Encircling the Sea of Cortez...

 

The Peace of Forty Days
(La Paz de Cuarentas Dias)

 

Chapter Three:

First Encounter with the Trickster

By Stik Mann


This afternoon was to be a typical Arizona winter afternoon, as far as anyone knew. But as black clouds crept over the mountains and turned the day to night, I sense that all of Yuma knows something is amiss.

Soon rain is pounding the ground. Bolts of fire as thick as Sequoia trunks shoot from above and there is little time between the flash and the crack of thunder.

"Oh, it'll only last an hour or so," says Dick, as is also saying, no doubt, the rest of the local population. It always lasts only an hour or so.

An hour passes. The fire ceases but the rain pours on, and on, throughout the night. Water is running down the street like a river, filling the quarter-acre depression at the end of the block that was put there for just such a phenomenon. The roof of the motor home is leaking, and I imagine that a good percentage of Yuma also has pots and pans scattered about their homes.

The next day, after the storm finally breaks, I drive Dick's Honda scooter up into the Fortuna Wash, a series of shallow gullies formed when runoff from the infrequent rains stream from the rocky valleys of the Gila mountains and out into the desert. I park the bike next to the primitive road and hike up one of the ravines.

Though usually dry as a bone, it is obvious that a great deluge had recently ripped through the area. Still, just a few hours after the rain had ceased, it is possible to walk directly up the wash, having only to avoid a few small pools, mud holes and the still crumbling banks.

The bed is composed of rounded stones, sand and sediment deposits. Trees and bushes unlike any I've ever seen before, flourish along and hang out over the edges of the gully, forming a cool green tunnel. Enormous roots grow out from the banks, and at times I feel that I am being enticed into a snare of some natural type.

I crawl up the bank and peek out into the open desert. Saguaro cacti spot the barren landscape, some as tall as thirty feet, some even higher, with two, five, fourteen arms reaching up toward the cloudy sky like penitents as prayer. The sun finally breaks through the purple clouds. The temperature rises quickly.

I duck back into the shady sanctuary and find a comfortable spot beneath a gnarled tree. I take off my pack and dig out a sandwich and a couple of oranges. A slight breeze carries a strange mix of smells, and I can only guess at their origin: a desert flower, spent gunpowder, rotting flesh. I take a shot off of a small bottle of Mescal (including the worm, which I am careful to avoid) that Mom got in Mexico. I bite into a piece of lime.

I retrieve the bowl of Grandpa's pipe from my pocket. I smoke and listen to the desert hum. I sit for many minutes after the pipe goes out, motionless, except to take a gulp of Mescal, another bite of lime. Suddenly, there is movement in the corner of my eye. I turn quickly and see what I expect to see: a crumbled wall of rounded stones, all interwoven with roots of all sizes, spotted with clumps of dried grass--a pattern in which a creative mind could not help but find images of all sorts.

But the image that I immediately see is that of a very, very large rabbit. It is gray with big ears and enormous pink eyes. I feel somewhat uneasy as the image does not change, no matter how hard I try to exercise my imagination. I take the last swig of Mescal. As I bite into the lime, the rabbit reveals himself to be very real, darting off across the gully to the top of the opposite bank. A shiver shoots up my spine and I stand to look at him directly. He looks back at me. Then, coming from miles across the desert, I hear distinct human laughter. Then there is silence. The rabbit turns and runs.

I sit to contemplate how my imagination had deceived me. I look down. In one hand is the bowl of Grandpa's pipe, in the other hand is a small bottle of Mescal, empty. Totally empty.

I had swallowed the worm.

Again, I hear laughter.

Next month: Chapter Four
"All My Stuff"