Excerpt from “Blue Moon Bench” -Copyrighted material – use prohibited without written consent of author
Chapter 4: The Blessedness of Forgetting
The Rim of the Grand Canyon
The large, long-horned sheep stood perfectly still on the ledge above Mac. The two stared at each other for several seconds before the wild animal spurted up the impossibly sheer wall to disappear behind an outcropping of boulders. It was beginning to turn dusk in the Grand Canyon and Mac wanted to make it to the rim before dark. After his stare-down with the sheep, he again gave his attention to the trail and began his own rapid climb out. His plan was to meet Alex at his base camp above the cave that was receiving Alex’s research group’s undivided attention.
The cave Alex and his team were working on was located high up on a steep wall where it was hidden over the centuries from hikers and explorers. It was a yawning cavern where a large extended family of early natives had made their home deep in the canyon wall. When Mac had last visited the site with Alex, erosion and probably earthquakes over the centuries had sheared off the path into the cave, making it impossible to enter except by repelling down from the top. That was why it had never been found before now. Mac knew that Alex was now trying to beat a deadline that had been set for him by the Smithsonian Institute.
Mac was jealous that the Institute had gotten wind of Alex’s project. Although Mac also had been researching a cave for over a year with much more importance, he was reluctant to reveal it yet to the public. His site needed to be handled with much more delicacy than Alex’s, but he knew he’d one day get more attention for his own find. In his native homeland, there were thousands of sites that hadn’t been discovered yet, and he hoped to one-day return to Australia for that reason. He had little to stay for in the United States anymore.
As Mac negotiated the darkening trail, his mind found a familiar notch of anger. It was a place where Mac got comfort, a place that was easy and safe. He knew how to feel jealousy, oh yes, he knew. He wondered again why the bloody hell Alex always seemed to have everything he always wanted. The bloke had been born with the damn silver spoon in his mouth, and good things just gravitated his way. While Mac always had to fight and claw for everything he had. He felt the familiar flush of temper in his face. But he wasn’t hopeless anymore. No, Mac had a plan.
Stopping on the trail, he zipped open a pocket on his pack and removed a small, highintensity light with a thick elastic band attached. He quickly slipped the band around his head, centering the light in the middle of his forehead, and clicked it on. The light flooded the trail so he could see his out of the canyon. He was almost to the top and the glow of light from Alex’s camp glimmered on the ridge above him.
His thoughts of Alex led him to a further thought. After Rachel’s death, he’d noticed that Alex had wanted to be alone more and more. That’s why it had surprised him when he’d come home with a new bride. While Jessica was a beautiful woman, Mac couldn’t imagine how anyone who had been married to Rachel could even think of trying to replace her. Rachel had been blond and spectacularly beautiful. Jessica seemed nice, but she sure as bloody hell didn’t measure up to Rachel in his mind. Still, Mac thought to himself, that blond-haired, gray-eyed witch had been filled with betrayal. Mac swallowed his anger as he came to the canyons rim. He knew that he had to forget the past, to move on. To pretend like everything was normal until he could wind things up and leave. Then he didn’t care what the bloomin’ lot of them thought, he’d be free.
As Mac came out of the gloom of the evening dusk and into the campfire’s light, Alex turned from something he was packing in the back of his Rover.
“Well, I’m so glad you decided to stay ‘ere tonight to feed an old bloke.” Mac’s Australian accent sounded even more pronounced as it often did after he was away from other people for several days.
“Old, my ass.” Alex said. They both knew Mac had just hiked around fifty of the hardest miles of country anywhere and he knew he look damned fit.
As darkness settled in, all four of the researchers sat around the campfire and ate the meal that had been prepared for them. The students Alex was working with and Mac conversed about what he had found on his hike, and they told him about the newest findings in the cave. Soon Alex joined the discussion, and Mac sat back watching him. In the course of their conversation, he mentioned his parents and Mac thought they would have enjoyed being there in the mix of the conversation, listening to the theories and discoveries. They had always enjoyed stimulating discussions, and no matter how detailed it got, they loved learning more about Alex’s field of study.
Mac’s own parents had died when he was only a tike, and he’d come to America to study anthropology in Albuquerque. He’d always thought Alex’s parents were exactly what his parents would have been like, if they’d lived. Alex’s father had been a cattle rancher for many years here on the plains of northern Arizona. With his private land and agreements with the BLM for grazing rights, his fortune was made early in life, and he married a sweet cowgirl from Winslow. Mac’s own Mom and Dad started out with a small three-room billabong house, and little land, but still they raised cattle from when Mac was an infant.
By the time Alex was born, Mac knew that Alex’s family had moved into the two thousand, six hundred square-foot ranch house where Alex & Jessica now lived. The ranch was named “The Monte Vista” after the hotel in Flagstaff where his father won the small original homestead in a private poker game. The name meant “Mountain Vista” in Spanish and there was no doubt that the view of the San Francisco Peaks from the ranch was spectacular. In comparison, Mac’s own home in Flagstaff was close to the university, and by most standards, not modest. But it still wasn’t a ranch.
Mac stretched out his legs and leaned against a rock, staring at the fire. He remembered when he was a young man and he and Alex used to visit his ranch on summer break. Alex’s father used to talk about how the Navajo people would drive the old dirt road to Flagstaff once a month across his ranch. With their wagons full of woven blankets and Yeis’ (the Navajo Kachina dolls) ready for trade, the Navajo families went to trade for flour, sugar and fresh fruits and vegetables — things they couldn’t get out on the reservation. Even today, Mac could still see the line of lava rocks used to mark the road’s track, which still ran parallel with the new highway that still makes its way into today’s modern Flagstaff. He often saw Navajo families driving into town, but now it was on the paved road and their transportation was a pickup truck instead of a wagon. Few had blankets to trade, and they were usually on the way to K-Mart for odds and ends, or a quick stop at the local hamburger joint for fried zucchini and a cheeseburger. Life on the reservation was hard, and most families had either moved into town, or struggled to live on the reservation in small hogans, without electricity or running water. Mac knew that Navajo’s often chose that way of life, however, because the possession of material items went against their religious beliefs. It seemed that life, as a Navajo today was a tug-of-war between being a good Christian and not giving up cultural beliefs of the Navajo rituals.
Mac looked up from his pondering and saw that the two students had finished their coffee and gone off to their respective sleeping bags. He watched as one of them came out of his tent and shook his bedding to check for scorpions or other desert visitors in the folds of the blanket. As Mac and Alex shared the dying campfire, a group of coyotes could be heard off in the distance, and Mac was reminded of when he used to camp out in the desert of New Mexico.
He had been working on his master’s degree in Albuquerque and Alex joined him in the program late. The two would go on long expeditions into the desert, the best of friends, looking for lost cultures and listening to the serenade of the local coyote families at night as they sat around a campfire.
Alex had then taken three years abroad to work with some of the most noted anthropologists in the world, working on digs in South America, Asia, and Egypt, while Mac had stayed in the U.S. struggling to make ends meet. Alex had learned to scale steep cliffs from some of the best rock climbers in the world, and Mac would hear stories at home of how he’d won competitions involving some of the most technical climbs outside the U.S.
By that time, Mac was in Arizona happily publishing book after book on Navajo & Hopi cultural differences, and gaining tenure at the University of Arizona. The two had kept touch over the years and even worked together on a couple of projects that involved ancient sites in New Mexico. During all Alex’s travels, however, Mac knew that he never stopped thinking about his home. He told Mac that he knew he would eventually return to use his knowledge to help research and save the history of native cultures right in his own backyard just as Mac would. And that’s exactly what he had done.
Now, Mac knew that Alex had been flirting with the idea of running for state representative, something a group of local businessmen were supporting. They both knew it would give him the opportunity to do even more for the preservation of Arizona’s history. Alex being nominated seemed like one more morsel served on the Alex Dawson plate. It was something Mac was having trouble getting behind. Mac now remembered that eleven years before, Alex had finally traveled home to stay, bringing with him a new wife, the beautiful Rachel. Alex had told Mac that he’d met her on a ski trip he’d taken with friends in Europe, on a break from work. Rachel was there, training with her team for the Olympics and he had immediately been floored by her beauty and intelligence, which to Mac was completely understandable. Mac understood how two weeks together in such a romantic spot could spelled trouble for a couple. Alex had failed to return to his research in South America, and Rachel had failed to make the team because of her absence at the trials. Somehow, they decided marriage was the only solution for such negligence. Mac supposed that it made sense at the time. He felt the usual black regret in the pit of his stomach. What a mistake it had all been. He felt the familiar anger rise up inside of him, dark and uncontrollable.
Alex suddenly rose, throwing the stub of his cigar into the fire and walking up to the edge of the canyon. Mac watched him as he looked out into the blackness. Looking up at the sky himself, he saw that stars and a small sliver of a moon had come out to give slight illumination to the landscape, sculpting the shapes of the different pinnacles like huge spirits, standing still and quiet in the Grand Canyon’s vast darkness.
To be continued with Serial 2 – Follow this blog