Aug 172011

Everything here is orderly, touristy. Herds of Subarus and VWs pull off together to take the first easy steps toward wetness in the park. Surrounded by a ground mounded with leaf mulch and pine cones the size of small mammal skeletons, the SUVs seem as one-off and out of place as kiddie-colored dinosaur sculptures. Even if they were picturesque junk from the Pleistocene, they would seem too new, too natty to belong in this sacred thimble of ancientness. A conviction of eternity weighs down your shoulders, attaches heavily to the car roof above you as you corkscrew slowly earthward from the crimped rim of the Valley. Your eyes seem to see only the changeless verities of grey rock and hurtling stream, motionless and motion married in a souvenir pewter frieze left out of the attic for ten thousand Christmases. Giant trees with the girth of elephants, of whales even, are no more than yesterday’s stubble on the living portrait–the greenish visible fringes of a force that pushes life out of every available surface. Dun toads look up you at you knowingly, returning your stare, addressing not the man you are but the ageless toad you came from undimmed eons ago. The occasional mule deer neither beg nor blink, you are so irrelevant to their woodland walks and ways. Coming back along the first, low path to the lichened boulders of a minor waterfall, you are hugged close against a latrine, its reek enormous, its fecal mound bursting, dotted with white flags, full almost to the lip of the hole that defines it. Old men and women, saggy-kneed, young children with large eyes and noses unwrinkled by the putrid scent, hold hands and wait patiently to access the hole. They will leave something behind here at the emetic gate, a ritual purification before going any further on into the valley vast as a million crashed cathedrals and unforgettable as a first caustic kiss from God.

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