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MJ 2006
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Mythic Passages - the magazine of imagination

Possum Lizard Tree and Ghost Coyotes below Equinox Rock [Arizona]
© 2003 - 2006 Stu Jenks

audio imageListen to a podcast of Stu Jenks reading this story

Stu Jenks is the photographer whose firey spiral images have become forever associated with Mythic Journeys. He is also an accomplished musician and recording artist, as well as a very fine writer. (Click on the images below to view full size versions of the photos.)

photo: Ghost Coyotes below Equinox Rock by Stu Jenks

This granite boulder has a nice slope, ideal for meditating. In the full moonlight, I can see the silhouette of my Rollei on its tripod, against the rising constellation of Orion. The burnt stick of a tree is below my camera and I've completed my two coyote passes with the hula hoop. It's my second exposure of the night. During the first, I went to a nearby wash over a hill to the west and drew a spiral in the sand, just for kicks. This exposure, I'll just meditate while the Moon fills in the negative. The stream at my feet is small, gurgling like a water faucet that has been left on low. No rain for a week or so. Must be a spring nearby. Before I close my eyes, I look around at the desolate landscape. The Aspen Fire came through over a year ago, like the tail end of a hurricane, with fire instead of water. Holly is beginning to grow out of the bases of the remaining burnt black Mesquite trees. Charred stumps of Agave shin busters litter the ground much like they did a year ago, except a few have new tall green shoots. Buffalo grass has grown high in clumps, but only here and there. As I close my eyes, I think about the Autumnal Equinox of 2003 when I hiked this area for the first time since the fire. I breathe deep, twitch a bit and think back.

The landscape is without color. Black trees. White granite rock. Gray ash and sand. Color film would be a waste. I cross a small creek with brackish water from recent monsoon rains. Difficult hiking up this hill for it's mostly sand, no topsoil. I slide a lot. Tough to get footing but not too bad. After a while, I just rock hop as best I can, finding granite boulders as I go up the slope, hopping from rock to rock. I'm a mix of emotions. Sad at all of the death around, but awed by the strange beauty. The blackness of the burnt stump of trees too large to completely vaporize in the fire. The sharp lines of the dead, black Manzanita bushes against the white and tan sandy soil. A stunningly naked land. Yet the absence of sounds tells me that there is no life here. No sound of birds or bugs or owls. Just the sound of my boots on rock and sand, as I climb toward the ridge line. Very different from a month ago when I climbed up Ventana Canyon, for there was life on the west side of the canyon and burnt ash and dust on the east side. The steep rocky arroyo, plus some help I'm guessing from hotshot firefighters, kept the fire from moving west in that canyon. But in Ventana, there were the songs of blue jays and the buzzing sound around my ears from gnats. Not here in this dead zone north of Prison Camp road.

I'm almost to the top of the ridge. This would have been a near impossible bushwhack a year ago, the area so thick with tree and bush and grass. Today, it's a straight up hike. Except for the loose slippery soil, it's an odd sort of cakewalk.

I crest the ridge and the first thing I notice is the color green. New grass has grown tall on the western slope in this monsoon season since the fire. In this, the Magic Hour, with the sun less than an hour from setting, the green is bright and vibrant. I smile thinking that life does return. Through death, always comes rebirth, be it a severely burnt Mesquite forest or my own struggles in life. Hope does return, eventually. It always seems to, to me.

I take a few shots with my Brownie and then turn my attention to the setting sun. Today is the Equinox, the day when we are halfway between the longest and the shortest days of the year. The top of the Earth's bell curve. When day and night are of equal lengths. When, they say, eggs stand on end. I say a prayer to the sun and feel thankful for the renewed hope I feel right now. No specific hopes for the future. Just the ability to know that tomorrow is another day, that I'm wealthy in so many ways that have nothing to do with money and that I'm grateful I'm not a young mother of two in the Sudan, wondering if my husband is coming home.

photo: Ghost Coyotes by Stu Jenks

The air temperature drops ten degrees in 15 minutes, with the sun going down. Time to slide down the hill, back to the Pathfinder. I raise a hand in thanks to the West and then turn east toward the way down. At the ridge line, I pass a strangely beautiful dead black tree. An old Mesquite, or it was, when it was alive. There, on the black skin of the tree, I notice a gray green color. It's a ring necked lizard, but it's apparently dead. I bend forward and I can see it's not breathing.

"Oh, you poor thing," I say to him.

No movement. No breath. I bet he was either burned and then died, or he just simply didn't have anything to eat, in the fire's aftermath. I begin to mist up a little and I reach to pet its dead body. When I'm an inch away, the dead lizard springs to life and runs around to the other side of the old tree. Startled, I jump back and then laugh out loud.

"Little lizard's playing possum," I say.

I open my eyes and look around. The Full Moon is very high in a completely cloudless sky. The landscape is so bright I can easily walk from camera to stream to hill without a flashlight. But I'm not walking. I'm sitting. Listening. Breathing. I almost didn't come out tonight to shoot, having fallen asleep on the futon couch, awakening by the sound of my TV playing a bad movie on ESPN about Pete Rose. I slowly awoke and saw it was after midnight. Knowing if I go out and shoot, I'll be toast at the day job tomorrow. But that quiet voice was not very quiet and it implored me to go to this hill. I could see it in my mind's eye, see the shot, and I knew I had to go. Sure, I hope this Ghost Coyote negative is full of light and mystery, but frankly if it doesn't work, that's okay. Sitting on this rock, breathing deep this cool mountain air, listening to the little stream, daydreaming about times gone by, thinking at times about nothing at all. All of this is healing me and I need some healing tonight.

Breathe in. Breathe out. I close my eyes. Not quite time to close the shutter yet. Time to breathe just a little more. Time to sit a little longer on this very, very comfortable rock.

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