Field Notes #2

We might use language in our attempts to set boundaries, but language contains in microcosmic acts the macrocosmic thrust toward new form.

November 4, 2006
The trail into the canyon is rougher at November’s threshold; run-off from recent storms took the same trail to the canyon’s main water course that I must take. Old gullies have been deepened; new ones have formed, running ragged. In places, I consult the deer, reading their tracks for the best paths around obstacles. Like the water and I, deer seek paths of least resistance.

In the canyon bottom, the cottonwood leaves–those that remain on the trees—their gold scale’s gone to brown scrap. But even these bones of leaves, thin and crisp as birds’ bones, clitter a few last water words.

Some lizards skitter on the warmer slopes, no doubt keeping very short hours.

As I climb out of the canyon, I stop to sit on a rock outcrop and take in the view. Sudden liquid laughter erupts from the creek below. Behind me, the spring claps. As quickly as the voices surge, they hush. It’s as if a sudden lift of water swelled from the earth then sank back in a kind of hydro-sigh. Autumn having borne off hordes of leaves, the water in the canyon can now outshine the trees.

Finally, a golden eagle flying like an arrow shot from a bow of strong intent, someone’s life clutched in its talons—can’t tell what it’s got. Only that its tail streams out behind, flapping in the wind like a flag of surrender.

December 13, 2006
Down at the beaver dams some ice has melted, but what’s left forces the water through narrow channels forming at puckers in each dam’s lip. This cranks up the volume on the canyon’s water soundtrack. I think, “________ Creek is running like an engine, or like a long, liquid machine that’s running on a series of engines. The beavers have changed how the canyon sounds.”

A duck just soared past me, heading down canyon. I heard it before I saw it, a sound like a miniature jet. Thought I was hearing the stoop of a hawk.

Today, I discover that the juncos make a different sound when they encounter me from the sound they make when they encounter a hawk. When I meet them, they pip nervously and flit to a safe difference. Today, I heard them pipping a short ways off. Then I startled a hawk—couldn’t see what kind—that had been standing on the trail. In fleeing me, the hawk winged right through the flock of juncos, who screamed “Twit twit twit twit twit!” in terror. It sounded as if someone had “given the harness bells a shake,” except for the added pitch of fear. It was a noise of terror, but it broke the air in peals of beautiful music.

January 8, 2007
This morning as I descend the trail into __________, I hear a sharp keening. I think it might be a fox or some other canine barking, but then I hear distinct bird notes. Some large raptor, possibly an eagle. I’ve seen golden eagles down here and up on the rim. As I work my way into the canyon, the keening continues, echoing off the canyon walls. This sound overlays the thrum of water chuting through the beaver dams. Today water channels over the dams with unusual vigor, perhaps energized by snowmelt from the few storms the Abajo Mountains has managed to snag. I think, “When I listen to this water I hear math, scored and performed.” Meanwhile, from the east rim of the canyon, the eagle is doing … I don’t know what. Saying I don’t know what.

So much noise from a large predator puzzles me. I scan the cliffs and rim but can’t spot the bird. The clamor stops for a few minutes then starts again, filling the canyon with long phrases of shrill notes. I sit above one of the dams and eat an apple and some trail mix, then stand to go. As I skirt the creek in the direction I intend to travel, I see it—the eagle. It’s on the wing, flying east to west, heading off from me at an angle.

Suddenly, seeing me see it (I think), it changes course and flies to me directly. It spins five or six tight circles directly over my head then returns to its original course exactly and flies out of the canyon.

While it circled above, I studied its flight, how its body rocked between two comparatively still wings, all the while the tail dipping and rolling like an canoe paddle as the bird kept me at the eye of a circular field of vision.

January 24, 2007
On the way to the trail into ____________ this morning I was privileged to glimpse two coyotes. They stood at a distance in the treeline abutting the prairie dog town. I’m not sure how I saw them. Maybe I felt them watching me. I was walking along, head down, choosing my steps carefully through the stones in my way, when I suddenly swung up my head and to the left, focusing on the distant treeline, and I looked straight at them. They coyotes knew immediately my eyes had touched them–they knew it before I did. One wheeled off into the PJ forest at a lope, seeking deeper cover. Only then did I understand what I was looking at, or rather that I was looking at something that had been watching me. Recognizing the doglike lope I put it together. After taking the risk of observing me longer, a second coyote, less perturbed than the other, trotted after its companion. Then I knew there were two.

March 17, 2007
Conversation overheard at local hardware store:
Guy #1: What are you gettin’ ready to do?
Guy #2 (Tipping up a cooler for closer inspection): I’m gettin’ ready to go play.
Guy #1: You goin’ fishin’?
Guy #2: I’m takin’ my ATV and goin’ to play.
Guy #1: You goin’ fishin’?
Guy #2: Naw, I’m just takin’ my ATV out.
Guy #1: To do what?
Guy #2: Just to play.
Guy #1: I never take my ATV out “just to play.” I take my ATV out, I’m skiddin’ logs or haulin’ rocks.

3 comments for “Field Notes #2

  1. Perhaps this fits here:

    With the rain on the first day of the trip, I had to wait for this second night for the bats. We camp on a sand delta extending into the Green at the mouth of a side canyon. Tamarcks ring the delta and buzz soft and clear with the sounds of vibrating mosquito wings. Once the rehydrated dinner is down, we flee to the sanctuary of the netted tent. We watch the sky fade and darken through a prismatic wash, red to yellow to green to blue to violet to black. After the red, but well before the black, we see the bats.

    Constantly flapping, zipping straight, changing direction on a wrinkle of air.

    They emit high chirps, not loud, but clear. I remember being told that humans can’t hear bat echo frequencies. Either that was wrong or what I’m hearing is not echolocation chirps and squeaks, but bat gossip.

    I guess that the bats are probably Myotis californicus, a species my guide informs me are inhabitants of rocky desert canyons, talented twisting flyers. Their sudden jerks and zags enable them to consume enough of the tiny blood-fed insects to reproduce and pass on their DNA to their young. Some of them eat a thousand or so mosquitoes each night to survive – two-thirds their bodies’ weights.

    TV biologists insist that only the vampire bat drinks blood, and they only get it from other animals and livestock. Hogwash. These bats are feeding on me. I don’t dodge as gracefully as a bat, so I’ve become part of the ecosystem. The mosquitoes feed on me. The bats feed on the me-gorged mosquitoes. By this point in the evening, I’ve fed lots of mosquitoes. I’m vaguely relieved that the bats don’t hunt in packs. If they did, they might decide to go for the mother lode, rather than attacking the stagecoaches coming from the mine.

    I watch as they they flit and twist and bounce in the air, gobbling bugs in the darkening sky.

  2. Very nice, greenfrog. Thank you. I’m glad to know some other Mormon-type is keeping or has kept a field journal.

    “They emit high chirps, not loud, but clear. I remember being told that humans can’t hear bat echo frequencies. Either that was wrong or what I’m hearing is not echolocation chirps and squeaks, but bat gossip.”

    I’d like to know about this, too. I’ve heard that bit of bat fact all my life, yet I’ve heard bats often before I’ve seen them. So what are we hearing?

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