First one at the fence carefully places his thick soled boot onto a lower wire, pressing down. Another person uses two hands to lift the barbed wires above. Tall, short, limber or stiff, we pass through one by one with a minimum of snags. A nearby grove of Mexican oak trees offers the perfect rest spot. The biggest acorns I have ever seen litter the ground beneath our feet.
One man calls our attention, pointing up, and motions us to listen. Ears tune in to the sound of dense, waxy oak leaves rasping against one another. This sound is different from other tree sounds we have heard this summer. I wonder aloud if anyone has ever catalogued leaf chatter. I would listen to that.
The bushwhacking begins in earnest after our stop for a snack. Grasses beyond the oak trees are thigh-high , prompting an occasional stumble on unseen rocks. Wildflowers show their faces at scattered intervals, like buttons that have popped off partygoers jackets, and we’re all aware that recent rains might have coaxed snakes out of their burrows. This hike is starting to get interesting.
Closer to the canyon’s edge, animal trails and tight switchbacks are sketched into the walls across the canyon; the assumption is we’ll find the same on our side. An unfortunate cow has gotten stuck on a narrow ledge, her companions noticeably anxious about her fate. When we do begin to follow a fairly clear trail, it is slow going. Lots of loose gravel underfoot. Small trees that might offer handholds are riddled with spines or have come untethered from the hillside, offering no purchase whatsoever. My youngest son, attentive, pauses until I can catch up to him and begins to offer confident assists.
We all~ except that cow~ make it into the canyon and across a narrow bit of stream and back up the other side. Bloody scratches tattoo our arms and a multitude of burrs have stitched themselves into our pants. Frustration and exhilaration are voiced at having moved through this physically challenging hike successfully; finding a cooler of cold beers at the ‘Almost There’ marker would have been exquisite.
Here on flat, open land, half the group elects to walk the dirt road back to the cars. The other half opts for the ‘scenic route’, a packed footpath that will bring us back to a section of the stream, sided by milpas and tiny stone structures. Horses and burros, tied by rough rope to trees or stepping nimbly around and over prickly plants, whinny and bray to us and one another.
Nearing an elbow in the stream and the last leg of our outing, two varieties of big yellow and black butterflies appear. Dancing in the background are smaller ones, too: creamy pale yellow, soft blue, and black with orange gum drops at the bottom of each wing. These fluttering lepodoptera negotiate for mating rights and resting spots along a small sand bar, away from the pull of running water.
The sunlight dappled, the shade was cool, and even though standing still meant all our sore muscles would start hollering, stand very still we did. Reverential absorption in the face of Nature’s creatures just going about their business. Sometimes you got to get out into it in order to let it get into you.