The days here in Southeast Arizona are rather uniformly pleasant. Although the mornings tend to be chilly, the rarefied atmosphere allows the sun to warm the afternoons with celerity. On one such afternoon a few days ago I was out on the canyon slopes wandering around and seeing what there was to be seen.
There has been a persistent drought around here for the past fifteen years, or perhaps the years before were unusually wet. Who can say? Record-keeping humans have only lived here for a tiny slice of geological time.
Most of the vegetation growing on the mountain and canyon slopes is well-adapted to dry conditions, but some of the trees seem to be suffering while dying a slow death by dessication. Many of the manazanita trees in particular seem to have been dying for some years. The oaks, pines, and junipers are thriving slowly but the slopes are littered with bleached-gray skeletons of perished manzanitas.
As I clambered up a shelf of granite that afternoon I came across an impressively large manzanita tree, the biggest one I’ve yet seen. The tree was half-dead. It’s trunk was about one foot in diameter, as compared to the usual four or five inches. Here is a shot of the trunk with my cap placed before it for scale:
Due to some vagary of optics my cap looks larger than it should; my head really isn’t a foot in diameter!
As I squatted down and regarded the tree it began to shudder and swell. Alarmed, I shot another photo after grabbing my cap and stepping back away from it. What was going on, I thought?
A sinister rumbling sound accompanied by the frenzied creaking of straining wood fibers filled the air. The trunk ballooned in size and I began to retreat, but not before snapping this shot:
A sound like an approaching cellulose tornado caused me to cover my ears — I managed to snap one last photo before losing consciousness:
I awakened feeling scorched and sore all over; I wondered how long I’d been out. Towards the east it seemed that dawn was approaching, which meant that I had been lying unconscious in the gravel for quite a few hours.
The enormous manzanita was gone. All that remained was a layer of red and brown splinters arrayed radially around the frayed remnants of the tree’s stump.
I wearily got to my feet and stood there unsteadily, enjoying the chill morning breeze. As the dawn light gradually intensified I noticed a semi-clad female figure gesturing proudly towards the dawn clouds, which were quite spectacular that morning. It was Eos, the Greek goddess of the dawn, of course, accompanied this time by the grinning figure of a Chihuahuan raven, its body still submerged in another dimension:
I knew Eos from my days delivering newspapers to rural Illinois customers last fall.
“So, Eos, you decided to try your hand at one of these Arizona sunrises! How did you get here, anyway? I thought your territory was the Mississippi Valley.”
“I’m a little pissed off at you, Larry! You took off without a word of warning! I was relying upon you to critique my matutinal efforts, you know! If it weren’t for the help of the Dictionary Demon I never would have been able to track you down. He graciously gave me a ride down here last month. I must say that the atmosphere is wonderfully clear around here, and the local sprites are quite advanced in their color-mixing abilities.”
Kind reader, if you are unfamiliar with Eos and the Demon you might have a look at these past posts:
The raven’s head, hovering in the sky like the head of the Cheshire Cat in the Alice book, cawed harshly and said, “I’ve been showing Eos around my territory. I think Kokopelli has taken a shine to her!”
Eos flushed deeply and exclaimed, “Raven, I’ve told you repeatedly that just because I deign to talk with that scruffy flute-player doesn’t mean I have any sort of designs upon that smelly hump-backed trickster! You presume too much, bird!”
The raven cawed hoarsely in amusement.
“Oh, the goddess is sensitive! Ha!”
I attempted to divert the two supernatural creatures from their squabbling by remarking, “Eos, your dawn is developing beautifully! The local sprites seem to have picked up the thrust of your individual aesthetic sense rather quickly!”
Eos smiled and said, “These Southwestern sprites have been interbreeding with Navaho and Apache minor deities for several hundred years now. I do like the mix of Mediterranean and Native American cultures they seem to have developed!”
I was aching all over due to sleeping on rough scree all night. I’d had my fill of deities and their doings, so I bade Eos and the Raven adieu and made my way down the canyon slope, thinking of breakfast and coffee as I avoided the agave and yucca thorns.