The Trap, Part Three by Patricia K

Stone and junipers in Recapture Canyon. Photo by Saul Karamesines.  Click image for larger view.

Part One here.  Part Two here.

I wasn’t enraged, like a trapped coyote, because I hadn’t been really trapped, but I felt plenty angry as I put the Danger Tree behind me.  What a dumb trick, I thought, quite possibly one that could have ignited more trouble.  And yes, probably, it had been intended for BLM personnel.  That being the case, I was glad I’d triggered the gadget instead of a BLM officer, who might have not only taken its message more seriously but also regarded it as a threat, especially in the wake of the of local agones in which the BLM had played either black hat or white hat roles (sometimes both), depending on the angle from which you viewed their actions.  After the 2009  artifact raid, they’d pulled some of their rangers out of back country recreational areas for their safety. The mood of San Juan County residents simmering at the high heat it was, authorities harbored concerns that more radical elements might express outrage over Dr. Redd’s tragic loss and arrests of friends and relatives through violence rather than by the traditional outlets of Fourth of July anti-environmentalist floats, ATV activism and rallies, and the usual long, rambling letters to the editor that typically publish in local newspapers.

Furthermore, I happen to know that the spot where the trapper set his snare has traditionally hosted a population of cottontail rabbits that, over the past two harsh winters, has suffered decline and only begun recently to rebound.  Better that I had been caught by a couple of well-protected toes and acted the bycatch, I think, than one of them.

But really, when I’d put more distance between myself and the trap and walked off some of my high dudgeon, I began to think it gloriously fitting that I, who had spread news of the camera, should then find the good fortune to come across what could well have been a flamboyant effect of my words and been gifted with the rare chance to wonder over it. I’ve written here about the downstream influence that human language exerts upon the world.  In fact, I’ve been making the point for years that human expression is actually a natural environment–a nascent, prodigious wilderness, teeming with energy and creative potency, all a-swirl and producing new strains and engendering movement that is building toward we know not what.  I don’t care whether you account for language’s existence by Johnny-Come-Lately and still developing evolutionary narrative strains or by our progenitor narrative, creationism; in either case, developing effectual stewardship of the rhetorical environs is just as important as finding better ways to involve ourselves more deeply and meaningfully in the multiple layers of life on this planet.  In fact, our success in turning over new stewardship leaves is dependent upon the language we use to ground environmental philosophies.  Unfortunately, while we’ve awakened (what seems like) slowly to the revelation that we can’t treat with natural resources just any old way or we, our children, and other species may suffer in more ways than we can count, we’re still behaving in language as if it were an endlessly renewable resource with which we can do pretty much what we please with little regard for effect.  In other words, we’re still acting in the quite sensitive biosphere of human expression as we’ve done in the designated natural world since the 1750s and the beginnings of the industrial revolution.  And we’ve been garnering the same results, including the contamination of fertile ground and vitalizing currents and, upon occasions, over-damming to exert undue and dangerous control.

That’s not all we’ve done with language, though.  Science is beginning to see that links between language, brain evolution, and hence human evolution have given rise to truly spectacular flowerings of mankind and keep us on the move in spite of ourselves.  All the more reason to begin developing better language to help us see and engage in language on levels beyond mere tool-wielding … or trap-setting.

As I walked toward home through the abandoned prairie dog town, my anger melted off.  I felt a flush of interest in the fact that I’d actually gotten a foot caught in an animal trap and that I might have been a link in the admittedly speculative chain of events that probably bound the trap’s presence to my falling afoul of it. The whole business was actually quite a fortuitous study in how language’s effects can trickle down to the environment to the point of disturbing the ground and causing things to happen out there where the deer still roam and the buffalo used to.

As I digested the experience more completely, my mood shifted to the exhilaration of discovery and even amusement. By the time I was within sight of home, I couldn’t wait to tell my husband and kids about the adventure in a classic, you’ll-never-guess-what-happened-to-me-today, dramatic narrative.  All in all, a neat little adventure and a near perfect way to mark a Friday the 13th .

I decided to take my kids down to photograph the trap, as we’d done other artifacts of human use of the canyon, like the contested bridge and hidden camera.  However, a week passed before I was able to free up time to return to the scene of the prank. When we finally hauled our camera equipment down the trail to the poor, pressed-into-service juniper, the Jaws of Gotcha had been removed and the Eye of Doom perched on its tree limb unaccompanied by other devices, still tethered by its optical nerve to the plastic box holding its inner workings.

As for me, I no longer walk within ten feet of the juniper but climb up a slightly rough slope rising from a drainage behind the tree then scramble up and over a squat sandstone ledge topped with a couple of  logs that block a breach in an otherwise natural stone fence.  From there, I return to the trail well above the point of contention.  This new route has turned out to shave five minutes off my exit time from the canyon.  All the quicker to get home to see what my family has conspired to spring on me there.

22 thoughts on “The Trap, Part Three by Patricia K”

  1. Wonderful.

    For perhaps a decade now there has been an enigmatic, sporadic, elusive poster on various internet forums that I hang out on who writes the strangest, most amazing poetry that also is sometimes shaped by what else is being discussed on the forums and how people react to this person’s posting. At any rate, one of his epic threads is called “the mirror is the fall, the trap and the case.

    I can’t draw straight lines from it to this beautiful essay. Rather I’m both amused and gratified by the fact that my mind can connect these two things that have taught me something about language and humanity and done so by talking about the trap.

  2. Thanks, Wm. I enjoyed the link and relished more your connecting the poem with this essay. I love those kinds of associations.

    Do you think that, with my Crossfire posts altogether, I might have the makings of a book? I mean, one that people will read.

  3. I do that too on occasion–turn anger-spawned by slight humiliation into humor and a good story. I find I can do it more as I get older :) What is the secret to your emotional zen? I could use a good dollop of it.

    RE book: I’m no expert (except that I’d be your audience because I love nature writing) but I think a book on crossfire canyon would be in the same category, genre, and class as Home Waters. Maybe you should run your ideas by Bishop Handley. (I get to call him that :)

  4. Well, it would certainly have an evocative name. Crossfire Canyon, which I learn from a Google search leading to your article here, is not the real name. Pity. I like “Jaws of Gotcha” and “Eye of Doom”, too. Maybe you could call the chapter based on this essay “Dancing in the Jaws of Gotcha”.

  5. I enjoyed your essay. I wonder if your Crossfire Canyon could be another Tinker Creek? I haven’t read your other posts on this canyon, but with the controversies there, the struggle between state and individual, between neighbors, between man and nature, the tragedies and inanities, the humor, there should be plenty of material for a very fine book.

  6. Great! Now I’ve got a sci-fi poem about ATVs and ancient alien artifacts to add to my do-box. Thanks a lot, Patricia.

  7. Sarah, thanks so much for reading this little series. I appreciate your interest in my writing.

    Whatever it is that helps me deal with my circumstances, I doubt it’s zen. I think I like living on the frontier of who I am.

    I admit it–I’ve seen a lot of action in the Wowza Stress department and am used to thinking and doing my way through it. That’s not to say I haven’t been set back a few times or gone a little crazy here and there. Also, I’ve found that the payoff I get for dealing with stress directly instead of trying to avoid it in New Stuff to Think About is pretty high–very attractive to me. Stressors tend to alert me to how places I’m trying to hold in my worldview have become untenable (in other words, it’s time to grow up a bit more), so I pay as close attention to their unstill, unsmall voices as I can and then go on the move.

    And: I might just follow your advice about running some of my ideas and writing past George Handley.

  8. Mark:

    I absolutely plan to use my nickname for the canyon in the title of any future book I write about Crossfire. It’s too appropriate to discard just because it isn’t the name everybody’s used to calling the place by.

    Aliens and ATVs! What a concept. Let me throw in something else. I had a dream about Crossfire Canyon where I was hiking, feet on the ground, and encountered two, well-dressed, all-the-latest-gear type of “hikers” who were visiting the canyon by way of personal-sized hovercrafts. They were floating in the air about eight feet above the ground. They extolled the virtues of touring the backcountry without ever touching and thereby disturbing the earth.

    I listened to their testimonies then saw them on their way, waving goodbye. I remember feeling amused. I looked down at my feet and thought, “I trust the wind, rain, and ground to erase all traces of me” and continued on my way by foot.

  9. Will, thanks for reading my essay. I’ve enjoyed your writing, too–it brought a lot of class to WIZ.

    If you have anything else you think fitting, I hope you won’t hesitate to send it our way. It’s not too soon. Poetry to Jonathon; prose to me.

    We hope we see more of your work published here.

  10. “living on the frontier of who I am” Like

    Hmm. Something will come of that dream in my poem. Not sure what yet, but I can feel my subconscious kneading it in.

  11. Now that I think of it, the opposite happens in the poem. Instead of people hovering in one G to avoid tearing up the foliage, I’ve got youngsters ripping up a rocky desert on vehicles “Needing the nozzles nosing down/To give to gravel gravity.”

    I would also say to your hovering hikers that they’re missing the point of a good hike, which I describe, much to my satisfaction, here.

  12. How long is the poem you’re writing about the youngsters and ATVs?

    Also, “Jungle Walks” is well spoken. Many striking lines.

  13. I’ve been thinking about Will’s remark about Pilgrim at Tinker Creek. There was a dust up a few years back over that book because Ms. Dillard admitted that the “hook” with which the book begins–the story of the “old fighting tom”–wasn’t true. For those who have read the book and need a reminder, Annie Dillard talks about an old tom cat who would jump in through the window of her bedroom and walk over her, printing little roses in blood on her skin. As it turns out, the story didn’t happen to her. It happened to one of her students, who shared the story with her. Literally. She asked permission to use it in her book, and the student consented.

    The revelation that the story wasn’t true caused many readers to feel betrayed. Some said, “Who cares? It’s still a good story and I enjoyed it as a good story.” I wrote about this little matter in a post called “Quothing the Raven” here.

    Several years back, I attended a writing workshop with adventurer and nature writer Craig Childs. He urged us not to do things like tell stories that weren’t true and, when we did tell our stories, not to embellish. He said that many readers will pick up on the shifty ground and break off reading. I thought that advice good. And as Mark said in a comment on an earlier portion of the story, why make this stuff up when you can live it?

    So if I say that this or the other happened to me, it did. Its factual completeness may lack something because of my angle of view, but that’s true of all narratives, including scientific ones. For everyone’s information, when I described what went through my mind when I heard the trap engage, I went over and over that portion of the story, asking myself, “Is this true? Is this what happened here?” and trimmed it to the point where I felt satisfied I’d accurately represented what went through my mind in the order that it did. I trimmed and reshaped that portion carefully, because I wanted it to be a good representation, especially since so much of the narrative that followed depended on the truth of that part of my experience.

    After I drafted the segment about the Stranger, I called my brother Paul, who’d of course been there, and asked him if he remembered the incident. His memory of childhood experiences is often clearer than mine. I discovered from his retelling that I had the names of the railroad lines wrong. He’s a railroad buff and knew the right names. He also remembered what happened after we ran away from the man differently from how I did. I realized that part of my recollection of the story wasn’t as clear as I thought it was and cut that out, ending the story on our stopping to listen for the Stranger’s footfalls, which I can remember clearly and matched Paul’s description of what happened.

    Just an aside about truth in storytelling. Of course, we narratize what happens to us according to how we make sense of events. But I just wanted to promise (which I’ve done before) that I follow Craig’s advice rather than Annie Dillard’s practice.

  14. I try to apply that same principal to writing historical fiction. Which is a strange category in that way…most fiction people expect is entirely made uo, but historical fiction, aside from made up plot and characters, is (or should be) grounded in some gradation of reality (depending on the type you are writing.) I felt I needed firsthand accounts, as many as possible, so I wouldn’t be “lying” to my readers.

  15. Interesting ideas about biographical writing, Patricia. I feel a story coming on—but it will have to wait.

    The poem is in the works. I’ve only got the initial poetic-narrative surge down. I’ve got a lot of different dishes on my plate at the moment, so it could take a while. I need to finish a short story called “The Strangler’s Apprentice” (part of my Spirit World collection), finish a short story called “Les Traces des Dieux”, which is my second response to Stephen Carter’s blog post “Meeting the Gods” (the first was the poem “Tracking the Gods“), finish the first episode in what I hope will be a novel-length collaborative anthology called Shrod Inger’s Jukebox, finish writing a textbook on writing paragraphs, and try to keep various people in my life feeling loved and valued and well fed.

    But last night I wrote a new poem while watching The Two Towers with my wife and kids. This one’s not about nature, though. Sorry.

  16. Yeah. Thanks. Sorry, didn’t see you there.

    I meant comment on my blog, by the way. Don’t want to hijack Patricia’s site or post for tangential discussions of my own.

    And that’s “Manifesto in D”, not “Manifest”.

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