Wednesday, May 12, 2004

The wind rushed by McDaniel’s ear as he crossed the great vacuum of the Void, pulling his cigarette’s stream through and out the passenger side window, a steady but tentative trace of mere matter turning into smoke. Not to make too much of the purposefulness of inhaling and then exhaling carbon, blowing it out like a prayer, as it whiffs on away to mix with the whorl of particles in canyonland. The aerodynamic whistle of McDaniel’s red Nissan truck through indefinite space was just a heat-seeking missile without a target. You miss so much when life passes at such high speeds. Time to slow down, but how?

There were painted dunes hardened by eons of sun to be noticed at 65 mph. A pyramid of light, breaking through a cloud, appreciable at 55 mph. There was the avoidance of quiet at 50, of that moment of stillness revealing, if it still could be found, his angel of a better nature. But a demon in a Buick, with California plates, was on his tail. So McDaniel pushed forward to 69, disappointed that he couldn’t see the stars as the overcast front smothered the night. Certainly, there was the need for more gasoline. And food. And love, compassion and understanding. There always is. The heart yearns. But the engine will wear down with each little decision, each bump, each turn, cracking the crankcase, chipping the paint around the chrome, the crunch of each microbe cracking into the windshield in a terrifying roar only mites can hear, the mirror getting dull, dislodged, spotty, dangerously so. Then the handle to the door breaks -- it’s such cheap stuff, this flesh -- and the tires will eventually go flat or worse. Before you know it, this thing, your life, is just a shell with a few scars, reminders of cautionary tales to tell.

McDaniel’s exhausted engine made him wonder if he was just an imposter homeless dude, posing as a more favorably viewed romantic warrior in a dumb story about "The Rescue Guy," a Don Quixote of the Southwestern Suburbs in a made-for-TV movie. There were doubts, agendas upon agendas, and poems in his head re-writing themselves: sacred lies and music, scaredy cat, music and lies … no… lies and sacred music. Processing, always processing, a runaway wagon led by too many runaway horses. He tried muted prayers, speaking in tongues, imagining himself the self-made shaman to keep the menagerie of muses mumbling in the ultra-silent sing-song of his head.

There were so many spooks out on the Redlands, or so he believed. Perhaps out of boredom, a sense of drama bordering on an unusually strong whiff of paranoia after going so far out on a limb. For a jittery new self who would probably have been better off being frightened, very frightened, a lot more often than he should have been, even his shadow was starting to scare him. McDaniel’s face in a rearview mirror was a stranger. He hesitated to look in the back seat to meet who he might meet. The Quiquikivi, the Hopi word for Kachinas, were becoming less myth and metaphor and more real, more viscerally plausible as he edged ever closer to sipapuni, The Place of Emergence.

Indeed, when you are alone, without a companion to dismiss false notions and reduce all phantasmagoria into a more manageable, controllable, even marketable mindspace, it barely matters if the powaqa -- the sorcerers -- are conjurers of lies, or, the anointed ones. The face of each and every sandstone wall, with the dimming light of early evening, attained the horse-lipped, hollow-eyed stare of a senile judge at the gates of frozen apocalypse. No doubt withholding a grim and mysterious verdict to be rendered at some most assuredly inconvenient date.

In the time since that night, his human search engine has been working overtime to beat the clock. McDaniel’s sense for the synchronous orbit of history has been honing in, slowly gravitating, researching like a radar, its vortex expanding with each feedback loop in and out of the Void, all to find the answer to the riddle of "Tyende," the original name of that October eve’s best-case scenario destination.

The geographical designation for Tyende was only recently whitewashed into "Kayenta" by bureaucratic souls looking for an easier way to spell the phonetic Navajo form. The ghost of Kit Carson, mass murderer of Navajos, was busily linking the network of highways snaking over the most accessible local flatlands laid out between the spires and buttes, to places like Dennehotso and Toe En Loc, so that the great beyond would be less so. Manifest destiny was much too busy to pause and consider a noun form closer to the root. As a creature of the Fourth World, Carson no doubt knew very little about the location’s original residents, the First People, who lived happily enough (at first) upon the First World: in Hopi, Tokpela, which means Endless Space. The First People also lost contact with Taiowa, the Creator. So they were no better. The cycle is endless that way. They abused the vibratory centers of their bodies for merely earthly purposes. A common malady, from age to age, in Tokpela.

In yet another episode of short attention span theater Carson also became distracted from the primary purpose of the Creator, who had commanded Sotuknang, Taiowa’s nephew, to lay out the universe in some sensible, harmonious way. And it seemed like such a great gig. The first power and planner and architect of Endless Space was given complete autonomy by his uncle, Taiowa, the Creator: Total creative control, an entrepreneurial dream come true. So Sotukang set the earth, wind, fire and water into mutual syndicates of motion. Tuwaqachi, the master plan, activated life within this spinning Web, the ever-unfolding spring and ebb of things, what the First People called tuwski.

But like some angel cast out of the Emerald City of the higher sphere, as some mysterious spokesman, or tuawta, for what happens when things get a little too tuwski, McDaniel had come to learn something revealing about the original name and place, Tyende.

A small box canyon cut into Skeleton Mesa, Tyende is a sandstone quarry that gives birth to a perennial stream. This creek makes its way to the San Juan River, moves onward to the Colorado River, and a long time ago -- before civilization imposed its will with its own master plan -- the Gulf of California. It was a giver of life then, a natural umbilical cord taking its steps across the most unlikely terrain, if only slightly and with enough rain: a virtual navel to the visceral world. However, McDaniel discovered, Tynde is just another shorthand: this time for the Navajo. An even earlier name by a forgotten people translates as "The Bog In the Hole Where the Animals Fell."

~

While writing all of this to you, the editor figured, hey, why not give the big message in the beginning. People are so impatient, ya know? Maybe just a little tease. So here’s the big moral message: Life is a trickster’s trap. Watch your step. And please … do your best to learn the origin of names. To mistake their meanings is to completely fail the test. Fool!

And then, as a public service, the editor decided to offer you a little bit about the architecture all around us, as well as the Web of life, including ourselves, molded as we have been into man and woman by what legends call the Spider Woman. She made us by mixing dirt with tuchvala, the magical moisture of her tongue. We, a Spider matron’s serving of stone soup, are then left with all kinds of responsibilities in the Web of Life. Our job? To know the difference between light and shadow (or is that false light and what’s revealed by the shadow?); to love the Creator, sing his praises and never hit a dissonant note, not one peep, to this immaculate first symphony, which is almost impossible for anyone to play; all for the amusement of an audience we can’t see, and only just sometimes believe in. We must obey all the rules that we believe, tentatively, to exist.

Life is practice. We walk toward Tynde with live ammo bursting all around and never completely appreciate, until we get the concept, or maybe at the very end, that the game is high-stakes warfare for we mere mortals. And then we move on, or not.

For some, this might be basic stuff. Maybe that’s the problem. To get anywhere beyond the safe stuff is a real slippery slope. Hard to tell the phantoms from the real, and the real fact of it is this: It really doesn’t matter. The myth has an impact, be it cyber, tuchvala or dirt real.

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