I’d just finished a day hike down Thunder River Trail and was looking for a place to park my truck and camp. Drift smoke from a few fires farther east along the rim swaddled the lower reaches below Steamboat Mountain. I decided to camp randomly. Whatever the next road was, I’d take it. The next sign was for Sowats Point, nine miles away.
The west trending road was deep with potholes. I gave up after about three miles in, and camped along an overgrown side road that led to a clearing. Before sunset, I walked down the main road toward Sowats Point. Thick forests on either side were overgrown with Gambel oak and sage and studded with ponderosa. The sun neared its gloaming. I felt myself wishing I’d gambled to the end of the road to Sowats Point. What vistas would I have seen?
It’d been a good day. I’d traversed the Thunder River Trail down to the Esplanade, hoping to reach a distant fault where Deer Creek plunged down into the Inner Gorge. I’d wanted to go farther, to hike up to the edge of that fault. Instead, I ended up on a hillock in the middle of the Esplanade, thinking about the cliff hike back up Thunder River Trail, about how much water I didn’t have left. So I stopped before my destination, gazing at the fault from far away.
Now, as I walked down the road toward Sowats Point, contemplating these twin regrets, a space between the serviceberry and the oak brush opened up on the south edge of the road. The sun was lowing near a ridge, behind which it would soon set. The North Rim was trackless forest. Mostly pondies, but also quakies, endless oak, and manzanita. The Rim’s small mountains and long ridges rolled with spruce-fir forests, spilling over cliffs. The elevation made it high country.
A montane meadow opened up south of the road, filled with Apache plume and cliffrose, with mountain mahogany and big sage. The meadow stretched beyond the scrub which held thick to the roadside. It looked inviting. I zigzagged through the short sage and owlcover, moved through the fleabane and yarrow. I stepped over the deadfall of pinion. What drew my eyes, even from the road, was a stand of yarrow, the blossoms gone for a couple weeks due to the cold nights.
They were an amber hue, dusted by the sun. They seemed lit from behind. No taller than my knees, most stood shorter than that. They were golden baskets for the light. They held it in a way that nothing else did for those minutes, those moments before sunset. They were glass that held the light as if it were white wine.
They stood, everything stood, still. No breeze. No sound. The oak had grown to small trees. The thinnest stems bowed, unmoving. Just the gentle light, at rest in the cold October sky. The meadow sloped south toward a line of ponderosa.
The center of the scene, the mark of contemplation, remained on the yarrow, immature bunches growing in a large ellipse, in a clearing where conditions seemed favorable. They were young clusters, grouping in bullion stands which held the light like dragonfly wings.
They tried to take my thoughts, the forests did. The stillness did. Replace it with blissful emptiness. But one or two ideas bled through the membrane of nothing. One thought, the first one that stabbed through, was that this soft light, easy on the eyes, was what I’d come to see. It didn’t matter that I didn’t make it to the end of the road to Sowal Point to camp, or that I hadn’t gotten down to the edge of the Esplanade to see the fault pouring off into the inner canyon earlier today.
This light had beckoned me here from the road three times before I finally walked into the meadow. It would’ve shown this moment to me somehow, somtime today. The easy tranquility, stiff in the cool air, was just an ordinary light. If it was something that I could have now, then I could have it any time. Yet I had to be open to it.
The light then, the standstill peace, was always here. Like a radio station that broadcast 24 hours a day, it was just a matter of whether I tuned into it.
A few more thoughts found there way in, and I noticed the bowed stem of a yarrow nod up and down. A sage tremored from an unfelt breeze. Thought had intruded on silence. Time crept back in, for to think is to think in time.
Stillness, though, held out, here and there. I waited until the sun dropped below the tops of the trees along the ridge. I walked back to my campsite, and slept for the cold night.
© 2021 by Michael C. Just
Mike’s novel, The Dirt: The Journey of a Mystic Cowboy, is available in softcover or eBook formats through Amazon.
You can purchase the book through this website. Or go straight to amazon at https://www.amazon.com/s?k=the+dirt+journey+of+a+mystic+cowboy&crid=1S40Q4BXSUWJ6&sprefix=the+dirt%3A+journey+of+a+m%2Caps%2C180&ref=nb_sb_ss_i_1_23
Mike’s other titles, including The Crippy, The Mind Altar, and Canyon Calls, are available through Amazon at https://www.amazon.com/-/e/B002
Two of his short stories have recently been published online. The Obligate Carnivore has been published by the Scarlet Leaf Review @ Category: MICHAEL JUST – SCARLET LEAF REVIEW
I See You, Too has been published by the 96th of October @ I See You, Too – 96th of October