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July 2017, vol 13 no 2

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Ray Rasmussen

There and Back Again


The rutted road dead ends at a nameless canyon that my map indicates will eventually plunge 3000 feet into the gorge of the Colorado River. For over a year, I had planned a journey to the drop off point, miles from where I'm parked.

It's past noon under a hot desert sun, time is tight. I scramble down several hundred feet to the bottom and check the tracks: a curved line with claw marks on each side – lizard; a pair of Vs, large and small – doe and fawn; small paws – coyote or fox; best of all, no cattle or human prints – this canyon is rarely visited.

between
footfalls
silence

The canyon is like a tree. I start at the tip of a small branch and before long another branch joins in. Further on, another joins on the right, then the left, then more on the right. The return will be like opening a combination lock: turn left, left, right, left, right. To take the wrong branch could mean a night spent out without water – or worse.

Did I bring my coat? Matches? An extra water bottle?

tracing circles
in the sand
dry grass tips

Wind gusts, blowing sand stings my face. The tracks I planned to use to find my way back are already disappearing, so I make stone cairns at the intersections.

Feet turn into yards, minutes into hours, a few intersections into dozens.

It’s taking too long, so I pick up the pace and quit making cairns.

At last I'm at the edge! Below is the great river that further downstream carved the Grand Canyon.

feet dangling
soaring beneath
a golden eagle

Most of the water gone, the sun low, I start back. The first major intersection comes quickly and both branches look feasible. Scan for footprints, none visible, impulsively take the left. Another intersection, go right, continue on to yet more intersections, many more than I remember. Panic begins to nip like a swarm of biting insects.

scurrying
over hot sand
a whiptail lizard

I drink the last of the water, stumble on a root. Shadows lengthen, the canyon walls are flair in pinks, oranges, reds. Walls deepen to lavender, then purple. I climb out in near blackness, groping for hand holds, blocking thoughts about snakes and scorpions.

At last the silhouette of my truck, Rosinante. I sag out of the pack, grab the water jug, drink deeply, dump the rest over my head, dance a small jig.

I stretch out on the sand, pack for a pillow, and gaze at the night sky.

shooting star
the abyss
fades to memory


Notes:

Rosinante is the celebrated steed of Don Quixote de la Mancha, a satirical romance by Cervantes, published 1605.

There and Back Again was the original title of one of my favourite books, Tolkien's The Hobbit. I chose the title because I identify with Bilbo Baggins who, comfy in his Hobbit hole home was quite reluctant to go on an adventure offered him by Gandalf, the wizard.

This haibun is a revision of one originally published in Simply Haiku. It's part of a series of my travels in the Southwest USA. Some others in the series with images are found in Canyonlands Journal.


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