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April 1, 2012 vol 8 no 1

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Ray Rasmussen

Red Man Ruin

Birds sing me awake. The sun is just starting to paint the canyon walls a soft orange. I spread my map on the camp table, slurp strong tea, munch toast smeared with peanut butter and apricot jam. A large branch of Lost Canyon, aptly named for its labyrinthine structure, catches my eye. The sky is cloudless, so the threat of a flash flood is low.

On the trail two hours later, my companions and I fight through 100 yards of willow and black brush and enter a twenty-foot wide wash. A half-mile further someone calls out, "Look there, on the left."

There's a rectangular shadow, a doorway, in an alcove twenty feet above us – part of a nearly invisible structure blended into the wall by the Anasazi. Built with flat stones, I can see indentations where fingers pressed mud as cement. Inside are arrowhead chips, pottery shards and small corncobs. Above the ruin is a pictograph of a human figure, painted in red a thousand years ago.

We search for a route further up onto the canyon rim, where more structures are likely to be hidden. When we reach the top, someone says: "Look, over there." This time, three shadowed doorways. Next to one of the ruins, firewood is laid out as if prepared for tonight's fire, as if we have just returned from the hunt.

Thirsty, tired, caked with dried sweat, we begin our return to camp. On the way, someone says: "Did you hear that Martin has lung cancer?"

Martin – he hiked with us several years ago. I search memory for his face, see only flashes of features. Our talk goes to things we remember: Did he smoke? Was there a wife? Children? Bits and pieces of the man emerge from shadow – a doorway to the shards and corncobs of a life.

campfire talk –
light flickers among
the shadows

Revision of a piece published in Simply Haiku, 2:5, 2004.