“The eye never has enough of seeing, nor the ear its fill of hearing.” – a part of Ecclesiastes 1:8 ripped from it’s context.
I suddenly realize it may be later than I think. I rush to get my coat, hat and camera. I’ve misplaced all of my gloves – even my leather work gloves – and the temperature is in the teens. I don’t have time to search for them. Once outside, I’m thankful to see the sun just cresting the rise on the south side of Saddle Crater. I’m not too late to watch and photograph the early light, the long shadows and the gladness of this small part of the earth as it begins to warm to a new day.
The small unnamed volcano as seen from our yard. Here's a larger version of the photo.
Regardless of how much I travel and see, I have some mysterious and unexplained inner compulsion to know the land around my temporary residence. I’m not content with seeing – I want to know intimately. I want to experience the grasses as they harden themselves to months without rain; as they cling to the impoverished soil in winds that scour and cleanse the earth of its fine particles and leave the surface littered with coarse pebbles; as they glow in the moonlight; and, as they turn from browns to an unnatural green for two months during the late summer monsoons. I want to be intimate, intensely intimate, with the grasses, the soil, the hills, the lava flows, the aging Junipers – with all that lives and is and was and continues in death to feed, protect, and give life, nurture, comfort and joy to a new generation.
A closer view of the hill. Here's a larger version.
This morning I plan on climbing to the top of the small volcano that anchors the corner of the land that I call home. It’s small and has no name on any map. It’s too small and insignificant. It lacks the size and stature of Merriam Crater which is young – only about 80,000 years old – and healthy and perfectly formed. It lacks the distinction of being the eastern-most crater. That honor belongs to South Sheba.
I walk toward the hill, pausing occasionally to take a photo of the light teasing a dead and weathered branch on a Juniper. As I walk I try to avoid stepping on the sparse vegetation. The land it too harsh and will not quickly forgive indiscriminate footsteps. Behind one tree I see the tracks of rabbits and the tracks of a coyote. The coyote was moving obliquely to the rabbits and probably passed the tree before the rabbits. His tracks were straight and determined as if he was late for an appointment. This morning, as always, I’m amazed by the quantity of tracks. Summer rains wash them away and infrequent snows hide them but within one day they return as animals continue their never ending foraging and hunting. As I begin the short climb, I spook a jack rabbit with his long gangly ears and legs. He changes directions twice in his frantic efforts to evade an unreal but perceived threat from my intrusion. As he moves to safety, the only other sounds I hear are birds flitting to the inner and denser branches to hide from detection.
The ramparts are six to eight feet tall. Another version.
I reach to top of the hill and stand at the foot of the lava ramparts that protect the summit. My host this morning may be much older than his closest allies. He challenges my knowledge of geology. Most of this little hill’s larger brothers are great piles of volcanic cinders without lava flows or protrusions. This small peak appears to be an old volcano that has aged. Rains, winds and gravity have carried away the outer covering of cinders to expose the lava that cooled and hardened and plugged the volcano’s throat as it began to settle into a permanent slumber.
An aerial photo shows the hill as an almost perfect circle.
Below the ramparts I notice a small hole and then a second hole. Is this the home of the rock squirrels? Last summer a squirrel used to visit our yard. I put out peanuts and waited and watched for his return but he stayed hidden. Later, about two hours, the nuts disappeared. I have a photo, a poor photo taken from a distance, of the squirrel drinking from an Oriole feeder. In the corner of our yard is a dead Juniper. I removed the ends of the larger branches and trimmed the small branches to create a trunk with a few arms on which to hang feeders. The squirrel would stand on a lower branch and tip the Oriole feeder to drink. The sunlight made the sugar water drops glisten as they dropped from his chin to the ground.
Julie's sister, Deb, took the hill as inspiration to create this painting.
Later in the summer the squirrel disappeared. I wondered if he was a transient visitor or had he become prey for some predator. One Sunday morning Julie and I were eating breakfast on the deck. I scanned the ramparts with binoculars and saw a squirrel. Was it the same squirrel, my squirrel? (I wonder if we humans are the only species to lay claim of ownership to other species. Why are we so arrogant to use the term “my”?) On that morning I passed the binoculars to Julie and described the location of the squirrel. She saw it – or did she? She was looking in the wrong location. Then she realized there were two squirrels sunning themselves. This morning I look at the holes and wonder if the rock squirrels dug them and whether they will visit next year.
I climb to the top of the ramparts that are about eight feet high. Once on top I look back toward our house. Behind the house I notice the thin covering of snow on the north side of Francis Crater. The sun has robbed the south side but the north face looks like an old man with white stubble.
Looking southwest toward home. Here's a more detailed photo.
This little insignificant hill on which I stand has memories. It has seen droughts, deep snows, passing antelope herds and brilliant sunsets. It has heard the sounds of thunderstorms, howling winds, coyote songs and the whooshing of raven wings. It has felt my booted steps and the gentler steps of many first Americans.
My fingers are getting cold but I feel alive and elated. I’ve stood on this hill on hot summer mornings, on overcast days, in wind storms and in rains. We are becoming intimate. We’re not there yet but we’re getting to know one another.
I look once again toward home where Julie is reclining on the couch with her foot elevated on a pillow. It time for warm hands, breakfast and her smile.