Chapter 15 from Doug's book Walking It Off
My drop off slows and turns onto the off-ramp of highway I-8. The pavement runs back under the interstate to the south then dead-ends on a dirt farm road and a dusty network of abandoned tracks into fallow jojoba fields -- planted rows of the native bean plant used in shampoos and cosmetics-- that was once the equivalent yuppie agricultural dream of a kiwi farm in California.
Now the desert is reclaiming its uncharitable territory. This narrow strip of cultivated land running along the southernmost freeway in Arizona and the adjacent Gila River clings most precariously to a domestic life dependent on imported irrigation water; this is the driest, emptiest, most unforgiving landscape in the entire country. The desert here receives only about three inches of rainfall a year. No one lives here and no one visits, at least legally. The Sonoran Desert south of these fields is used by the military as a bombing range -- named after a local politician who wanted to bomb the commies back to the Stone Age. This gunnery range occupies a sizeable chunk of land, an irregular strip running 125 miles east to west and reaching some thirty or more miles south towards Mexico. The section between here and the Mexican border is the "hot" part of the massive range, the place that gets most of the actual live air to ground rocket and cannon fire.
South of the bombing range lie more empty lands: The Cabeza Prieta Wildlife Refuge, Organ Pipe National Monument, and the Pinacates -- a National Park on the Mexican side. Collectively, the area offers the longest linear distance across unoccupied road less country in the lower forty-eight. I intend to walk across it.
A deserted, rutted jojoba road at the edge of the great desert dead ends three miles south of the freeway. I will begin the walk here, walking for a week or more, eventually coming out near Ajo or Organ Pipe National Monument. I have taken seven of these hikes since 1979, always alone, usually traversing the empty land here end to end, covering maybe 130 or 150 miles, sometimes a little less depending on the route. This trip is different. I plan on traveling due south, on a new route across the hottest part of the range where they do their live firing. This is my first long solo desert walk in many years
and the first of any real length since I almost bled to death in Nepal. It is also the one walk Ed Abbey and I planned but never took.
I shoulder the big backpack, heavy with three-gallon canteens of water tied to the frame. It is late afternoon, actually almost sunset. The gullies and eastern slopes of the Aztec hills are in shadow. I struggle up a low hill, step over the blunted ridge top, and slide behind the silhouette of the mountain, finalizing the departure from the visible industrial world. Though I can still hear the distant sounds of trucks north on the freeway, before me lies an endless expanse of desert hills, bajadas, not another human on the ground until Highway Numero Dos, just south of the international border -- a full week's travel.
Off to the east I see a sign marking the boundary of the bombing range. I walk over for a look:
"AVISO! WARNING! USAF Gunnery Range. Unlawful to enter without permit of the installation commander. (Sec. 21, Internal Security Act 1950, 50 USC 797.) Equipment, ammunition, scrap and bomb fragments are U. S. Government property. Do not remove. Unauthorized personnel found in this area are subject to arrest and search."
Ignoring the warning, I enter without permit and walk south. The sun drops behind an unnamed mountain of the Mohawk Range. A thin lunar crescent -- about a day and a half past the new moon - - hovers just above the gray horizon. A covey of Gambel's quail squawks in a brushy wash choked with wolfberry. I hear the soft wurp of phainopeplas setting into the palo verde trees for the night. About a mile ahead I see another big palo verde surrounded by several smaller ironwood trees -- marking the course of a sand wash, a good place with firewood to camp.
I trudge across the gentle slope of the outlier hills, through sparse, low vegetation, creosote and bursage, occasional saguaro cactus and cholla. The light is dim by the time I
reach the wash. I dump off the pack and sit down in the sand. Mars is high in the southwestern sky.
The area in and around this bombing range is my favorite place to walk, though I haven't attempted a big walk here since Ed's death. This place was also Ed Abbey's choice for a long solo stroll. He did two hikes here. On Ed's last attempted trek – down in the Growler Valley -- he had to turn back. "Too weak, too sick," he said, "I just couldn't do it."
In the coolness of the desert wash, I think about Ed. I want to understand how he felt, what he thought about that last trip. I am still a bit out of shape since my blood loss in the Himalayas and over fifty years old. But when Ed called that last walk quits he was sixty and acutely low on blood. I am a lucky man and know it. Maybe I'll complete the walk and close the loop for both of us. Already my skin feels tingly from anticipation, looking forward to nights and days alone in this great arid wilderness.
The Pleiades are overhead. Silence settles over the valley. A great horned owl hoots four times. Minutes later, a smaller owl -- probably the trill of a screech owl -- calls from up the rubble slope of the Aztec Hills. No poor-wills yet; they hibernate and late January is too early for them. I can hear the rumble of the railroad six miles north. No matter, I am moving south, into the immense emptiness, the great desert solitaire.
I kindle a blaze of creosote twigs and add ironwood. When the fire spreads, I sweep coals into a hole surrounded by three rocks I have collected. I place an aluminum pot filled with a pint of water on the rocks, balanced between them. Dinner is simmered black bean soup with a handful of tsampa dumped in for ballast. I toss a mesquite log on the fire and lie back on my pad, head against my sleeping bag. The sky is alive with stars seen nowhere else on the continent: the moon has set and the clean, arid blackness of the desert sky reveals stellar secrets. These long winter nights encompass more hours than I want to spend sleeping or stargazing (a tent isn’t necessary here). I know this from my seven big walks here. So I pack a book. Usually a big paperback. One trip, I packed Moby Dick, on another, The Odyssey. This trip, for the first time, I'm lugging a non-paperback.
I pull the hardbound book from my backpack, take out a pair of half-moon reading glasses, and screw on the light of a mini-mag flashlight. I open the book and try to read a bit. The hardbound is called Hayduke Lives! and it is the last book Ed Abbey ever wrote. I haven't read it yet. I think I was holding back as I didn't feel like reading such a personal book on the eve of his death. It was too close to home. Now some years have passed.
The first chapter of Ed's book is called "Burial." I read a few pages. It's about the burial of an aged desert tortoise by a huge earth-moving machine named "Goliath."
Although the chapter is but five pages long, I can't finish the piece. It's too sad for the likes of this perfect desert night. I have also brought along Abbey's last journal pages, notes recorded over three years on his last desert hikes right here on the Cabeza Prieta.
At sunrise a cool breeze blows up from Mexico. I load up quickly and head south. The big pack claws into my shoulders and I adjust and cinch up the hip belt. Including the two remaining gallons of water, there's probably about sixty pounds hanging off the Kelty. I remember a younger and stronger time when I could carry a hundred. The memory comforts me and I move along briskly towards the dark basaltic nose of the Aguila Mountains five miles to the southeast. There should be water there. A good rain fell here ten days ago. Damp mud still coats the deeper pockets of the washes.
The desert valley bottoms and slopes -- the bajadas -- are covered with creosote bushes. Not much else grows out here except when it rains a lot. Among the creosote, low mounds mark the limits of rodent colonies. The ground squirrel population seems to be thriving, especially round tail ground squirrels, apparently the result of green vegetation from last summer's abundant rainfall. Fresh badger sign is all over the colonial lairs, the spiral groves of claw marks digging out the dens of ground squirrels. One might not expect to see so many badgers in the low, dry deserts but the years walking out here have taught me differently. This tough little burrower is a prodigious digger. Of claw-rakers in the mountain states, only the grizzly bear moves more dirt.
A fresh green carpet of filaree grows in the shade of the larger creosote bushes, explaining the rodent population boom and their badger predators. Bighorn sheep tracks cross the bajadas; I intersect their sign every mile or less. There are also sign of three
antelope but no deer or javelina on the flats. Coyotes and bobcats are common out here as are gray and kit fox. Mountain lion are more closely paired with deer or sheep in the mountains and do not frequent these valley bottoms.
I aim for the west buttress of the Aguila Mountains. The "Eagle Mountains" are a dark block of volcanic rock -- basalt or andesite -- tilted gently to the northeast. At this easy pace, I'll get there before midday. The morning is cool. A single red tail hawk soars by. I walk on, ignoring the minor aches and pains in my back and shoulders, feeling all the old memories -- the good memories -- of hundreds of days spent walking in the Cabeza Prieta desert.
There is not a human sign on the land until I reach the foot of the Aguilas where three targets used by the Air Force are stuck into the bajada like giant paper airplanes. This is the beginning of the "South Tactical Range" of the Barry M. Goldwater Air Force Range, the area of "live fire" that runs from here down into the Growler Valley of the Cabeza Prieta Wildlife Refuge. Earlier this morning I heard rocket and cannon fire coming from the opposite side of the Aguilas. High overhead, two F-16 jets—Fighting Falcons--scream by. This is no surprise. You come out here expecting such activity, though every single time the fly-boys buzz or bomb I involuntarily sink to my knees among the creosote, less an attitude of reverence than leftovers from Vietnam welded to a need to remain close to the earth. I slide in close to the Aguilas finding an ancient foot-trail and watch a pair of twin engine jets, F15E's, maneuver. These planes called "Strike Eagles" blast through the pass that bifurcates the Eagle Mountains.
I tramp on southward, following the prehistoric Indian trail. A pile of potsherds, most of a big oja, lies broken in shards on the cryptogrammic soil. This pot is the harder-tempered Yuman made pottery, though both Piman and Yuman-speaking people trekked through this desert country.
At the big pass in the mountains, I turn east into the interior of the range. I have to go this way because this is where the water is. Rainwater is caught in tanks or tinajas. There are four water places here in the Aguilas -- a relatively well-watered desert place. I know this from information printed on the old topographic maps. But it would be risky, even potentially fatal, to show up alone on foot at one of these tanks only to find it dry.
Neither Ed Abbey nor I have ever been this far north in the Aguilas before. Only one person I know has. His name is Bill and he was a friend of Ed's and is still a friend of mine. Bill confirmed that I could get water at Don Diego and that there was an additional catch-basin constructed by the state Game and Fish Department between two twin hills to the southeast -- good information because it isn't on any map. Eagle tank is a natural tank that retains rainwater for months, but it's hard to get to. Thompson tank is a man-made catchment built by the Wildlife Range. Don Diego is an ancient watering place that has been slightly "improved" by bighorn sheep hunters. Don Diego is where I plan to get my drinking water.
Near the entrance to the gap in the mountains, a low cave catches my eye. The roof of the north-facing cave is blackened by fire smoke. I investigate. A few petroglyphs decorate the rocks near the cave entrance, circles and spirals pecked into the patina of andesite. A few potsherds and argillite flakes lie on the floor of the cave. A rusted can attests to more recent visitors, probably prospectors from the early part of the twentieth century.
I hike eastward, into the heart of the Eagle Mountains. An antler from a good sized mule deer lies on an alluvial bench. Hummingbird and brittle bush grow in the washes. Black-tailed gnatcatchers flit among the mistletoe. One Encilia plant already boasts yellow blossoms. Though it’s still January, spring is on the way. Hoofed animals travel through here: deer, a few javelina and sheep. Most of the tracks are bighorn, in all sizes. The most recent shows an ewe herd of four adults with five smaller sheep traversing this wash since the last rain. There is no recent human sign of any kind.
Up on a cobble terrace are crude circles of stone, rounded boulders the size of melons arranged in ancient rings five to ten feet in diameter. These prehistoric alignments are sometimes called "sleeping circles" though it seems clear they weren't all used for sleeping.
I move on towards Don Diego tank passing more stone circles. Near the mouth of the canyon in which the tank lies, I drop my pack. I pack up matches, a snake bite kit, though it's still too cool for rattlesnakes, my canteens, and a .22 Magnum pistol. It feels very good to be free of the heavy backpack. I follow a game trail up the canyon. I pass
another deer antler and a big rock etched with bighorn sheep petroglyphs. This arid but rich desert habitat, probably unchanged for many centuries, has always supported big game animals. The canyon hooks west into a narrow slot. The water should be there in the shade.
Don Diego tank is beautiful. It's actually several natural rock basins scoured out by torrential summer monsoon rains. Even the smaller ones have water. I drink a bellyful, fill two gallon-sized canteens, and start back down the canyon already in late afternoon shadow.
By the time I return to my pack, the sun is setting. Bighorn sheep sign is everywhere. I make camp in the wash below one of the stone circles among hummingbird bush and between a big ironwood and palo verde tree.
I spread out my sleeping pad in the sand and kindle a small fire. My right kneecap hurts. I take 600 mg of ibuprofen; I have been using the anti-inflammatory drug prophylactically as recommended by my aging and aching climber buddy Yvon Chouinard. Yvon told me to take 600 mg in the morning and wait 30 minutes to let it work. At our age, these little pains are inevitable. I comfort myself thinking our species was evolved to hunt, breed, and then die of old age at 32 and these later decades should be lived, if at all, as a gift.
I do my evening stretching exercises for my lower back. It doesn't hurt half as much as it usually does on these long walks. Partly because I have been wearing Clarke Abbey's lightweight binoculars around my neck instead of my usual four-pound Navel WW II field glasses.
I open Hayduke Lives! and read four or five short chapters. I then lay the book aside and pull out the loose sheets of paper on which are transcribed Ed Abbey's Cabeza Prieta notebooks. I pick out a passage about me written when Ed was camping in the Granite Mountains, which lie only ten miles to my south:
January 4, 1988 Cabeza Prieta
And the Peacock problem. Doug is like a brother to me. And maybe that's why, most of the time, I can't stand him. He's too much like me to love. And yet, on the other hand, there's a great zest for life about him, a gusto in living that I lack and bitterly envy. Many love him. He attracts people with magnetic charm.
I find another Cabeza Prieta entry:
I have now walked 75 miles since Welton [Welton is 35 miles west on the freeway from where I stared this walk]. But have seen "nada” of Pinta Mountains (must get to Heart Tank someday.)
Five days now I've been living in the open -- no roof, no walls. God but I'm stiff and sore, and me poor dogs hurt. How long will it take to get lean and hard and fast again? Too old? What's the difference? That which we are, we are, and if we now are less than once we were, still even so we are what few men ever dream or hope to be.
Did Doug deposit Ed `Rage' Gage out here too?
Abbey meant our friend Edwin Gage for whom I maintain a secret and no doubt illegal memorial only a few miles from where Ed Abbey was (and 35 raven miles southwest of my campfire here) when he wrote those notes. Suddenly, I miss them both, these two friends with whom I did nearly all of my non-solo travel here in the Cabeza Prieta.
I skip ahead in Abbey's journal:
2-27, Cabeza Prieta Wildlife Refuge. "The old bod is breaking down, falling apart, like an old car; one part goes, something else begins to malfunction -- gallstones, portal vein obstruction, pancreatitis, burned-out stomach, esophageal varices, high blood pressure, abdominal fluid, anemia, enlarged spleen -- and now another kidney stone. thromboses....
"Hubris.” My debauchery and arrogance have finally overtaken me. Thought I had the world by the balls; now Fate has a hard grasp on "my” balls.
Character and fate: A man's fate "is his character (Heraclitus). By the age of forty, a man is responsible for his face (Abbey), and his fate.
My weight is down to 170. Hyperactive. High-energy illness. The brain keeps going at 90 mph. Hard to get to sleep. Too short for bullshit. Too short for understanding. Too short for my love of wife and children.
The quarter crescent moon has set. The sky is alive with stars. I poke a creosote branch further into the fire. Old Ed struggled, or rather lived with his death for far longer than I knew. Struggle would be the wrong word. All of us will succeed at death very well despite of our lack of preparation. My own mortality is no longer tapping at the door though I know it's out there somewhere, just beyond the light of my campfire, waiting. But death is nothing, it's the living, the love, the unfinished work of the world, the joy that holds us here.
Abbey's journal continues:
Most men fear death, and resist it, and invent pathetic, vain consolations to outwit death. But it is possible to accept the idea of one own death, without embracing it, by seeing the death of the individual as a intrinsic, essential, natural part of the great life process.
I push a last ironwood stick on the fire and fade off watching the flickering light.
In the morning I eat a Power Bar and load up my gear. I head due west through another gap in the mountains leading to the San Cristobal Valley. I pass more circles of stone. A flaked quartzite chopper lies in the center of one of them. Rust and pale green lichen on the stones attests to relative antiquity. I pass another set of deer antlers and turn south along the western front of the Aguilas. A-10 Warthogs scream by overhead. The tank killers maneuver against the contours of the desert topography. They are very flexible flying machines that wasted twenty-three hundred Iraqi vehicles and their crews in the Gulf Wars. I hear live fire over the ridge to the southeast, hitting the ground near a target area maybe five miles away.
50 caliber casings, slugs, and linkage litter the desert floor here and there but, in truth, there's not a lot of ordinance lying around. When I consider the impacts of the military bombing range measured against the kinds of activities it has precluded -- mining, off-the-road vehicles, and livestock grazing -- I think more kindly on the flyboys
up there. I pick up a dud fifty caliber round and remember a time back in Vietnam in the spring of 1967 when I was learning to use this weapon -- the defensive fifties at our A-camp in Thuong Duc--and how I practiced on the bombed-out steeple of a catholic church (used by VC snipers) almost two klicks distant and then finally got good enough to drop a tracer or incendiary round in the window of the steeple and how the Vietnamese priest came up from the resettlement village and asked us to stop practicing on the ruins of his church.
That was a long time ago on another continent. I walk on. Five minutes later I see an unexploded 500 pound bomb lying out on the bajada. Nearby is a detonating device. It reads:
Warning Explosive device RR 141 E/AL; 1370-01-234-0718; 8122814-1; Do not rotate this lever --->
This time I heed the warning.
The man-made water catchment at Thompson Tank is covered by a galvanized roof , which shields the precious liquid from evaporative sunlight. I pry up the edge far enough to dip my canteen cup inside and fill my canteens. I pass another set of deer antlers and a disarticulated skeleton of a bighorn ewe. A low gap in the mountains leads east and I take it.
I veer south through another pass following an ancient trail. Painted black-on-buff pottery litters the centuries-old pathway.
Camp is made a mile south of the Aguila Mountains, near a little outlier hill. I turn in early. About 9PM, the eastern sky is lit up with parachute flares, which illuminate the desert with their eerie light. I watch them slowly drift back to earth. The light show goes on for another hour.
The next day it is almost noon when a helicopter shows up for some target practice -- rockets and mini-guns. I stay out of sight. There have been A-10's firing all morning so it is nothing out of the ordinary. Abruptly, I hear a stray round ricocheting along the ground. I automatically hit the ground, waiting for the next round to come crashing through the creosote, forgetting where I am, awaiting the heavy soft slug, in slow motion now, the huge weight on my chest, the heaviness turning to excruciating pain as I have imagined it thousands of times.
Then I am alone in the great desert. Spared once again, the survivor. Little me. Luck?
There is always the temptation to see your own survival as standing in the favor of the Gods. Fortunate and favored, the survivor stands in the midst of countless fallen comrades. For the Buck Sergeant, outlasting your buddies may produce guilt; but for the modern masters of war, I think, for the generals, it is the unblocking of power. The greater the number of dead, the bigger the heap of bodies, the more the favor of the Gods confirm their invulnerability. After Hitler survived the bomb that was designed to take his life, that killed everyone around except him, he concluded: "Providence had kept me alive to complete my great work." The butcherous trails left by the compulsive campaigns of kings, dictators, and generals confirm the holy pride of Hitler.
For me, this observation born of experience and triggered by memory is neither distant nor esoteric. Here on the Barry M. Goldwater Air Force Range, the malevolence bears names. The only four star general I ever had the misfortune to be forced to shake hands with was General William C. Westmoreland, a bad general, a tactical dunce, a murderous idiot whose Norman Rockwell banality in his starched fatigues at Thuong Duc belied the bloodiest hands in Vietnam. This man, who wanted to use tactical nuclear weapons to defend his blunder at Khe Sanh and to this day thinks the Tet Offensive was a great American victory, directly caused the deaths of thousands of human beings -- American and Vietnamese soldiers, civilian women and children -- and I will not forgive him. I hold General Westmoreland directly responsible for the killing of my friends and comrades at Lang Vei. He is accountable right now and to me for the death of Moreland, Dinh Pho and my other Hre brothers on February 7, 1968.
I look at my hands. Alone, forty miles from the nearest human, I am shaking with rage and grief. When we know what a single death can mean to a family -- even what the
death of my friend Ed, who was prepared for the journey, means to me -- how can anyone countenance these butchers?
I open my eyes to the great desert valley. We carry our crimes like tortoise. No clean slates for murderers. Robert MacNamara's belated confessions come too late to be rinsed clean with my sacred tinaja water. My pragmatic forgiveness of earthly sin creeps to a dead stop, short of those who slaughter children; they do not get to start a new life free of culpability on my planet.
Today, under fire from the high-tech weapons practiced on the bombing range, a warrior's skill no longer counts. It's a mind-boggling pot-luck to avoid the potlatch of the dead. Ed Abbey is gone and I'm still here. Why and to what end?
Silence returns to the bajada. I take several deep breaths and move on. I am over-reacting to the risk of live-fire, a stray round, or an unexploded bomb; it's nearly nil, about the same as a lightening strike. But why take the risk at all?
Because it's worth it.
Now I head due south, anxious to leave the live bombing behind, towards the tip of the Granite Mountains -- to the same spot Abbey and I passed through just before New years Day in 1974. A lot of years out here. A lot of walks. This could be my last. You never know. But I'm getting close to what I came out here for, close to my own mortality, close to old Ed, close to the fire and the source of life. On my previous walks across the Cabeza Prieta, there was always something lurking in the back of my mind -- dealing with some part of my life or maybe the death of a loved one -- as baggage. This time is different. I love my children very much and I miss them but I am where I want to be. I may be old, I think, but Christ I'm still capable of enjoying every step of this walk. It sure as hell is not for everyone. For me, it's very much like childhood – precisely, a childish indulgence -- here in the place where it all started, each yard of ground fresh with the sweet smell of discovery pouring off the desert pavement.
I pass an ocherous outlier, Red Point Hill. Most of the little hills here don't have names. In a wash running close to the rocks, I can smell the wet red clay now drying into pentagonal mud cracks.
Ahead are a point of rock and a broad belt of mesquite marking the run of a major drainage -- Growler Wash. Another 500-pound bomb lies not too far from two unexploded one's carrying 250 pounds of TNT each. The pack straps bite into my shoulders but I don't mind. I am carrying enough water to see me to Charlie Bell Well in case I find no standing water in Growler Wash.
Growler Wash heads up down south towards Mexico between the Granite and Growler Mountains and rains north around the end of the Granites into the San Cristobal Valley. Down there somewhere, Ed Abbey is buried.
I pick my way through a thicket of mesquite and thorn trees and step out into the broad sand swash of Growler Wash. I walk out into the desert arroyo. Pot shards and fire-broken rock litter the edges of the broad wash. Further out in the middle, I see what looks like a sea turtle shell. I walk over and flip the big turtle-shaped rock on it's back. The rock is a huge metate, a 60-pound grinding bowl used by the ancient Hohokam to grind wild seeds, mostly mesquite and palo verde here. I explore the area. It is a large archeological site. The Hohokam Indians trekked down this way a thousand years ago on their walk to Bahia Adair to gather clam shells, which facilitated dreams. Red on buff pottery and fragments of glycymeris shell are everywhere. A big bird, what we used to call a "marsh hawk", twists over the bajada. I find four more 50-pound metates. This area was also used for bombing practice over fifty years ago. At the south end of the Hohokam site, four hulks of 1940-vintage cars used as targets are twisted into rusted wreckage, blasted to pieces. Thousands of .30, .50 caliber and one inch slugs litter the sand. The remains of innumerable napalm containers are scattered throughout the desert. This place is more beat up from military live fire than any other spot I've seen on the entire bombing range.
Now I remember the place; Ed and I were here a long time ago.
Growler Wash is drier than I expected; lots of mud but no standing water. The creosote has been burned and blasted by WWII napalm; thus, there has been much erosion and some damage to the prehistoric archeological site. Potsherds, fire-cracked rock, and obsidian flakes lie along more recent relics of contorted lead and steel-jacketed slugs. I will name it the Bullet Site. Two single engine jets scream over. The fucking planes wear on you.
I look around. I've been here twice before but it looks different now. My first trip through was with Ed Gage twenty-some years ago. A couple years later, Ed Abbey and I came through here with my dog Larry. I shake my head. I miss them all.
At the lower end of this site, Growler Wash bends around a hill of basalt. Some volcanic faces wear a fine patina the color of oxidized blood. It would be a perfect place to find ancient petroglyphs. But there are none here. The occurrence of rock art everywhere in America, and especially in the Southwest, is never quite random. From all considerations Western, this looks like a good place. But apparently not. Something unfortunate or terrible might have happened here, even before the military bombed the shit out of it.
Late afternoon now and I continue down the valley. Five small outlier hills are perched just on the east side of the bajada in a rough lineation, perhaps reflecting lava rising from an ancient fault. The hills beckon, perhaps because they are the only breaks in the smooth terrain of the valley. I would like to visit them though they are one of three target areas that the air force has bombed and strafed with live fire during the past two days. Maybe I can sneak over there in the morning before the jets are up and about.
I camp eight seconds times the speed of sound from the hill I want to visit. I know because just before dark, Warthogs shriek across the valley shattering the deep silence and blast the hell out of my hill with White Phosphorous rockets. One A-10 banks slowly, seemingly hovering in place over the bajada, then methodically flies directly towards me at the level of the tops of the ironwood trees. The dark menacing aircraft appears to approach with the deliberate steps of an aggressive peccary -- or warthog. I look up as he passes and can see a face in the cockpit. Did he see me, my little camp? Would it make any difference if he did?
The military exercise goes on until dark. The rockets give way to parachute flares. The light show reminds me of nights in Vietnam, when our A-camps would come under mortar attack and the C-47 "Spooky" gunships would arrive from Danang and provide us with illumination so we could see the Vietcong sappers on the barbed wire.
Within a few minute of the departure of the planes, it is hard to believe the quiet, that it's the same place. Nothing human as far as the eye can see. No sounds until coyotes
cut into the solo performance of a great horned owl. Though I came out here knowing as well as anyone what the bombing range is like--experienced from the ground, on foot without entry permit--the intrusive magnitude of the modern military machinery still staggers me. The flip side is that it's the wildest desert place I can find when the planes are silent. Both subjects are close to my heart: war and wilderness.
I settle into the wild desert night, kindle a little blaze, make some soup then slide into my sleeping bag next to the fire. I pull out Hayduke Lives! and read for an hour, then turn to the transcription of Ed's Cabeza Prieta notebooks, finding a passage about a party he threw for me:
5-27 ... a going-away party for Peacock. I'm getting too obsessed with this literary career biz. I should write my good nuvvie, then quit, take up shoe repair, horses, masonry, something useful, honest and sensible "while time remains.
6-6: "Lethargy. Sadness. I think I'm dying."
7-7: "Longing, longing, longing -- for what? Death. I wish I were dead. There, I said it, and it's false. I cannot go now. I have two sweet daughters, a young wife."
Abbey wrote all this years before he died, years before I knew he was going to die. A pygmy owl whistles from a saguaro. There's a lot of death in Ed's journals. I find an older passage, written just after my son's first birthday on 2-8-85, about Abbey's own funeral, his burial instructions, how he needs a death certificate for the legal stuff, and requests for his own wake:
"...Doug and his guns."
He had thought it all out.
I didn't know back in 1985 that Ed was living so closely with death. I am suddenly ashamed of the careless way I treated the people I've loved in this life, the utterly slothful mismanagement of the simple elements of my daily life, the squabbling. The quarreling never came to blows except sort of one of those times when Ed again moved in a bit too soon after a I had broken up with a girlfriend and it cost him sixty bucks -- later quite laughable - - in Chiropractic adjustment.
I read on from the Cabeza notebooks:
"I feel no fear of death. (Perhaps because I do not fully believe in death.) But I do feel a great sadness, an irremediably sorrow, at the possibility that I may not live long enough to help our Rebecca become a girl, a teen-ager (another insolent teen-ager!), a woman. That thought hurts. Otherwise...I might say __ enough. Enough. Enough!
Sick, sick, I'm sick of being sick. Will I never regain full health? Down to 165 pounds at this time. I'm a wreck, a wrack, a specter of me former self. (I dream of great walks....)"
I close the book over the notebook pages and settle into my sleeping bag. I stare into the embers of the campfire. I sleep. The dreams come again--jaguars, tigers, bears--all of them in a night's dreaming. There is no fear in my dreams now. Ever since returning from the Sierra Tarahumara, Nepal and the Grizzly Hilton, these animal dreams have taken a more nourishing turn, tied to actual and spiritual birthing. It was my attachment to the mother earth, looking to the moon where the dreams come from, the moon in the belly, the feminine.
During the long desert night, my father tries to return to me in dream.
I wake to a flawless desert sky. A canyon wren's crystalline notes drift down from a rocky outlier. The flyboys aren't active yet. I want to walk south far enough down the Growler Valley to get beyond the live fire zone. Though I'm still curious and want to visit the five little outlier hills, the aircraft and military exercises are grating on my psyche. I'm glad to have walked fifty miles on the ground without crossing sign of modern humans, but the relentless buzzing of aircraft is wearing me down. I want to walk beyond war.
The small hills out in the bajada lie on the eastern slope, about a mile from Growler Wash. I figure I'll walk down the east side of the bosque south and get water at either Sheep Tank or Charlie Bell Well. That will bring me within five or six hundred yards of the hills, which are often used as targets. If I don't see any sign of live fire, maybe I'll sneak over there for a look.
I cross Growler Wash and edge out into the valley for a closer look at the five hills. Minutes later, A-10's swoop over the ridge and blast hell out of the south hill. The warthogs fly slowly over me, turning upside down, firing cannons. I contemplate hiding. If the pilots don't know I'm here they might drop a bomb on me by accident. If the flyboys see me, they might use me as a target. In the old days - - when Abbey and I first started coming out here -- they most certainly would have blown you away. In those days, they shot at bighorn sheep, wetbacks -- anything that moved and broke the monotony of chasing paper targets. Nobody is supposed to be down here. All activity is illegal. Now, with the New Army, the caring military, the new sensitivity of "Tailhook," I guess the odds of being intentionally shot to be about 50-50. This much is true: If they see you and they want you, they can have you. Just beyond where the boys are shooting, a Border Patrol plane turns northeast over the Growler Mountains. Looking for me? I've heard the BP has placed seismic/acoustic sensors along the border of Mexico and along key routes leading north. Maybe I triggered one. These sensing devices were developed by my old Alma Mater, the University of Michigan, and were first field-tested in Vietnam during the siege of Khe Sanh during the Tet Offensive. The man for whom this bombing range is named, Senator Barry Goldwater, said back then about the sensors: "One of the greatest steps forward in warfare since gunpowder."
How I loathe these people. I walk on, fifty pounds of gear and water in my backpack, trying to walk away from the machines of war.
I am about a half mile southwest from the last hill when a F16 drops two bombs a quarter mile south of the target, only about three or four hundred yards from me. To let me know he could have me? It doesn't matter to me. I continue walking. Even if the shrapnel comes close, I won't hit the dirt for these scumbags. I have no fear of death and refuse to let these well-armed punks intimidate me. Being willing to die has always
imbued people like myself or Abbey with a certain edge. Fuck you jet jockeys. I consider breaking out my .22 pistol for anti-aircraft use. I sure do hate to be defenseless. The only place I never carry guns is grizzly or jaguar country where you don't need one. I walk south. For me, the war is over, I say to myself, the war is over.
It is true. My war is over. I am free to channel that ferocity in new ways now, to bring back a piece of this wild gift to the people I love. I will become-- have been becoming--a better father. A better husband? Maybe next time.
The Border patrol plane doesn't return. Of course, I'm heading south, the wrong direction for an illegal alien or smuggler. By mid-morning the valley is quiet again. I trudge along the mesquite bottom of the Growler Valley. It's a beautiful morning. A crisp breeze carries up from old Mexico. Nightshade bushes are flush with purple blooms. The phainopeplas are about. A covey of Gambel’s quail flushes from the brittle yellow stalks of last year's crop of globe mallow. House finches and flycatchers perch in the mesquite and a Le Conte's thrasher flies from a palo verde tree. I have been watching what looks like a tern or gull soar above the bajada on and off for half an hour. Finally the bird glides close enough to focus Clarke's field glasses on its belly and back. The white bird is a kite, probably a Mississippi kite though this is beyond its normal range. Channels of mud linger in the deeper shade of the wash but there is no standing water. Lots of antelope have passed through and I cross one set of bighorn ram tracks trekking east, towards Sheep Tank.
By late morning, I leave the bombing range behind and cross over the invisible line into the Cabeza Prieta Wildlife Refuge. I find a big ironwood tree in a sandy channel of the main wash. I drop my backpack in the shade and lay down in the dirt with my head against the pack. The planes have also retired for siesta. No sound reaches my ear beyond the gentle wind, the buzzing of bees, and the mid-day laughter of quail migrating to a new feeding site within their bird-territory. The incomparable blue of the Arizona sky is laced with high streaked cirrus clouds, just the slightest hint of horsetails.
I wake with the sun on my boots. The sun has moved about thirty degrees -- a two hour nap! I have no schedule to keep. I'm drowsy and don't feel like walking just yet. I take out Hayduke Lives! and remove Ed's desert journal notes:
I've been off my cough syrup(codeine) habit for a week now, but it still hurts. Withdrawal symptoms every evening when I get the run-down miserable flu-like ache-all-over feeling. Beer does not help. Nor coffee nor ice cream. What to do? Heave to and ride her out. Tough it out, like a cowboy or sailor should.
Trouble , trouble, trouble. Except for sweet things like Clarke and Rebecca, my life seems to me a dismal failure. Good Christ! 58 years old and I've never learned to do "anything practical, useful, sociable. I am becoming a cranky, bitter embittered, dyspeptic old fart.....I feel so goddamn inadequate, weak, helpless, inept, slobbish.
GLOOM ..... and DOOM. Consumed in self-loathing. Bitterness. Disgust with the world of literature, politics, art. Makes a fella want to walk away over the horizon, find a comfortable canyon, lie down, curl up, fade out.....
Stop this sniveling! You have work to do, a good wife to support, a beautiful child to help raise! For the love of life, man, drag yourself up out of this slough of despondency!
"Summer's over here! Hooray! A delightful tingle of autumn in the air. One's thoughts stray to another walk across the Cabeza...
I walk on down the Growler Valley. The deflation of the bajada by rain and wind has mixed fragments of fire-broken rock of many ages. Soon I see pottery, lithic flakes, and pieces of clam shell: another Hohokam site. I pluck a fine crescent of Glycymeris rim from the playa. These sea shells -- carried inland hundreds of miles on foot across the fiercest desert on the continent -- are the raw material of dreaming. The ancients carved these crescents, hoops, and cores into holy objects, magic bracelets, and effigies of amphibians.
The Indian site extends south a quarter of a mile. At the far end the exploded detonating device from a bomb lies on the desert pavement. I extract a copper fuse wire and carefully wrap it around two long crescents of ancient clam shell carved out by the Hohokam. I stuff the shells inside a side pocket of my pack, padded by a sock.
By late afternoon I have only covered seven or eight miles. I need to decide if I am to water at Sheep Tank or Charlie Bell Well. I look up at the black wall of the front of the Growler Mountains. Sheep Tank is up there, up 700 feet over treacherous scree and ankle-breaking basaltic boulders. On a boulder near the pass are etched the name and enigmatic inscription: "John Moore 1909 Was it worth it?" The tank itself is only four miles away -- as the raven flies. Charlie Bell is a half dozen miles but on the flat. My feet hurt. I check my water supply: about two and a half quarts. I'll make camp and walk into Charlie Bell Well tomorrow.
The oblique sunlight illuminates a mosaic of green and black on the steep west-facing slope of the Growlers. Where the rock is sufficiently stable to allow for the growth of vegetation, the grass and pale green lichen appear to be lit from within. The mottled hillside is a lizard skin tapestry of black streaks of recent basaltic slides. I sit and watch the mountains until the shadow creeps up the slope embracing the reptilian landscape.
It is such a great day to be alive. Of all my walks, this one resonates most with the prime elements of my life: Wildness and solitude, an experience so original, so fiercely involved with the land, a place so inaccessible that it precludes any notion of recreation -- occasionally so wild and hard that it approximates the ordeal of combat without the unforgettable shit-stench of human fear. Here, the fullness and the inexorable circle of life gravitating towards the grave are unaffected.
I climb up the gentle slope of the bajada until volcanic boulders from the mesa above make walking difficult. It is nearly sunset. I find a broad bend in a deep wash and make camp under an ironwood tree. Dinner is tsampa and black bean soup again. Just before dark, I build up the fire and settle in with a stack of Ed Abbey's journal pages:
"According to (Doctor) MacGregor, me blood count is back within normal range. All the same, I feel kinda weak and puny most of the time. My guts are a mess. Tired every evening. "Un•- sociable; conversation is a wearisome chore. I'm not sure I'll live to see sixty. So?
Got the world by the tail -- with a downhill pull.
"Despondency. Had a quarrel with my dear Susie last night, a quarrel over nothing, really, and today I feel lower than whale shit.
(Will I never know joy again?)
The dogs bark, the caravan moves on.
Some days it seems like everything goes wrong. I awake with my heart gripped by dread -- fear -- terror. Of what? I don't know. That's the dreadful fearful terrifying thing about it.
Suicide is an always-viable option. The sensible solution. A rational alternative. Workable compromise.
So? So -- what?
It's true: In old age, like Byron, my thoughts turn more and more to avarice, less and less to sex, art, adventure and new ideas.
Ol' rockin' chair done got me.
Dis-ease. Thank Gawd for cough syrup. Codeine......Furthermore, without death, life would lose half its drama. Joy would seem pallid, beauty pale, danger insipid, adventure empty.
Our existence would become merely spiritual -- off white and ghostly. Sort of -- idyllic but boring.
Boredom, in fact, would become the "terror.” I can imagine the most cruel and terrible gladiatorial contests taking place, as a populace sick with "ennui” seeks to recover the thrill of death, the joy of victory.
.....Faced with death, the body recoils in fear, in horror, in terror. The body "knows.” The pious pray, but the body "knows.”
Face to face with death. To look death in the face -- see it, know it -- and then...go on. The heroic stance.
Exasperation will take ten years off me life.
My heart is heavy. Very heavy. Opus 132 by lvb. suits my mood exactly. Music -- my rampart. Good ol' Ludwig, old courage-giver, hero of Western man.
I remember decades ago when I first played this Beethoven quartet for Ed on the rim of Escalante Canyon in Southern Utah. The journal entry surprises me; I didn't know he was so fond of the Opus 132. It's probably my favorite single piece of music. I need courage. I want to take strength from a hero.
On the other hand, Abbey's despondent wail, "Will I never know joy again?" resonates throughout my skull and high above in the desert silence. My emotion exactly: that void, numb with anguish and pain, after my father died. My dad was exceedingly grieved by the abrupt arrival of news of my divorce. He loved his grandchildren more than anything. My mother would tell me on the phone how he would go into his room every day and weep. Dad cried for two months then he died. The calcified aneurysm he had lived with for over forty years suddenly let go. He died in a stunning spot, the hill country east of Sonoma, California, one of the few pastoral landscapes on earth that grips my eye with its undeniable beauty. I inherited his stash of vitamins; dad had been a disciplined vegetarian and health addict the last years of his life. So I knew he was trying hard to live. I wince. Though I know the divorce was but a straw--or perhaps a modest bale--in the haystack of his dying, it was difficult to let him go with the life of his grandchildren ahead.
Now, in that forgiveness lies my freedom.
I wonder if I will find joy again. I suppose I do when spending time with my children or--like here--in wild places. But I also want to fall in love again. The interest, even libido, are certainly intact. So I am open to it. Yet some ambivalence or hesitance has crept into notions of romance, which I crave, perhaps a delicate wounding. I imagine myself frail, a bit tentative in my fifties, unsure of my physical presence, but with an
open heart. Ed would have understood. I see my masculine fragility as a cultural laceration, a mere scratch which will soon itch with the healing of desire.
I might try a new life. I have my work. In the tradition of old Abbey, I write and fight for wild causes. My trip from Tiburon and beyond, to Nepal and the Grizzly Hilton, has opened up all possibilities. I have nothing left over to lose from that journey. I walked it off. I dream the hope of joy.
Two owls hoot from the desert. One is a great-horned, the other, a series of twin hoots. I lie in my sleeping bag smelling mesquite coals on the fire and watching the Dog Star until I fall asleep.
Five hours later, I wake with the flush of a beautiful vision crossing over from my subconscious. I've been graced with another mildly confusing jaguar dream. The dream is less ethereal than sensuous but this is sufficient. I toss a mesquite log on the embers of my fire. In a few minutes, the flames flicker.
In the morning I stuff my gear into the backpack and prepare for the walk to Charlie Bell Well. I am down to less than two quarts of water, actually closer to one, and I like to have a pint or two in reserve in case I break a leg or get nailed, as I once did here, by a rattlesnake.
I wind through an increasingly rocky landscape of volcanic boulders. Crossing a gully, I spot a gray fox watching me. A coyote den is dug into the side of a wash below a thicket of wolfberry. The ocotillo is all leafed out. Indeed, it appears that the Growler Mountains have received twice as much rain as the deserts to the west. The northerly slopes are thick and green with lupine bush.
By afternoon, a number of ancient paths converge towards Charlie Bell. Some are the game trails of sheep, deer, and antelope; others were routes traveled by prehistoric Indians. There was probably always water there.
I slowly follow one of the trails up through the basalt. I climb up to a little pass from where I should be able to see the windmill at Charlie Bell. I drop my pack and ease forward. Just over the horizon I see white animals against the black of the Growlers. I take out Clarke Abbey's binoculars and squat behind a leafed-out ocotillo plant. The long legged animals look like some exotic species of domestic goat except they are pronghorn
antelope. Ten antelopes, six males, browse fresh green ocotillo leaves. They reach up, nibbling daintily, like gazelles. I watch the antelope for a half an hour, until the sun begins to set. The pronghorn haven't seen me yet. I' m hoping I can drop down a gully to Charlie Bell Well without disturbing them. I have to get water before dark.
At my first move, the antelope look up at me. Shit. They begin to mill and move east, finally breaking into a gait, running through the rugged hillside of volcanic boulders as gracefully and smoothly as the red tail hawk soaring above.
Dropping into the big wash below Charlie Bell Well, I unload my pack in the sand. It's getting dark and I need to get water. The well must be only a half-mile away. I turn my sleeping bag inside-out so the white lining shows, then drape it over a tall bush on the bank of the wash so I can find my pack when I come back in the dark.
I climb out of the big, steep-sided wash and pick up the old road to the well. Vehicular travel is prohibited here now though there is a jeep trail to the rim above, only three miles away. I'm not ready to see people for a couple days yet so I plan to shoot in, get my water, and hightail it back down the valley before anyone see me. This time of day, no one will be out here.
Out of ancient habit, I approach the well cautiously. I listen to the birds and crickets: no one around. Charlie Bell Well pumps water into a tank and then into a cement trough. Someone from the Federal Wildlife Service has bolted a lid on the catchment so human visitors can't get to the fresh water. I happen to have a pump, hose and filter so this is no problem for me but these bureaucratic urban fools just don't get it. Desperate people fleeing murderous Central American death squads come through here. The Feds should acquaint themselves with the history of Tule Well where a Mexican set up shop selling water for fifty cents a drink and the first man through shot him dead. Out here, and for good reason, people will kill for water.
I return and find my pack in the dark. It's later than my accustomed bedtime and I'm tired. Finding a private lid on the precious water necessary to all life here -- human and otherwise -- has sullied my good mood. I'm glad no one is around to receive my crabbiness. I read a page of Abbey's notebooks for comfort.
"Doing work I don't want to do so we can live in a way I don't want to live."
"I am becoming a cranky old man. Quite. Extremely contentious. True. Quarrelsome, petulant and exceedingly irritable. Right. I have less and less patience with fools, bores, pedants and crooks. I do not love, respect or admire the human race. I think modern history is a horror story, I fear for the lives of my children. I regret and am outraged by the systematic destruction of the natural world for the sake of human greed. Exactly."
Early the next morning I leave my pack behind and visit the vicinity of Charlie Bell. I want to have a look around and then split early enough in the day to avoid any hikers. From reading the human sign last night, it appears that day-hikers visit the Well a couple times a week. Sometimes, illegal immigrants from Mexico hike up the valley and water at Charlie Bell but that's less common.
The wash below the well is alive with birds: flycatchers, pyrrhuloxias, hooded orioles, many hummers and canyon wrens. It looks like someone has recently tried to pry off lid off the watering trough at the well. Probable desperate illegal aliens on foot. I consider finishing the job for them and look around for something stiff enough to lever up the plywood lid. I locate an old railroad tie and pick it up. A giant desert hairy scorpion is under it. I gently replace the tie without crushing the scorpion. A shafted flicker sounds an alarm, like they do in grizzly country when something is moving. I look around. Nothing. No sign of the ten antelope today.
Morning sunlight creeps over the rim and floods the basin. I strip off my clothes and walk naked northeast into the basaltic boulder field where the petroglyphs are. Abbey and I came through here several times in my pickup. I remember the one in 1973, when Ed told me he wanted to be reincarnated as a buzzard. I try to find Abbey's vulture petroglyph. This was where he told me to go visit the Great Galley at Barrier Canyon. I poke around the rock art for a half hour. There are petroglyphs of rain, lightening, and clouds -- big thunderheads. I find the big metate that my friend, who ran the Legal Defense Fund for the Sierra Club, and his son found when I brought them out on the eve
of the Persian Gulf War, successfully talking the son out of immediately enlisting in the Army, six months before the same friend was killed in a car crash.
It has been many years since I lost Abbey, a dozen more since Gage killed himself, twenty years since I lost my dog, married and fathered Laurel and Colin. There were other events but those are the ones that stuck -- not much, really, in twenty years, not that much loss, except sometimes, when I think of the life unlived, the stones unturned, the richness that could have been. My father dead, me still mourning.
I look around the desert valley. It looks just like it did when I came through here with Gage and Abbey. Only the land lasts. Birds and animals and humans come and go, passing over this land as a thunderhead before the sun.
As the shadows shrink before the rising sun, I prepare to leave. From high on the cliffs above, I hear the clatter of falling rocks. Bighorn sheep are moving to day beds. I scan the slopes. I see no sheep but I know they are up there. In the sand below the well, ants drop palo verde leaves in the print of a big cat, a mountain lion of perhaps seventy-five pounds. The day is heating up but still pleasant in the coolness of the wash. On the rising thermal, four turkey buzzards drift up from the south. I shoulder my pack and start south, a full load of water and gear, but less than the sixty pounds I started with.
Ironwood, euphorbia, wolfberry, and hummingbird bush grow in the wash bottom. A wave of deja vu sweeps over me. I am haunted by landscapes, the reoccurring images of places that drift through my dreams and startle my day-dreaming. One of those is right here, this sacred desert. Sometimes magical wild animals live in the dream and spill over into the physical landscape like jaguars and cougars. I look around; I know the lion is watching me.
The south end of the Growler Valley is the most beautiful Sonoran Desert country I have ever seen. I make camp early, anxious to explore around without the full backpack. The valley is bordered on the west by the Granite Mountains. My camp is not far from the spot where the rattlesnake nailed me in the calf one warm winter night on one of my big solo walks. No one knew I was out there except for Ed Abbey who was waiting for me in his truck with Clarke at Papago Well fifteen miles southwest. I managed to hobble
in on my own. Neither Ed nor I wanted to be rescued by the feds out here. We would take our chances; either our friends would come looking or we would perish. Abbey and I had that sort of understanding with each other. After all, it was in the desert that we were at our best.
That night, I read the last of Abbey's notebook entries:
"Cabeza Prieta: I want to live. Clarke, Susie, Becky and Benjamin need me for at least ten more years. So I must hang on and in there for another decade.
(But how? Black stool again.)"
"Every one of my books since "Brave Cowboy• has stayed in print, and every single one has sold by now at least 50,000 copies. Not bad for the most hated, reviled and ignored of modern American writers.
Morning, -- Granite Mountains, Cabeza Prieta. Cold water and fresh fruit for breakfast. What a horrible way to begin the day. What I crave is sugar, grease and caffeine. The rotten habits of a soft lazy corrupt life -- but mine!
So it's fucking Monday morning again. So what? I think I'll stay out here all fucking winter, slay a few deer, a few sheep, cook their brains and eat their guts. Be happy, healthy and hermit. The wilderness is our only true and native home.
Smog in the valley between here and the Growler Range. Fucking Phoenix. Fucking LA. Fucking techo-industrial culture. You know what? I wish Doug Peacock would suddenly appear, looking for me."
Well, Ed, I say to myself lying next to my fire in the middle of the Growler Valley, I'm here. I'm a little late, as usual, but I got here. You won't believe it Ed, I speak to the smoke, but I cleaned up my act some, worked myself back into decent health. My "gusto for life" has been channeled into being a good father to my children. And that anger--Hayduke's raised fist--Ed, I'm trying to let it go, to leave it behind. I walked off a lot of it, walked away from war, leaving it out on the Bombing Range. But twenty-five
years of war related rage is a long time. It takes a toll. People die. The war lasted too long.
I log the chapters of my life by wintercounts: by certain events, by wars, by the wild animals I have lived with, by certain pets that I loved and the years of my own children. This cycle will be named after a friend who taught me the redeeming power of love.
The next day, I pack up and prepare to leave the valley. My work, my last big walk, is almost finished. I take my time getting to the place, enjoying the walking. I note the change in vegetation: a few Bursera fagaroides and torote bushes. I startle a colorful summer tanager in a euphorbia. Two buzzards float on the thermal. I walk up a little canyon then climb out to a tiny flat where I dump off my backpack.
Ed Abbey is buried here. I dig out the packet from the side pocket of my pack and kneel before a torote bush. I repair the wind chime, adding the thin crescents of clam shell for the missing slivers of volcanic glass, using thin copper detonator fuse wire from the 250 pound bomb duds to replace the sunlight- ravaged nylon thread that dangled needles of obsidian from a devil's claw seed pod -- an offering by Ed's sister-in-law Susan and her husband Steve, who dug this hole. Deer or sheep have browsed the small ocotillo tree that was planted by the lead singer of Tucson's best Sonoran white band.
The clan has gathered. A native boulder of basalt wearing a lovely bronze patina stands below the palo verde bush at the top of the little draw. The ground around the boulder is piled high with seashells, especially glycymeris (do the dead dream?), crystals and many heart-shaped rocks placed here by children -- Ed's children, the singer's children, my children.
I stare at the boulder. Carved into the rock are chiseled letters. The boulder stares back:
|Edward Paul Abbey
1927 -- 1989