Faithful as a dog, a refrain keeps recurring in my head: “I lift my eyes to the hills, where cometh my strength,” hills that encircle. This Biblical-sticking phrase, a misquotation of a mistranslation, as it turns out, nevertheless clears the static from my thoughts. As I drive home from the office just after dark, I concede this is not a topography man masters: he can destroy it, mutilate it, build highways upon it, bomb it, graze it, irrigate it, but not master it, not like Kansas where a man can stand in his cornfields, stand above everything except trees he plants for shade, a windscreen, and firewood. This forlorn wasteland has its own ways: a multitude of mammal life, insect, and rattlesnake, as well as sagebrush (though tumbleweed’s an import, a weed rolling through downtown).

Measureless, desolate starkness is a wild bride; human strategies of survival remain a layer of dust.

It’s not just the desert that holds treachery. Rainier, “Old Rainy,” could blow anytime, shooting lava on hundred-mile-an-hour air cushions into Tacoma and Seattle. A heavy spring rain could also slam snow, ice, and mud into those cities and their suburbs, sweeping away highways, houses, forests, and rivers — as St. Helens demonstrates when it explodes a few years hence. The most previous example was in ’47 with Kautz Glacier. Twenty-six volcano heads in the Cascade Range all manifest dangerous potential; the last time Rainier blew, five thousand years ago, Alberta, Canada, was ashed; smoking was still reported in the nineteenth century; this giant honeycomb radiates heat under all that ice, emits sulfur fumes on top, remains so fragile a good explosion could level it all. Just examine the Native-American legends and you’ll find reports of such explosions elaborated by witnesses.

Still, there are days when the mountains are camouflaged — days when you can step out on the clouds, if you desire, the way Kokopelli does.

Already, my maps no longer point only north-south/east-west, but up/down and past/future as well.

For more insights from the American Far West and Kokopelli, click here.


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