I’d looked forward to seeing the immense rock on the Navajo Reservation near Kayenta, Arizona. I wasn’t disappointed. This volcanic monolith rises over 1500 feet, straight up.
Agaathla Peak, meaning “much wool” in the Navajo language, is so named because of the tufts of deer and sheep wool caught in its sharp rock edges and deep crevices. In the summer with the thunderheads building, there is nothing more beautiful. The eagle was lagniappe.
Then I got to wondering. Had ever anyone climbed to the very top? If I asked a Navajo wise man, he would probably look at me as though I’d lost what few brains I had left and shake his head. “Bilagaana,” he’d mutter.
You’re probably on the right track if it’s uphill.
~ Anonymous ~
It was raining when I woke this morning. Not an electricity-charged toad-strangler, but a quiet rain, a thoughtful rain.
I considered not walking at all. I was cranky and stiff after a fitful night’s sleep. It had been a rough week and I still carried stress in my neck and shoulders.
But I grab an old fold-up umbrella and step into the morning damp anyway. The umbrella efficiently snaps open, but I discover two ribs have worn through ties at their tips, and the silk slides back up toward the apex of the crown.
No matter, I am off.
I look back at the house for a moment as I walk up the drive. The nandina bends against the storm, its branches first bowing to the weight of the rain and then springing upward as the wet drips away. Large drops from the eaves hit the porch rail and burst into dozens of droplets that fell to the ground below.
It is a day of novel movement and complex energy. A day of discovery.
I discover that my sight is muted, allowing hearing and touch to push to the fore. The turtle rain against the outside of the umbrella sounds a musical counterpoint, each note altered by the angle of the silk cover. I strive to capture the motif’s pattern as a larger drop hits like the final riff of an exuberant drummer.
Farther away, I hear the rain contacting each leaf of the trees I pass under. Hard. Then soft. Then brittle. Each drop echoes the texture of branch and leaf. A plane passes overhead, its roar muted to a growling rumble. As I stroll, I find that I am moving slower but seeing more. I start to center and my breathing deepens.
The rain blows into my face, softly misting my glasses, and I twirl the umbrella canopy on its aluminum shaft, trying to position the “short side” away from my face. My arms are getting damp, small drops clinging to the short hairs, then running down my forearm in larger streams. As I swing my arms, my fingertips encountered the rain concretely, each finger sharply pinged with rain.
Should I turn back? No, I decide. I can handle this. I won’t melt. I stiffen my back to the discomfort and trudged forward.
Patched asphalt on the road ahead becomes a series of black sightless mirrors that shatter in the wake of a car whooshing past. The car’s momentum scoops up mist from the road, creating a cloud entourage that scurries along underneath its carriage.
As I near one house two Springer spaniels rush to the screen porch in a howling frenzy. I’ve passed them many times before—maybe I have turned into a new creature under this umbrella?
In the mist, the color palette has shrunk to mostly grays and greens. Even the wildflowers—the red of penstamen and the wild white of daisies are dimmed by the rain, their energy cloistered. The sky lowers and the horizon shortens. As I notice more details, I find my mind slowing, calming. I consciously match the pace of the rain with my steps.
I find that I am in a much smaller world than yesterday. Yesterday was sunny, with winds and clear air and wide vistas. And that difference is fine. I seek shelter, here under the umbrella against the world’s hassles and demands. I can hide here.
The birds are hiding, too. The sparrows and finches are silent; the jays chatter in the tree branches, but don’t venture into the rain. Every so often a robin darts to the ground to snatch a grub, and then dives under the drier branches to eat it.
As I approach a small pond, our resident great blue heron takes flight. Usually I can pass quite close to him, but he, too, is spooked by this new shape of human-with-umbrella.
The algae on the water shivers under the onslaught of the rain, and I turn toward home.
The rain is collecting now on the trees overhead. Each leaf gathers rain differently: On a large deciduous trees, moisture runs along the center spine and collects as a drop at the tip of each leaf. Nearby, waxy Pampas grass spires allow each drop to poise unmoving in a mosaic of miniature puddles. In the field beyond, the smaller grasses bow before the rain’s influence like carefully combed hair.
As I near home, I realize that walking in the rain this morning has become a meditation, a gratefulness for gifts given. I stomp my feet as I enter the garage, and collapse the umbrella in a shower of drops.
I feel calmer, more centered.
It has been a good start for the morning’s work, this gathering of peace in the rain.
When I was 19, I spent a summer as a forest fire lookout. It changed my life indelibly, and for that reason, I was interested in Philip Connors’ book. He does not disappoint.
Phillip, for the past 8 years, has spent the summer fire season on top of a 75-foot tower in the New Mexico wilderness, looking for fires. He has only his dog Alice for company (although his wife does visit for occasional weekends.)
His book is an interesting compendium of how it is to spend that much time alone, a history of fighting fires in America and how that changed after the disastrous Yellowstone fires, and how he and his wife deal with the separation for months at a time.
“We seek out wild raspberry bushes where the last of the year’s fruit is turning ripe; I pluck a handful to accompany my evening treat of chocolate, leaving the rest to the bears. On days of heavy rain, hail drumming on the metal roof, I cloister myself in the cabin, drink hot tea, read in my sleeping bag with a fire going in the wood stove. Tattered flags of fog drift past the mountain when the rain breaks…”
If you enjoy reading about nature, and about the nature of solitude, this book is for you.