It’s such an odd thing, this discovering that you are the person you wanted to become. Such an odd realization to settle on you as you drive the potholed desert two-lane, forty miles from the nearest person and still feeling slightly crowded. Across the valley is a mountain range. In that broad pale stripe across its face, you have heard, lie buried trilobites. You mean to pry a few from the rock someday. There is no hurry. They have lain there for 560 million years.
You belong: you belong. There’s no other way to put it. And sure, you don’t, not really. Your skin leaks too much water, you burn fossil carbon at an appalling rate just to get here, and when you do you make the animals nervous. I can’t stand in the noon like Raven, not for long. I tried it and turned red within half an hour.
And yet Raven doesn’t belong there either, not really. Sixteen and a half miles walked this past week, stone in boot and hand numb from my walking stick. Sitting in a desolate dry wash I picked up a compelling stone. An earwig, tobacco brown and almost moist looking, flinched at the sudden winter sun. I apologized. I replaced the rock as gently as I could. I suppose I have always been just as embedded in the world.
A long time ago Becky and I looked out at the Painted Desert. I was identifying plants for her. “That’s Ephedra,” I said, pointing at a small leafless shrub. “Mormon tea. It tastes pretty good, and it has some ephedrine in it, which is a good decongestant. It’s the same genus as Ma Huang, but not as potent.” A woman stood close by, listening. She was perhaps 35, alone, sere and thin and denim-clad. She excused herself for intruding, asked me some questions about a few other plants, penstemons and sagebrush. She drove off in a beaten-up 4-Runner, Triassic red, the color of the Chinle Formation. She’d tied a blue bandana through her hair. She was alone and traveling according to whim. Thick Navajo silver hung on her wrists.
“I want to be her when I grow up,” said Becky.
Sometimes the land reaches up and claims you, quicksand in the middle of the wash. Sometimes you don’t notice until it’s over your head. The desert becomes porous, and you walk barelegged through the cholla field without bleeding. The rattlesnakes grant passage. And yet as soon as you fail to expect it, they will puncture you.
The well-watered hills in which I live are far more dangerous. One ridge sends an arrow into my heart each time I see it. Six years and I am still struck speechless with remorse. I walked the streets below late at night, the chorus frogs loud against the traffic. I gauged my value by another’s interest.
In winter the sodden soil lets go the rock. It thunders downslope, eats whole neighborhoods. Let the insurance adjusters take their measure. Let the archaeologists disinter them. I am already the person I longed to be. I pry old trilobites from the rocks, exult at unremembered contours thus exposed. It is sufficient. There are some remembered treasures best left buried.