Wednesday June 9 2010
Intruder! the coyote operatically yipped as I walked down the wash. Yip yip, bark, bark, squeal-yip, bark bark bark. She stood on a ridge, framed dramatically by storm clouds, following my progress, Intruder! Go away! She yipped and barked, haranguing until I was out of sight at the mouth of the red cliff canyon.
I wanted to go in the canyon but the way was blocked by thick and dark (and, frankly, scary) willow thickets. Far down in the bottom of the creek they shielded a pool or swamp or bog that I didn't want to test. If I did get past the willow thickets there was a forest of poison oak. Go away! they warned.
I had no choice but to climb onto the cliffs above the canyon mouth. Instantly a prairie falcon took up the tirade. Intruder! she screeched, as I climbed upward. She had a nest in a cavelet with three young on the opposite side of the cliffs. There was no way I could get near her nest, but that didn't matter. She circled above me, dove at me, screeched continuously. Go away! This is not your canyon!
To give her peace, and to get down into this spectacular canyon, I had to look for a way down. It didn't appease the falcon. Go away! Faster!
And as soon as I had crawled down into the wash, a red tailed hawk up the canyon picked up the attack. Intruder! Intruder in the canyon!
I walked back down-canyon, stunned to muteness by the spectacular gorge. Red cliffs soared above me, pocked with little canyons and gulleys and smooth stones carved by once-upon-a-time water.
I tried to stay inconspicuous as I walked down the wash - but I could not be. I could not walk like a deer, because I was a clumsy human. There were no deer tracks anyway, no coyote tracks, no cougar tracks - nothing in this quiet canyon wash.
As I got closer to the mouth of the canyon, the prairie falcon started screeching again though I was even less of a threat far down below. I startled and disturbed a family of canyon wrens. Instead of their lovely spiraling call, they tittered and tweeted warning calls. Intruder! Go away! Some of them fluttered away; some of them peeked over the edge of boulders at me, their tails popping up in the air, turning one eyeball my way to study me better. The sea of poison oak stopped me from exiting the canyon.
I turned and walked back up the canyon wash, re-disturbing the prairie falcon and canyon wrens and a dove. I found an old great horned owl feather. I put it back on the ground where it was.
Now two red tailed hawks took up the intruder chorus, circling above me, watching my every ungainly move in the stately canyon. The high walls twisted and squeezed together. I had to climb to follow the canyon, up what must be a spectacular step waterfall in a flash flood.
The canyon walls eased back to allow the wash to widen into a sand highway, and then the walls rose and squeezed together again into a tall, narrow funnel - and the way was barred by a wall of tumbleweeds 5 feet high. The way is shut! Go away!
And so I climbed again, above the walls to the upstream entrance of Intruder Canyon, and came to a long wide mound lined by rocks - rocks fetched and carried by human hand and placed along this long mound above the narrow deep canyon walls, with a view to the storm covered Owyhees.
There are rumors of this canyon being an old Indian burial ground. Years ago too many people were coming and helping themselves to the artifacts, so the BLM came and buried everything. Maybe this was leftovers of the rumor.
Maybe this is why the coyote, the willows and the poison oak, the prairie falcon, the tumbleweeds, and the still-screeching red tails above my head, screamed in harmony, Go away!
Perhaps they are guarding the dead. Perhaps they are the dead, watching their sacred ground.
I bowed to the earth, the sky, the animals, the people that are now part of the earth, and I departed.