yields to a higher order of things, where reason makes way for meaning. For meaning.

We have to go, you said.

I nodded. But not yet, I said. If the Mesa was calling us, I wanted to make certain we arrived prepared. The Mesa could wait after all; the desert knows nothing of time.

We spent the rest of the day on the tower, leaving only once to fetch water, food, and binoculars. Watching closely, you caught sight of a rare treasure: a phainopepla nestled in the sagebrush at the southern cliff’s edge. He was a bright and healthy fellow of deep blues, his tall crest nearly sparkling in the afternoon sun. After half an hour of watching him flit about his bush, it seemed as though he watched us watching him. We traded the binoculars back and forth, but his gaze never faltered.

As dusk approached, we packed away our wobbly lookout and headed for home. Or I did, while you remained vigilant in watching the lone phainopepla. Before I could attempt the precarious descent, laden with cooler and blanket, you tapped anxiously on my leg.

He’s flying! He’s flying!

I took the binoculars. Indeed, the sapphire bird had taken wing on the turbulent currents that had blown sand to spirals in midday. He seemed to follow the same patterns as the sand but, as he had something of a will—more than sand anyhow—the patterns became purpose. They grew into a meaning beyond the flight path; it was our message.

Now we’re ready, you said.

Yes. We descended the tower and made it to the house as the sky darkened enough for the stars to take command of the sky. In the morning, while our neighbors went to work, we would make for the Mesa.

By nine o’clock, we were speeding down a road never taken, and seldom remembered. Despite its desolation, I felt comforted pushing this way, far from all I understood. I’d take my eyes from the road now and again to see your face—bemused as ever, a bodhisattva waiting for me to reach the same enlightenment. The weight of your patience made me drive faster.

It was high noon by the time we reached the road’s abrupt transformation to rocky brush, and the heat only sped the sand up the ridges faster. Only one thin, treacherous path led to the top of the Mesa. Water bottle in hand and nothing else, you sprang to the start of the incline, while I trod slowly behind you. I squinted hard against the sand blown across my face.

You laughed. Aren’t you the one who worships this place?

The desert is best worshiped at is edge. It’s unforgiving.

Have faith, you said, stretching out your hand.

Faith. I looked at the tall ridges cut in the cliff face, at the white sandsea stretching out to every horizon, broken only by the road we traveled. You were the only thing to believe in. I took your hand.

December 9, 2008

“The Mesa–Part I”

I thought for this one I’d try something new: break up a longer piece into smaller episodes. Here is the first.

We told the neighbors who saw us packing that we were headed to the Mesa for hang-gliding. Oh! they said. Then their eyes would drift from us to the car we stood before. We watched friendly smiles drift into confusion when they saw no sport rack on the car’s roof, no metal tubing or colorful folds of nylon stuffed in the back seat. These explanations became almost too awkward by the time we departed down the straight road into the desert. In truth, we had no idea how to explain this sojourn. Explanations, after all, have reasons, and it’s like you said: to do this thing we had to suspend our reason.

When you saw me absentmindedly doodling intricate, chaotic spirals on the morning paper, you tried to stifle a gasp. I asked what was wrong, not so much conscious of the question as reacting instinctively to the sound of your distress.

You don’t usually doodle, you said.

Huh. Guess not.

You took the paper, staring hard at my scribbles. Turning them to me, you asked if I had ever doodled those shapes before.

I shrugged. Don’t think so. Why?

The paper flew off the kitchen table as you rushed to your bag. You tore out your notebook and shoved it under my nose: the same spirals, in the margins of notes on Etruscan pottery.

Weird, I said.

It means something.

Might just be doodles. I spoke it into my coffee cup like a trumpeter mutes his horn. And you pulled my cup down from my face, gazing with a force only your will could summon.

Then we will make it mean something.

I never pretended to have any strength over that gaze. I never wanted any. I took your hand in mine, and your smile sang what wonders we might conjure from doodles.

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