Sunday, December 16, 2007

Death of the King

The king's body lies about thirty feet to the north of the trail, his stomach torn open and his head missing. The perfume of his decomposition is overpowering, a jab to the nose with a hard follow up to the gut. Two days earlier he had risen from the trail not fifty feet in front of me, sending me scurrying behind a tree for cover and giving Heidi cause for a very rare bark. He took one languid swipe at her with his antlers and she retreated to my side to see what might happen next.
I wonder why he does not run, as he has twice before when I've trespassed and the next few seconds are full of conflict, fear and awe giving way to horror and pity, as the realization sinks in that he is gravely injured and cannot survive long, dried blood and a mass of flies cover his abdomen, his head hangs low, swinging slowly side to side. The placement of the wound indicates that he impaled himself attempting to leap over something, a fence post or the broken stump of a dead tree, trying to escape a hunter, or perhaps someone who meant him no harm at all. Me?
Days later the trail where he stood bleeding will be covered with maggots, growing fat in the blood-rich soil. Others will also find his body and take nourishment from it, and some unknown trophy hunter, with no claim to it, will take his magnificent head. What lies will he tell of how he came by it?
Within a week I see the new king. Though crowned in a rush, it appears that he is up to the task as he bounds through the woods away from me, pushing his harem ahead of him.
"Be careful," I mutter as he vanishes into the trees.

Sunday, December 9, 2007


I wait for the people in front of me to be out of sight before taking the trail, changing my shoes slowly, watching as they disappear into the trees.
I start walking and am soon out of sight myself. I try to think of the story I want to be writing, but my thoughts keep going to back to Zeitgeist, "What if it's true?" It can't be. What if it is?
It can be, hell, it probably is. What now? What can one person do against such a thing?
The sinking in my heart as I watched told me that it was true. I know that feeling, I trust it. I've ignored it before and it cost me, cost others too. But that voice, the one that tells the truth, never knows what to do. It's silent and I falter, hoping for the best, not knowing which way to turn, and that's never right. Hope for the best, yes, but work for the best as well. Still, what to do?
The trail goes on, with numerous switchbacks, as do my thoughts. Lie. Truth. How could they do this to us? Why is answered, but how? One million dead already, when do we stop? Six million? Another holocaust.
Then they appear, two horses next to the trail, a gelding and a mare. I stop and say hello. The mare ignores me, the gelding watches me sideways as he scratches his ass on a pine. I start the trail again and there is another, a beautiful buckskin mare on the trail. She doesn't slow until she reaches me, then she stops. I reach out to her, feeling the velvet of her muzzle. She takes my scent with a hollow snort and begins to nuzzle my arm, I reach back to her withers and massage them, enjoying her smell as much as she enjoys mine. I want to climb on and ride her into a fairytale where there is no gray, where I can be the hero.
How wonderful, her only concerns this morning are grass and water; no worries about bills to be paid, home repairs to be finished, no thoughts of love, or war, or God.

Lone Star Sunset

West bound the last seventy miles or so out of Oklahoma the sun somehow stayed within the four inches between the bottom of the visor and the horizon. As we crossed into Texas it seemed to plunge into the prairie ahead, gilding the edges of the clouds and turning the sky an unlikely combination of colors with a pink fingernail clipping of a moon setting through a band of orange.
After the moon set, there was still a thick stripe of red sky, topped by white. In turn, these layers lay beneath an expanse of indigo containing but a solitary star.
Only in Texas.

Friday, December 7, 2007

Perk Canyon

Heidi trots in front of me, weaving back and forth, stopping only to smell or piss on items of interest; her tongue hangs out of the left side of her mouth, a smile on her white face. Within a half mile we startle the bull elk. He crashes through the brush, pounding up the ridge, his antlers snapping branches that fall in his wake. He stops half way up the ridge and we continue the trail looking up at him, then he is gone without a sound. An animal the size of a horse has just vanished.
It's still in the forest, there is no breeze, the only sound the occasional snapping of dead wood as the elk continues his way somewhere above on the ridge. I look to the right with every crack and each time find that I am looking at a dead tree. There are lots of dead trees here, but each time I look up one seems to be looking back at me, a line of ancient sentinels standing guard over the canyon.
After forty five minutes the trail turns to the right and begins a steep climb, it's cool today but I soon take off my flannel shirt and my breathing becomes labored. My breath hangs in front of me and I can once more smell the coffee I drank earlier. My legs burn as I begin to sweat and the stitch in my side flares. I welcome it; like getting a tattoo this pain is pleasure, cleansing, endorphins working magic on my mood. Heidi stops at a fallen log where we took a break three weeks ago and scratches softly at the ground, the cookie she buried then is still there. Satisfied, she moves on up the hill again. To one side there is a rock formation, the stones symmetrical and with the appearance of being placed there on purpose. In another place they would be evidence of a past civilization.
At the top of the ridge we stop and I sit on yet another felled tree. The view from here is wonderful, to the east it is as if I can see forever. My breathing slows and above me a long-dead pine sways in the slight breeze, creaking like the mast of some ancient barque.
If not forever, I imagine that I can at least see as far as Tennessee.

Sunday, November 25, 2007

Ten Hours on the Road

We start two hours too late, but I am not stressed. The road is open, the Jeep running like it's 100,000 miles younger than it is, and the Hondo Valley is as beautiful as I've ever seen it, every shade of gold, green, and brown. The music is good, Ryan, Gillian, three Hanks, and Don; the kids are happy and we are having a wonderful time, the first we have had together in far too long.
Outside of Roswell the kids rebel and the country music has to go for a while, we agree on 80s and as we cover the emptiness that is the road from Roswell to Portales I am pleased to find that my kids know the words as well as I do. It's an amazing thing, having kids, they really are extensions of ourselves, little pieces of us that continue into the future after we are gone, carrying our tastes, likes, dislikes, beliefs, loves, hurts, and fears into another generation until, hopefully, passing them on again. I am a king with my court, all yielding me the right of way as we pass through towns named for cattle. Will my grandchildren sing at the top of their lungs to Meatloaf as well? I hope so.
We talk and laugh, give up on music and listen to two hours of Dane Cook's comedy, Emily saying over and over how much she loves that guy. We bet on how long it will take to get to the next town at the current speed (80 mph), and they win Shamrock shakes from the McDonald's in Shamrock, Texas, only to find that they don't do them year-round anymore. They settle for a Dr. Pepper and a twisty cone.
The next hours are subdued, back to country for a while as the flats of western Oklahoma skim by. In Oklahoma City, the sun now down, we race a hottie in a blue Pontiac with California tags, losing her somewhere near Tinker Air Force Base. Emily takes control of the music and I cringe, the generational music drift does not work as well in this direction, but I find that I can sing along to even a song I truly despise (it has only six words, after all) and she soon relents and puts Cake on. My hope for the future is reaffirmed.
At my folks', ten hours after we started, I get out and breath the thick, warm-for-November air, my sinuses reconstitute, and I feel younger. The next morning I wake to the smell of sausage and coffee, two of the most wonderful aromas on Earth, and sit down to eat with my favorite people on the planet, on the fifteen acres of land where I feel most at home, thinking of others I wish I could share this with.

Saturday, November 24, 2007

Chilled and Warmed on the Moonlit Plains

It's around two in the morning as we start our bike ride, drunk and a little stoned. The fire was warm, and as we move away from it I realize it's freezing, has to be in the twenties. We start up the highway, "We don't have to go far," she says, but soon we decide to keep going. In spite of the cold, it feels good to be out, to be doing something, and I'm surprised to find that it's easier to ride this two wheeled conveyance than it was to walk a few moments ago. We top the first hill and start down, the increase in speed bringing more of a chill, causing my fingers to burn over the handlebars.
We keep going, turning right at the intersection. At this time of the morning there is almost no traffic, only one car so far, but still I listen, waiting for the sound of traffic that doesn't come. We peddle on, taking turns passing each other, the only conversation being, "Shit, it's cold." The tires, designed for dirt, hum softly on the asphalt as she rides the double yellow, right down the middle, making a game of staying between the lines, and I smile in spite of the pain in my hands.
Another right turn, onto a dirt road, and we start climbing back toward the others, toward the fire. My fingers are numb now, I can no longer shift gears and reaching for the brakes takes all the concentration of threading a needle while wearing oven mitts. We stop and climb off our bikes, and I stick my hands in my pockets, and soon decide that numb in preferable to the searing sensation I feel as my frozen digits begin their painful, slow thaw. We walk for a bit, trying to identify constellations and marvelling at the monochrome landscape in the waning gibbous light. It crosses my mind how quickly things change, not just in our lives, but in the life of this country. A mere hundred and thirty years ago this would have been no pleasure ride, the only concerns being cold and a slipped chain. Then, there were reasons to be afraid here.
Before I'm ready, we're back at what's left of the fire. We resuscitate the primeval heart and warm ourselves, staring into the growing flames, somehow resisting the impulse to reach in, to touch them. Near the remains of the next fire we can see drunks passed out on the ground and in the distance coyotes yelp. Her dog alternates between being the protector and needing comfort, and suddenly this could be any fire, in any camp of the last 10,000 years. How very little we have changed.
One of the drunks rouses himself and comes over to our fire. He tries to make conversation and her dog is all bodyguard now, nothing but growls. We give up on the fire and move away, to set up the tent with frozen hands. We finally climb in and crawl, shivering, into our bags. There is distance, but we are close enough, friends sharing each others breath and warming hands. The dog bristles over us as the coyotes grow louder, closer, crying in vain for their mates.