Every Step We are traveling in winter along the Arizona interstate from Tucson toward Chiricahua National Monument in the southeast corner of the state close to the Mexican border. One of the exit signs refers to the "pale green" plant found everywhere:
Thinking of "Tinturn Abbey," I realize it has been eight years since I last visited Chiricahua. We are returning to view the fantastic rock spires, stone columns, and balanced rocks that comprise the area the Chiricahua Apaches called "Land of the Standing-Up Rocks." On a wire a small falcon and a large falcon, almost living talismans for our journey.
In Wilcox, the last town before the place, we get lost. A local woman gives us directions in a Texas drawl and wishes us, "Have a nice day!"
Beside the winding road are white and black speckled cattle grazing on desert scrubland. A small hilltop graveyard has Mexican-like ornate metal crosses. Signs warn us to watch out for animals and flash floods.
At small farms on the road leading to the park are Arizona sycamores with thousands of white, almost bleached, scraggly branches. The first striated cliffs with bright yellow-green lichen at their edges begin to show. It appears as if we are approaching a huge fortress. There is snow on the sides of the road. As we approach the groups of stacked rock pillars stand like totem poles or Easter Island statues. At an overlook we see distant vistas of purple mountains behind purple mountains. Somewhere behind those mountains the Apaches established a hidden stronghold. Pieces of fallen rock lay by themselves in the road. The stone pillars and balanced rocks carved by the erosion of a column of tuff, stone compressed into layers, surround us.
We hike the Echo Canyon Trail. When the sound of a passing jet fades there is the clarity of a creek dripping between green lichen boulders. More gigantic balancing rocks and caprocks appear. A bright green agave reminds us, despite the snow, that we are in tropical desert.
A Mexican jay on a low branch of a purple spruce just five feet from us is chattering with two other jays, the only animal life we have encountered. We are at "Monument Valley," an impressive cluster of giant columns, some which suggest familiar forms like a rabbit and a helmet. The one jay, perhaps used to scavenging from hikers at this spot, looks up at us from the ground, obviously wondering where its handout is.
There is a little cairn on a low ledge behind us. I chew some almonds and place the bites near the cairn for the jay. We take in the mystery of the place. As we begin to hike again I notice old footprints in the hardened mud. I think of standing here eight years ago and am lost in prayer.
Climbing out of the canyon at a deep bend a few feather-like snowflakes float past a small falls. We have our lunch in a picnic area that has attracted a gray chipmunk and a flock of jays. Someone has built a tiny snowman with twig arms beside the table.
end over end
This haibun received honourable mention in the Blyth Haibun Contest 2004/5.
Bruce Ross is the editor of Haiku Moment: An Anthology of Contemporary North American Haiku and Journey to the Interior: American Versions of Haibun, and co-editor of the journal American Haibun & Haiga. He has authored three collections of haiku, most recently Silence: Collected Haiku, and has forthcoming How to Haiku: A Student's Guide to Haiku and Related Forms.