Monday, July 21, 2008

Night Hawks

Unpleasant didn’t describe the day. Hellacious is a better descriptor with the dictionary’s connotation of “extremely difficult” rather than “remarkably good”.

Under failing light about 7:30 PM I decided to climb to the top of Frances Crater at a pace that would stress my heart but consume stress of spirit. A rain earlier in the day had cleared out the monsoon clouds but they had returned and the landscape was muted by a gray that replaced the layer of dust cleansed by the rain. The climb is continuous and about a mile long. At first the rise seems almost level but it quickly becomes steeper until it reaches nature’s limit on a fluid cinder cone.

To the west the sun colored the underside of a few of the lowest clouds with yellows, reds and oranges. The clouds shaded by the mountain were gray and grayer. Over the eastern desert silent lightning played in the clouds. A weak breeze pulled excess heat from my bare arms.

It was getting to the time that snakes would begin their nightly hunts and I chose a path around the thickest bunch grasses and listened for any warning buzzes. Though it was difficult to see I watched the ground for pottery shards uncovered by the monsoons, for small flowers growing close to the ground and for unusual flora. Vaguely I recognized young Winterfat plants that always seem soothing in some unconscious way.

I heard the cries of the Night Hawks before I saw them. Stopping, I looked up and occasionally could see a dark profile moving quickly. It was too dark to see the white bars on their wings but the profile and erratic flight were unmistakable.

On Friday morning as we ate an early breakfast outside a flock of Night Hawks flew over. I counted 13 and for several minutes we watched them work the sky to the north like tired bats feeding. On this night they were feeding lower and I was in the middle of their flock. Several times I caught sight of one as it began a dive toward an insect and heard the distinctive sound of its wings as it neared the bottom of the dive.

More than once a hawk flew low in a half circle around me. I doubt I was of as much interest to them as they were to me. Most likely I was scaring up insects that drew them so close to me.

I got to the steepest part of the climb and decided to turn toward home. Intentionally I had not brought a headlamp; I wanted the natural mysterious solitude of the dark. I couldn’t see the house but picked a distant cinder cone on the horizon as a navigation point and began stumbling toward home. Twice I dropped into the bottom of washes that led generally north but meandered somewhat west or east. Somewhere south coyotes began calling and added a melody to the Night Hawks and the breeze in the trees.

Near the bottom of Frances Crater the Junipers are sparse, small and only about six feet tall. Nearer the house they become thicker and taller. In the dark and the trees the only navigation aids were the slope of the land and the washes that I crossed. I selected a wash uncertain if it was the wash that would lead to the back of the house or the wash that passed the house to the west. Twice I stumbled over lava boulders and know I must be in the western wash. I tried unsuccessfully to pick out the wind generator against the dark horizon.

Things began looking more unusual when I looked over my right shoulder and saw a light. I had passed the house in the dark.

It was a good walk, a pleasant end to an unpleasant day. Tomorrow night I’ll get headlamps ready and invite Julie to walk to the open area south of the house. We’ll listen to the sounds of the night, watch the Night Hawks and let the stresses of life be carried off with the breeze.


Blogger Buffalo said...

Hellacious day or not, it resulted in a well written essay.

7/22/2008 09:05:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Your prose is wonderful. It reminded me of a book by Edward Abbey called Desert Solitaire, well worth reading.

You have more courage (or something!) than I to take a hike like this.

But, you returned to tell the story!

8/03/2008 06:35:00 PM  

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