Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Dust of the Earth, chapter 20

Welcome to the continuing serialized version of Phantom Limbs' bassist Jim Parks' novel, Dust Of The Earth, a Tucson story about Tucson history, mystery, other worlds, desert mojo, forbidden love, and the fledgling Tucson music scene... (c) by Jim Parks, reprinted with permission

Chapter 20
"Between Ehmet and me, we had pretty decent dinner" (image source: Flicker)
Ehmet and I set down our packs at the base of cliff wall next to Thumb Rock. We had hiked up Pena Blanca Creek, which is a dry drainage except after heavy rainfall. To the north of us was a broad woodland expanse, gently rolling hills carpeted with the dry grasses of autumn and dotted with Mexican evergreen oaks. I remembered that when I had been here before, this woodland made me think of Tolkien's land of Lorien -- not that the two would look anything alike -- but the diminutive gnarled oaks had a gnome-like appearance.

    With dusk fast approaching, Ehmet unsheathed his curved Gurkha knife - a small machete, really -- and went about our campsite, collecting dead wood and hacking it down to size when necessary. His movements with the Gurkha were as quick and skillful as with the fillet knife earlier. I tried to make myself useful, but the big Indian didn't seem impressed by the wood I had collected for the fire. I watched as he built up a framework of grass, kindling and small logs, and easily got it burning with one match. I could have done it, I figured, but not nearly as efficiently -- and with darkness closing in, I was glad to have a fire already popping and crackling.

    Between Ehmet and me, we had pretty decent dinner. Ehmet sautéed some pan fish fillets over the campfire, and he didn't seem to mind trading a fillet for one of my peanut butter-and-jelly sandwiches. I produced a bag of Fritos from my pack and set it down between us -- and when I offered Ehmet one of my two last cans of Coke, he readily took the can, popped it, and took a long drink. Wiping his mouth, he gave me the thumbs-up sign - a gesture that gave me an embarrassing amount of pleasure.

    Enveloped at last by darkness, we rolled out our sleeping bags and reclined under the stars, always an awe-inspiring experience away from city lights. I wondered if Ehmet's people had their own names for stars and constellations -- tributes to gods, legendary figures or the animals that inhabit their lands. Well, of course they must. His people descended from the Aztecs, with their pyramidal observatories, altars reaching to the stars, keeping track of the passage of days and years with their mandala-like calendars.

With the cliffs looming behind us and the vault of the heavens spread out above, I was glad that Don Pedro had sent Ehmet with me. We tend to romanticize nature, portray it as an aesthetic playground, a relaxing getaway from the stress and tedium of civilization. But when you truly find yourself in the wild, even only as wild as an hour's hike back to a phone and electricity, it can be a lonely and frightening experience. Partly from the dangers that may exist around you, but just as much from being fully present to the thoughts in your head and the sensations of simply being alive, all greatly magnified by the silence around you.

The campfire burned down to embers glowing in the darkness, and Ehmet showed no signs of adding any more wood to keep it burning - in fact he appeared to be already asleep. I looked at the pile of wood I had brought back to the campsite and wondered if I should revive the fire with some of that - but decided against it, not wanting to disturb the hulking figure lying next to me. I damned to hell my lack of confidence and initiative, and then damned the existence of men like Ehmet, who seem to live spontaneously and take action without excruciating deliberation, who throw themselves down anywhere and fall immediately to sleep - and then I lay there wide awake, staring at the glowing embers of the fire, waiting for some kind of doom.
To Be Continued...

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