October 2, 2009.Â This morning, as I walk down the road toward Crossfire, I barely avoid stepping on a small, silver-and-grey-winged butterfly sitting on the pavement, trying, I think, to warm itself after our first night of ice-on-the-dogâ€™s-dish cold.Â The insectâ€™s coloration matches that of surrounding gravel.Â Only its thin wings and their accompanying shadow tip me off in time.Â I veer.Â Very slightly, the upfolded wings lean away from my foot swinging past.Â Itâ€™s hard to not step on something that looks like a piece of your path. Continue reading Field Notes #8
Guest post by Saul
Mom came home at just after 11 AM on Saturday and told me that she wanted me to finish what I was doing and go down into Crossfire Canyon. She explained that the creek had stopped flowing, leaving some fish stranded in a puddle, at the mercy of garter snakes.
I was working at the time and it took half an hour to finish what I was doing, devour some watermelon and put together a my gear: a butterfly net, a metal bucket, a notebook and some water. At last, I rolled my bike out of the garage and took off. Continue reading Field Notes #7, pt. two
This is the first part in a two-part Field Notes entry written by two authors.Â Iâ€™ll take the first part, my son Saul the second.Â It wasn’t my intention to put up Field Notes again so soon, but this story is just too good to wait for.
July 11, 2009.Â As I take Coyote Way into Crossfire, I find its coyote gate keep reduced to little more than a fur doormat.Â The carcassâ€™s light bones seem to be floating away downhill.Â Many are missing.Â So that took, what?Â A little over three months?Â Â Three months for decomposition to the point of fur and bleached bone.Â
Weâ€™ve had a run of hot weather, so Iâ€™m curious about how the beaver ponds in Crossfire are faring, especially the lastÂ one located along my route.Â Â Around this time lastÂ year, that pond dried up completely.Â Dozens of small fish locked in between its dams died in the mud asÂ its last pocket of creek water turned inside out, summerâ€™s heat having emptied it of its currency.
As I approach the dam, I can see the creek bed below itÂ has runÂ dry.Â That means there’sÂ no flow out of the dam.Â That probably means â€¦ yes, the pond is empty.Â
But walking to the bank and visually following the curve of the muddy pond bottom to its lowest point, I discover a puddle, three feet longÂ and two feet wide, sunk in a crease.Â Its murky, greenish-brown surface roils.Â Desperate fish, I think, trapped in the last shreds of water heating up fast in the rising morning temperatures, losing oxygen, losing volume.Â Continue reading Field Notes #7, pt. one
June 2, 2009. I hiked into Crossfire Canyon via Coyote Way.Â The morning had a warmth to it I didnâ€™t feel while I walked topside through currents of wind blustering north out of some rise of weather.Â But as I followed the trail down into the canyon the breezes thinned.Â Then holes formed in them, holes of heavy warmth and stillness where plants stood as motionless as they appear to in photographs.Â
This corner of southeasternÂ Utah hosts above-average vigorous winds, so plants are more often astir than not.Â The junipers—Utah and Rocky Mountain—come alive in the breath of this place. On blustery days, a juniper tree dances and sings.Â Its singing is a sigh of sliding volume, rising at times to a breathy roar.Â As it dances,Â as much as the top two-thirds of theÂ tree leans and rocks back, how far and how often depending on the size of the tree and the strength and constancy of the wind.Â But each branch moves independently, maybe only by a little, from those surrounding it, all together undulant in the waves of wind.Â Thus may a juniper approach in its rootedness the suppleness of a belly dancer. Continue reading Field Notes #6
Saturday, June 13.Â As I was coming up out of Crossfire I heard voices.Â Much has happened lately in our small, southeast Utah town, so I was curious about who might be coming into the canyon.Â I saw a woman on the rocks above me, well off the trail, turning back in response to a companionâ€™s call.Â Picking up my step to be sure to meet them, IÂ caught up withÂ the two retirement-aged women—out-of-towners—as one helped the other over the arched rebar cattle guard at the trailhead.Â They had no idea I was there.Â I greeted them then asked where they were from.Â They were coy about saying, replying only that they were visiting.Â â€œYou?â€ they asked.Â I answered I lived up the road but was not originally from the area.Â â€œAre you going to see the cliff dwellings?â€ I asked.Â Thereâ€™s a nice Ancestral Puebloan (“Anasazi”) structure at the base of the cliffs, a little off the beaten trail.Â â€œYes,â€ they said.Â Â Then one of them pointedÂ to the yellow, green, and white, heavy-gauge metal, BLM sign posted at the trailhead announcing the canyonâ€™s September 2007 closure to off-highwayÂ vehicles (OHVs) and displaying the extent of the restricted area.
â€œBut we really wanted to see this,â€ one said.
â€œThis sign?â€ I said, puzzled. Continue reading Getting digs in: On the 6/11 SE Utah artifact raids
From time to time, someone asks why I don’t write about the meaner, nastierÂ side of nature, especially the predator-prey drama.Â Until I go on that man-eating African lion-hunting tripÂ or bagÂ me an AlaskanÂ grizzly or happen to be on hand when a puma takes down a mule deer buck, I just don’t have much to offer on predator vs. prey.Â Sorry.
However, something did come to mind the other day, musings upon a kind of predator-prey relationship that I jotted down in my hiking journal as IÂ strolled through Crossfire.Â It isn’t pretty, but I thought I’d pass it along.
Warning: This post shows Patricia in a mood.Â If you’re in a mood today, Â you might want to skip this one.Â Â Â
May 21, 2009
Overcast, humid, cooler-that-has-been morning.Â I set out for Coyote Way, the trailÂ leading down into Crossfire Canyon.Â As usual, I pass my mouldering friend,Â the dead coyoteÂ Â lyingÂ off to one side ofÂ the trailhead.Â I stop to look at him whenever I takeÂ this path.Â Â
After a month of decompostion heÂ looks considerably worse for wear, though that lovely triangular earformÂ still holdsÂ up well.Â Â Gone, theÂ shine and softness his coat had when he was first dumped.Â Â Matted patches have loosened, as ifÂ he were going through a heavy shed,Â orÂ they have been peeled backÂ in the course of someÂ otherÂ scavenger’s work.Â A gaping entrance into his inner cavern has formed in his side.Â Â His coat has taken on the patina of old carpetÂ across whose nap mud hasÂ been trackedÂ and into whose fibers a wide variety of liquids has soaked.Â The flies that earlier clouded his vicinity have gone through their cycle; no insects are visible, though something must be creepingÂ through the body.Â Every time I stop here, I wonder how and whyÂ this animalÂ died.Â Anything could have happened, but the dominant reason folks kill these animals—if, in fact, he was killed—can usually be summed up in this word: competition.
Â A week ago, windsÂ blowing up out of the canyon carried the scent ofÂ the coyote’s chemical crush into the earth.Â Today, cliffrose pollen lightly perfumesÂ breezesÂ swirling past. Continue reading Field Notes #5
Forgive, please, the late, overhasty and not especially informative nature of this post, but I wished to get something up for Earth Day before the opportunity passed.Â As usual, consider yourself invited toÂ report on your own Earth Day activitiesÂ in the comments section.
Here in SE Utah, Earth Day opened gorgeously.Â Warm and blue.Â To the south, only a few drawn clouds showing, thin as weeds that snow flattened.Â Around the Abajos to the northÂ rise those striking cloud formations that always provoke my wonder.Â Can’t remember what they’re called, but IÂ think ofÂ them as the “jellyfish formations,” because to my eye they resemble man-of-war jellyfish: small, top-heavyÂ clouds trailing long, wispy tentacles of vapor that appear to dangle into lower reaches of the atmosphere.Â As I’ve sought to understand those cloud structures, I’ve read what’s actually happening is that the tentacles areÂ water vapor rising out of unstable air, seeking a more settled region of the atmosphere.Â Once the vapor finds that more stable region it forms a cumulus cloud, which may in turn provide the seed of a cumulonimbus cloud, a thunderhead. Continue reading Earth Day 2009 (Field Notes #4)
April 21, 2009 (pre-Earth Day)
Today, as I head out for the trail into the canyon that will take me past the dead coyote, I decide toÂ call that trail Coyote Trail, or maybe Coyote Way, to remember that coyote mouldering at the trailhead.Â As I pass those remains, I try to satisfy my curiosity about the animal’s gender, but the back legs are frozen together in a rigor of modesty.Â A cloud of black flies on and around the carcass goes a-buzz at my intrusion into its communityÂ feast and fur-lined creche. Continue reading Field Notes #3
Parts of this entry rise a little above-average personal in nature.Â I don’t mean to make this an “alms before men” post.Â I wantÂ to try to show how easily — for me, anyway —Â thinking can slide between myÂ experiences withÂ animals and the ones I haveÂ with people.Â Â Also, I don’t remember ever having written down the “Hillbilly Dilly” episode noted below, and since the hummingbird called it to mind, after my notÂ thinking about it forÂ many years, IÂ imagined the moment right for the telling.
April 22, 2008
At the cliff this morning, I findÂ a colony ofÂ white-throated swifts fully active, hunting the wild blue, tangling into the wind gusts that streamÂ through the canyon’s channelÂ and splashÂ againstÂ its rocks.
A vulture passes by, very low, slightly out from the ledge where I sit.Â
A swift just cut inÂ quite close, the vrrrrr of its wingsÂ as they slicedÂ air sounding like a miniature jet.Â A pair of hawks circle high overhead.
Will eagles come?Â I barely finish writing the questionÂ when IÂ look up to see a golden eagle, juvenile or maybe second year, brown feathers flecked with white.Â Â As IÂ gaze upÂ at the eagle, a black-chinned hummingbird rises like a helicopterÂ into my line of sight, directly between the eagle and me, probably examining the burgundy tones in my shirt, faded overall but most vivid in the cuffs.
April 13, 2009
Why do I still do this?Â Why, at my age, do I follow as if I were nine years old unmarked, unpaved trails away from what I know into the wilds of what I donâ€™t know?Â Â Thatâ€™s how this striving creation—part light, part water, part air, part earth, and all aspiring flesh—shows itself to me, in the mutual bodying forth between us. It seems an involvement composed of equal slices revelation and formation, since in discovery, everything changes, the New erupts into being, not just in me, the older wide-eyed child, but in this juvenile Creation.
Today, I begin at the Crossfire Canyonâ€™s cliffs, taking inventory of the birds.Â A few days earlier I saw cliff swallows flash between the rims, returning or passing through.Â Had they stayed or gone?Â To find out, I take to the air myself, or at least to the boundary between earth and air, the rimrocks.Â Continue reading Field Notes #2