It was one of those mornings when my feet seemed unaware of each other and I walked slowly up a canyon wash to avoid tripping. It was warmish at dawn, but the sun wouldn’t quite come out, having missed a number of good chances, or so I thought studying the antic clouds that were behaving as sloppily as the government. I was looking for a wildflower, the penstemon, but stopped at a rock pool in a miniature marsh seeing a Mojave rattlesnake curled up in the cup of a low-slung boulder. Since this snake can kill a cow or horse I detoured through a dense thicket then glimpsed the small opening of a side canyon I had not noticed in my 17 years of living down the road. How could I have missed it, except that it’s my habit to miss a great deal? And then the sun came out and frightened me as if I had stumbled onto a well hidden house of the gods, roofless and only a hundred feet long, backed by a sheer wall of stone. I smelled the tell-tale urine of a mountain lion, but no cave was visible until I looked up at a passing Mexican jay that shrieked the usual warning. We move from fear to fear. I knew the lion would be hiding there in the daytime more surely than I had seen the snake. They weren’t guardians. This is where they lived. These small rock cathedrals are spread around the landscape in hundreds of variations but this one had the rawness of the unseen, giving me an edge of discomfort rarely felt in nature except in Ecuador and the Yucatan, where I had appeared as a permanent stranger. I sat down with my back tight against a sheer wall, thinking that the small cave entrance I faced by craning my neck must be the home of the old female lion seen around here not infrequently, and that she could only enter from a crevasse at the top, downward into her cave. This is nature without us. This is someone’s home where I don’t belong.
September-October 2008 Earth First!