Ornithology or Ontology?
Wandering Robber’s Roost on my own one day I had an experience that, as I write about it almost 20 years later, eulogizes my contribution to our earthly existence:
Here Lies Johnson
Clarifier Of All The Things
He Never Did Understand
Allow Me To Clarify:
Wandering Robber’s Roost on my own one day, I dropped into a shallow little slot canyon to see what would happen. I thought it was a tributary of BlueJohn Canyon, probably more because I wanted it to be than I suspected it wasn’t. Turned out it coursed directly into Horseshoe Canyon. Initially, the little slot invited hopping from side to side along its sloping walls near the top. As the canyon narrowed, I corkscrewed my way deeper into the Navajo Sandstone. I was about fifteen feet above the floor and the walls were sheer – an exhilarating little romp.
Rounding a tight bend, the slot opened abruptly into a ‘toilet bowl’ kind of feature, about twenty feet in diameter and maybe thirty feet deep. I studied the bowl; studied it until I supposed I could get back into my little slot canyon or climb out the side of the bowl, probably more because I wanted to than I suspected I couldn’t. I dropped into the bowl.
The canyon exited the toilet bowl directly opposite where it entered. But it was narrower and deeper. If I continued I’d be chimneying twenty-five feet above the floor, just three-inches wide. A slip would wedge me tight between the canyon walls – pretty hard to escape without help. I chose prudence over peril as I stood looking into the winding little canyon, intending to climb the side of the bowl.
Hawk! … Really?! … Around the first turn in the lower slot, right in front of me just below waist level … Hawk! Wingtips brushing the canyon walls. Straight toward me. Nowhere else to go. It flew up and – whoosh! – over my left shoulder, frozen for the merest instant of time, eye-to-eye with me at the apex of its climb. He dove back on course and into the upper slot, wings again grazing sandstone on either side. Then gone … around the first turn….
I gawked at the tiny passage: Was that real?! Had I made it up? If real, how real? Maybe this was a matter of Ontology but how real is that? I turned to a solid basis – the alphabet – for help.
Adding a few letters to Ontology produced Ornithology. I don’t know much about that either but enough that I’d never heard of a bird flying a slot canyon just for fun. I decided the occasion had been real after all.
Completely unprepared for this event I considered what to do — what it meant. Could I make money off it, for example? Start a new religion? Roll a barky and smoke, perhaps? Or glue a feather into my ever-thinning hair? And what did the hawk think? I half-expected him to circle back to discuss. Not too much of a stretch really, given what had just happened. But he never did, even though I waited in that toilet bowl for quite a while. I liked it there. Like T. E. Lawrence liked the desert … it was clean.
And like Mssr. Abbey, when I go into the deserts by myself, I’m alone but not lonely. It would have been sheer jubilee to have shared that extraordinary encounter with a companion. As it was though, this was an extraordinary gift. I interred myself in that sandstone chamber for a couple of silent and surreal hours. The hawk had given me pause to marvel about a lot of things….