Sadly, I can't tell you much about the field work that the researchers are doing. They're studying the ruins of some old dwellings or something. Apparently a group of people who had been living in an authoritarian society moved here and took up life with another group of people whose society was more consensual. That's what the researchers theorize, anyhow. But it's not clear to me who these people were. I didn't bump into any researchers today.
On our post-dinner walk I told Stan that I could not imagine how anyone could eek out a life up there. The land is pretty scrubby and inhospitable. Apparently the hills were not always so barren. Over-grazing by goats during the colonial era left the hills in their present condition. It's possible that the dead juniper in the foreground was alive four hundred years ago. The hills would have been more heavily forested then. Hard to imagine.
I forgot to mention that this dog followed me on my hike. Her name is Luna. She lives down the lane. Sometimes she's a royal pain in the ass. She'll sneak into the house and eat out of the compost bucket. But this afternoon I was happy that she came along on my hike, our hike. I had to share my apple and my water with her—well, I guess I didn't have to share, but I figured that if I was thirsty she was thirsty. She ran ahead of me most of the time. Sometimes I would see her poise her body and then leap into the air to pounce on a lizard. I'm sure she never caught one. Other times she would shove her body under the low branches of a juniper and paw around. She was much more fit to hike in the hills than I was. Here, we are pausing for a breather. I had half an apple (Luna had the other half) and some water. Luna drank water out of my hand. We were still half an hour from the crest of the highest ridge.
As we neared the highest point of the day, the terrain became much rockier, and the rocks themselves went from round, smooth, and relatively small to big and jagged. In our final ascent I remembered what a friend told me about my current horoscope. According to Susan Miller, I should avoid any big undertakings until the 6th of October. I asked her if that meant I should not go on my hike today, and she said that I could go on my hike as long as I didn't push too hard. When I was nearly out of breath and light-headed from the altitude and the thin air, I remembered Susan Miller's words and considered turning around. I was running out of water. I did not want to faint and bust my head open on a rock. Who would find me? Would a researcher find me dead? That didn't seem like a cool idea. I was psyching myself out. I took another short rest in the shade of a juniper, called Luna, and continued to the summit.
This agave, growing among some rocks along the crest of my final ascent cheered me. It made me think of my old friend, Dr. Crowbar. It looks like the agave Victoria Reginae that I have in a pot back in Massachusetts. I was near the top. I could see the mountains above Taos, some 40 miles to the north. My legs were wobbling, and my footing was not as sure as it had been an hour earlier. But I reached the top. Another hiker before me had reached the top and built a rock cairn, probably as a kind of monument to his or her achievement. I was not about to build a cairn. All I wanted to do was get back down.
Admittedly, this cairn isn't quite at the top, but it's close enough. I could see the nearby town of Rinconada below. I didn't care about the ideas that had propelled me up into these hills. I didn't care about collecting stones or observing the mountain ecosystem. I had entered an odd state of consciousness. My brain was not getting enough oxygen. I reached the top and pulled myself together. I would make it down. I put my head down and descended.
I found the arroyo beyond the big arroyo that I had set out to find. Near the peak, the arroyo didn't look like much more than a dry creek bed, but I knew that it would take me down to the river. Once water starts heading downward through the hills, it does not suddenly stop heading downward. If I followed the arroyo, I would find the bottom. There would be no doubt about that. The arroyo, too, made for easy walking. In places, it was like the mountain had been paved for me. Luna was making good time, her vigor increasing. She would dash up the slope and run back down. I whistled for her here and there. I was so relieved to be descending, I forgot about the people who had migrated to this area to free themselves of the oppressive society they'd been living in. Then my eyes sharpened, and I started to notice some odd stones. I knelt down and found a stone that looked like an arrowhead, but it was not one. It was too chunky, the wrong color, and not nearly flat enough. I found another odd little stone that had been perfectly cleaved in half. A glinting black stone near the creek bed of the arroyo caught my eye.
An arrowhead! A real arrowhead. An arrowhead that had been attached to an arrow, an arrow that had been shot from the bow of an indigenous American two hundred or more years before me. Did the arrow hit the deer? Had the deer come to the arroyo to drink after a rain had filled it? Was the hunter perched above? How many hunters were there? Was it day? Was it night? How had the arrowhead been fashioned to the arrow? Should I turn it into a necklace and always wear it? I kissed the arrowhead and called to Luna. She had gone. For a while she'd been beckoning me to follow her up the side of the arroyo and over the ridge. Later I found out that her house was not too far off.
I continued down the arroyo until I found a well worn path. The path took me back to the big arroyo. I descended into that arroyo and went home. When I saw the horse who lives in the pasture down the lane, I relaxed. I was at the bottom now. I was only a couple hundred, flat yards from home. I clutched my arrowhead. At home, I rinsed it in the bathroom sink and scrubbed it clean with a toothbrush.