Friday, December 26, 2008

A little SW Luv, from the novel The Book of John

He hears the ocean breathe a block away and thinks that unlike here, the sea in the Southwest has turned to rock. Water shadows everywhere, if you know what you are looking at. At Wupatki National Monument, north of Flagstaff, where he worked for a time, Moenkopi sandstone forms in rippled slabs that break off into patio-sized pieces, the shallowed landing of water on sand so evident in the frozen ripples. What stopped time in that trap of sand fused together, then oxidized it to a bright orange-red? Movement caught and juggernauted, such an enigma, a contradiction in its plaster-of-Paris casing. Or more recently, out at the site that has stymied him, has sent him flying here, thick layers of Dakota sandstone crease with Mancos shale, making for roads that undulate as they sag into the shale bands. The shale and coal seams are the products too of water, water-logged plants and animals, quagmired dinosaurs whose energy humanity now releases and destroys the planet with.

From his site, if you stretched your neck around the bend, the glint of the San Juan River, sliding by like a brown snake, can be seen. It’s rare for a crew to be so close to water. A Southwesternist spends most of his or her time in desert territories where water is a secret to be deciphered. If that can occur, you might just get a handle on how the ancient peoples lived here, how the Ancestral Puebloan navigated, in their ships of corn and adobe and pots, this desiccated place. At Mesa Verde, east of the site by twenty miles as the crow flies, the secret is behind the rock shelters that housed the people for their last hundred years – there the shale interrupts the slow drip of rain-time through sandstone, and the water is forced to come out, breaking the rock as it freezes and thaws, freezes and thaws, eventually forming the shelters themselves, and seep springs in the back of them. The rest is just human manipulation, age-old tricks of check dams and a few feeble reservoirs, and perhaps, when John is dreaming up stories at the onset of storms, the hurried footsteps of women with enormous ollas putting them out at the pour-over line, where a good rain will curtain off the top of the mesa and over the rim of the rock shelter.

At Wupatki, cradled in the shadow of Sunset Crater, the secret was the volcanic soil. Things could look bone-dry on the surface, but scratch the knobby cinders and the color of wet would greet you less than an inch down. At the site he has run from, with the bones and residues of blood, two miles down the drainage lies the San Juan. An easy source. A place where, when conditions are just right, say, in early August when the light switches ever so subtly to autumn, the water and the sun do a dance of a thousand winks, and he thinks: So this is joy...
Post a Comment