Farewell to flying monkeys, the black chimps who once flew from mesas, proving jet seats safe for ejection. You gave me a road to explore land as strange and wondrous as Mars. Farewell to roads that skirt the baggy pants of scree, proving what drives up (the mesa) must drive down. Unless, one decides to fly or become a hermit. I could become a hermit until those Mars temperatures exceed my low tolerance for sun-baked heat or I remember my comfy bed.
Farewell to GhostRider, Utah’s saving grace for piss-water beer. It’s commendable that the straight-laced state legislates responsible drinking, but when my RV lands elsewhere than Mars, I’m going to have a pizza and beer in a bar that doesn’t require I have to eat pizza in order to be served a low-alcohol beverage. Wasatch Brewery, in great Utah irony, brews a respectable white IPA with an adult alcohol content but can only be purchased out of state. I’m onto you, Utah! I found your GhostRider IPA in Nevada, having crossed the Arizona Strip to claim it.
Yes, I’ve been bootlegging while on Mars.
Farewell candy-drenched colors of the sweet and arid desert. How pleasant you’ve been in winter (except when your clay clung like taffy to the truck tires). I never experienced the same day twice on Mars. The light slants at a different angle; the shadows dip into crevices; the partial or full sun filters color from rose to apricot. You are vast and varied, reminding me that creativity has a grand canvas and art is never fully realized, crafting still from the dinosaurs of yesterday to the shed lizard skins of future summer. I close my eyes and feel the vibration of the truck, in my imagination I can always return.
I offer my farewells to a western sun shining gold on thin steel clouds. If I had a GhostRider in my hand, I’d toast a brown bottle the direction of flying monkeys because I can see the mesas monkeys explored. I can see the squared top of Zion’s West Temple, glowing like a rosy aureola. I can see Molly’s Nipple, where I wanted to go, but the Hub couldn’t shoot up there on the black volcanic core. That’s okay. It’s good enough to see from here.
Here, is Fort Pearce. It’s rock ruins on a hill, overlooking a red slash across the desert along an intermittent creek. The red slash is what remains of the Honeymoon Trail, a level lower than where I first crossed it’s path. The fort protected those seeking temple sealing for their marriage, and was established during Blackhawk’s War. Poke around the place and you’ll discover why it was sacred to Native Americans: it harbors a fresh spring, the treasure of any desert. I’ve walked south from the fort to follow the western sun as it sinks.
I, too, sink into the land, pondering farewell.
How does one say goodbye to something that’s marked the soul and psyche? In order to write the land, any land — the microcosms in your own garden dirt or dust motes in your flat or moors in your backyard — you have to be present. Writers understand presence. You can’t write without being present on the page. Writing is not doodling, something you do during a boring meeting. Writing is not knitting, or any craft you can do while watching TV. Writing demands you be here, right now. The sharpest writing cuts through space and time. Therefore, to write the land one must be present with it.
And I am present, in this moment, standing on a spine of yellowed sandstone the color of an old bride’s weathered wedding dress. I’m mentally flipping through the album of memories, wondering when they will fade. It’ll all be here when I’m gone. It doesn’t require my presence, it’s colors don’t depend upon my eyesight. But we’ve had a relationship. Not a marriage, but certainly a fling. I caress the cheek of an exposed rock with my shoe, and sand lightly shudders between the contact. I’m not certain if the land is alive, or if I’m the one it electrifies to life, like it’s Dr. Frankenstein and I’m the monster. It’s my clay, my origin and one day to it I shall return.
Not today. Or maybe today. The Sioux Warriors faced mortality, saying, “Today is a good day to die.” Again, it’s about presence. When we are present, we face the duality of life and death within us. The creek and path below the ridge are at least 40 feet down a precipice. Like baby steps toward mortality, I step down the sand-slick rocks that form a natural staircase. At 20 feet above the creek, I peer over the edge. It’s no abyss, just a hard rock, bone-crushing bottom — with a curious hole the diameter of a soup bowl. It’s so round and smooth, potentially a grinding portal, and it awakens my curiosity. It will be the death of me. Edging closer I make a daring choice.
It’s only 20 feet. The sandstone has no more steps, but I carefully find footholds until I reach handholds. I’m not fit for mountaineering, but ah, the body remembers it. At this point I can still scale upwards, but my heart pounds at the realization I can also fall, and it’s too far to fall without cracking bones. A second decision. I decide to continue down to the ledge. I hope that hole in the rock is worth the one in my head where thoughts of safety fled the scene to let curiosity play. I’ve got flying monkeys in the brain.
Safely on the ledge, I still have another 10 feet to drop. Jumping is for younger, sprier bodies. So I sit and hesitate. I can see there is another ledge only three feet below my shoes. It’s the unknown that is in between. The ledge is a perfect hiding spot for rattlers. Now I think of rattlesnakes! A lizard zips past as if to say, “Yep! Reptiles are now active.” It’s the perfect time of day for snakes to also be descending to the water below. I look back up at blue skies and tattered clouds, deepening in color as the sun nears the horizon. Do, or die. Do, and die. Just do it.
The moment slows like a bullet in ballistics gel. My bare calves tingle at the imagined strike of a startled rattler. I hang them over the edge feeling as if I’ve made bait of my own body. I hop. Then quick hop the remaining rocks to the bottom. The empty crevice stares back at me like the empty chamber in Russian roulette. A surge of adrenaline gives me attitude and I whoop because I made it down a cliff face. Resting my hand on the iron patina of a boulder that fell long ago from the height above, I feel indentations. Looking closely, I’m stunned to realize my hand rests upon a block of petroglyphs, each one formed with rock-on-rock drilled holes.
The desert has just said farewell to me, too. I take this final gift, wrap up the memory in my hope chest, and feel as the pioneer women must have felt. Onward ho.
My thoughts are on Danni. As a character in WIP #1, she’s most present in the archaeology grid. Like a writer, she can hone her focus and spend endless hours at tasks others might not understand. She’s a historical archaeologist, which means her second place of presence is in the archives dungeon. It’s not hard to guess that Danni is an introvert. Ike, is not. He’s her connection to the outside world, the one who reached into the pit and said, “Hello.” He broke her focus and stirred her curiosity. With him gone, she’s out of sorts and craves the cover of her retreats. In such a way, that is how writing can be double-edged — it calls us to the present and yet demands such focus we are not present to anything else.
Like Danni, we all need to strike a balance between the oppositions in our lives. And we are often called to say goodbye. It merely opens a door to hello, that will also lead to a goodbye. Kind of like my favorite Beatle’s song “Hello, Goodbye”:
March 30, 2017 prompt: In 99 words (no more, no less) write a hello or a goodbye. You can pick any greeting that grabs you from howdy to fare thee well. It will be interesting to see how the collection intertwines the opposite greetings. Go where the prompt leads you.
Respond by April 4, 2017 to be included in the compilation (published April 5). Rules are here. All writers are welcome!
Ike’s First Hello (from Miracle of Ducks) by Charli Mills
“Them Wranglers, cowgirl?”
She’d been focused on brushing the next layer, irritated someone would enter her grid to comment on her jeans. Without pausing, she said, “Want a broken nose, farm boy?”
“Farm boy? I’m hurt. I’m a fisherman. Can’t you smell me?”
Danni stopped and stood in the square pit. The corners of Ike’s eyes crinkled and he stood with a fly-rod like a staff. His pants were wet like he’d been swimming with the trout. He wheeled around, bent forward and pointed to the leather brand on the butt of his jeans. “You’re right—I got Wranglers, too!”