Excerpt: Winds of Wildfire
Winds of Wildfire – Chapter 2
It was mid-afternoon. The sun was at its most blistering hot. Thin clouds streaked the western sky. Inside her bedroom, Amee donned a pair of tight shorn off jeans that exposed her lean long legs, a short sleeve man’s button-down shirt that allowed a slim peek at her ample cleavage.
After she slipped on her hiking shoes and laced them up, her hands shook as her unsteady nerves still jangled with the shock of the nasty confrontation with her neighbor. She cursed him one last time, “Bastard! Dirty rotten bastard!” Then she called out, “Let’s go bunk!”
Her tote bag filled with bottled water and salt crackers and cheese, she jumped into her old Toyota pick-up, Bunk in tow, and sped off to Wild Rivers. She thought: I’ve got to get that beast out of my mind. A good hike should give me relief, it always does. “It better,” she murmured with conviction. Bunk, by her side on the truck seat, gave her a startled glance and flashed his teeth as if to both concur and admire her resolve.
She drove north beyond Questa, turned left and went along a road that twisted and turned its way into Cerro which lay below Guadalupe Mountain, an instinct volcano. First to come into view was the Catholic Church on the right and a commentary across the street spiked with American flags that snapped in the hot wind. The village stretched out, hugged the road westerly towards the Rio Grande with barb wire fenced fields sloping north below the acequia, and beyond in the far distance stood Ute Mountain that rose like a medieval castle that reached for the sky in its majestic natural splendor.
At the center of the village was a café on the right and a VFW hall and the post office on the left, no other commercial activity existed. Across the village and into Wild Rivers the white pick up sped. Amee’s spirits began to soar. Before she could see the river gorge and its steep-sided cliffs, she saw the vast expanse of instinct volcanoes to the west across the river that dotted the landscape, surrounded by silver-gray sagebrush. Some stood like conical, slightly worn downhills, some looked like ancient Egyptian pyramids along the Nile, others like upside-down bowls. She had entered a violent valley from a time before this that had left its mark of earth crust creation for the naked eye to see. Amee took it all in, with wonder. Bunk half snoozed, unimpressed. Finally, she rounded Guadalupe Mountain, drove up to its base and parked. “From here we’ll hike to the gorge rim trail,” she said, splitting the silence. Bunk gave a start, wagged his tail as they both piled out, eagerly.
Amee shaded her eyes, looked up at the blazing sun, and determined there was plenty of time left for a long hike before it fell. The wind blew in fierce, hot, dry, dusty gusts. Their first destination on the rim was Chowalauna lookout that lay beyond an open field of sagebrush. Then they had to traverse a stand of piñon pines and juniper trees where a small flock of crestless blue piñon jays pecked about for fallen nuts, unsuccessfully. Here too, the drought was taking its toll in the scarcity of piñon nuts. Amee took a deep breath as the aroma of the pines wafted in the wind into to her lungs and into her soul like the call of the wild was calling to her, stay here, stay here, far from the insanity of civilization, stay here where nature is real and not driven by greed and cruelty, stay here where it is truly civilized, her inner voice echoed in the caverns of her mind. The aroma of the pines was like a tonic that refreshed and restored her inner being, her inner sanctum, but above all her sanity.
Bunk was in his glory. He ran here and there, sniffed and pawed and sprayed the little forest to claim it all as his, immersed in the joy that nothing and nobody challenged his newfound conquests. Amee could hear the river before she could see it, its roar heightened by its low water level as it rushed and slammed against exposed jagged river rocks far below. Weather sculpted lava bed rocks lay stacked cake-like up the steep sides. Cracked rock streams slid down to the river band along the cliff’s underbelly. Dizzy with anticipation, she sat on a large rock at the edge behind a link fence, the sight of it all at once was overwhelming in its enormity and her close proximity to what seemed the abyss of the world in its vast depth and the strange fear that the open maw could at any time swallow her up in one fell swoop caused her heart to pump, wildly. She shuddered. Bunk barked unabashedly in the near distance under the trees. In front of her was a basalt rock that had partially peeled off and hung by what seemed a fragile hold onto the cliff. There was no way for Amee to know that the ledge had peeled of ten thousand years before when the last of the surrounding volcanoes had erupted. Nor could she know that she sat at the pivotal center where the Rocky Mountains rose by eruption and upheaval for the second time after the firstRockieseroded away to a nub by wind, rain, ice, and frost and wind eons ago.
The outwash of that snail pace event created the Great Plains to the east. To the west, where Amee now sat, a chasm once existed ten to twenty miles deep, filled by the western outwash flow, and today called the Taos Plateau. This all happened long before the burned-out flutes she could see around her ever existed. No, she could not know all that. What she did know was, that in the midst of all she could see and feel and smell, her nerves had calmed and her mind had cleared. And her inner voice whispered to her softly that something good was about to come into her life. “What?” she blurted out, unconsciously. Bunk rushed to her side, tail wagging, and ears pointed as he hopped onto her lap, staring into her eyes, bewildered.
“Oh, Bunk!” she said. “You good dog. Not to worry. I’m just having a human moment. Silly. Very silly. Let’s go on.”
She thought about how Bunk was the true love of her life. What am I thinking, she mused. He’s the only love I have. “Stay with me, little guy. Stay close,” she whispered as she reached down and stroked his tiny head. Bunk strutted along with the pomp and pride of the Queen’s royal guard and a flash of a smile to match.
They hiked along the rim in and out of the trees. At the edge of Big Arsenic Trail, Amee stopped at the campsite that jutted out over the gorge like a small peninsula in the sky, sat on a bench in the shade below an overhang and rested. From here she could see the white water rapids far below upriver. Two golden eagles effortlessly glided in the wind currents eye level to Amee, yet high above the precipice, scouting for prey. Amee let herself become absorbed in the eagle’s space trek and it set her to wonder how it must feel to know the freedom of flight, the gift of sight to see vast vistas from on high, the right and might to control their own fate. What a privilege, she thought. What I would give to have it.
Bunk let out a sudden bark from in the trees. It snapped Amee’s fairy tale trance. She turned away from the gorge and saw a metallic colored government pick-up approaching along a dirt road leading to the camp. The truck halted in front of the camp sideways. Inside was a man with the window rolled down.
“Hi, there!” he yelled out. “You OK?”
“Been out making my rounds. Didn’t see a car. How’d you get here?”
Amee smiled at the inquisition and relented.
“Thanks for your concern. But I parked belowGuadalupeMountain.”
“Well, that explains it all. No damsel in distress here. See ya,” the man said as he slowly drove off, then turned and shouted back at Amee, “Nice legs,” as he gave her a backhanded wave.
Amee smiled wryly, caught between not knowing if she should be angry at his haughty impertinence or if she should be flattered and take it as a compliment. How dare him. He doesn’t know me. Then she tried to remember what he looked like. Well, she smiled, he was good looking, girl, she mused. And he did give you an unexpected thrill. Admit it. And how long since you’ve felt that way, huh? Not that you’re desperate, mind you! Be clear on that, silly woman. She glanced at her wristwatch. Ummmm, she thought, abstractly. Maybe he makes his rounds at the same hour every day. Maybe if I come and hike at the same time tomorrow I’ll run into him again. Then I’ll get a good look Girl, girl, what are you thinking? Get your wits about you. But an unfamiliar feeling bucked at her cautious sense of reasoning and blurted out loud, boldly, “Why not?”
Bunk bolted onto her lap, ears perked and teeth flashing in a puzzled grin.
By now the sun had fallen behind wispy elongated clouds mixed with dirty brown windblown dust that turned the length of the horizon into a burnished red sunset. In the near distance, the dead volcanoes stood darkly silhouetted like pyramids in a desert wasteland. Amee jumped up, took a long look at the blazing sunset and started towards Guadalupe Mountain. Bunk trotted closely by as the dimness of twilight began to fall. Amee felt strangely giddy.