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The Monkey Wrench Gang 37

The others wait. When Hayduke fails to go on, Bonnie says to Smith, “Do you think we’ll find some water? Pretty soon?”

  “Bonnie honey, it ain’t too far now. We’ll find water somewheres up in here, and if we don’t it’s there waitin’ for us on the shady side of Lizard Rock. Water and food.”

  “How far?”

  “Where?”

  “How far to Lizard Rock?”

  “Well now, if you mean in miles I’d be kind of hard up to say on account of the way these canyons meander around so. Also I ain’t absolutely sure we can get out of this canyon at the other end because maybe it boxes up. We might have to backtrack some, try to find a way out along the sides.”

  “Can we get there tonight?”

  “No,” says Hayduke, gazing at the sand between his thick white knees, bound in layers of filthy gauze. “Never.” He scratches his crotch. “Never.”

  Smith is silent. Bonnie stares at him, waiting for the answer. He squints, frowns, grimaces, scratches his sunburnt neck, tilts his green eyes up at the canyon wall. “Well …”he says. Sound of a canyon wren.

  “Well?”

  “Well I wouldn’t want to lie to you, Bonnie.”

  “Don’t.”

  “We ain’t gonna get there tonight.”

  “I see.”

  “Maybe tomorrow night.”

  “But we will find water? I mean soon. In this canyon.”

  Smith relaxes a bit. “Very likely.” He offers her his canteen. “Have a few good swallers outa there. Plenty left.”

  “No thanks.”

  “Go ahead.”

  He unscrews the cap and shoves it in her hands. Bonnie drinks, hands it back. “We should’ve kept our packs.”

  “Maybe,” Smith says. “And if we done that we’d be in Bishop Love’s Fry Canyon icebox now too, waitin’ for the sheriff’s van. And Love, that crazy sonofabitch, he’d be one more step up on his way to the Governor’s mansion, as if the sonofabitch we have squattin’ in there now selling out the state as fast as he can ain’t bad enough.”

  “What do you mean?”

  “I mean those people like Love and the Governor got no conscience. They’d sell their own mothers to Exxon and Peabody Coal if they thought there was money in it; have the old ladies rendered down for the oil. Them’s the kind of folks we got runnin’ this state, honey: Christians; my kind of folks.”

  “Just won’t let ’em,” Hayduke mumbles. “No, I won’t.”

  Smith stirs, reaching for his hat. “We oughta get ourselves on our feet, friends, make some tracks north.”

  “I was a POW,” mutters Hayduke.

  Doc opens his eyes for a moment, sighing.

  “I was a VC prisoner,” Hayduke goes on. “Fourteen months in the jungle, always on the move. They’d chain me to a tree at night except when the planes were coming. I was more trouble to those little gooks than a French newspaper correspondent. Fed me moldy rice, snakes, rats, cats, dogs, liana vines, bamboo shoots, whatever we could find. Even worse than what they ate themselves. Fourteen months. I was their unit medic, the little brown bastards. We used to hug each other down in the bunkers, curled up in a heap like fucking kittens, when the B-52s came over. It seemed to help absorb the shocks. We always got word when they were coming but you never heard them, they flew so high. Only the bombs. We were ten feet sometimes twenty feet under the ground but afterwards there’d be these little guys running around with blood coming out of their ears from the concussions. Some of them went crazy. Kids, most of them. Teenagers. They wanted me to help plan their raids. Satchel charges and that kind of thing. I wanted to but I couldn’t quite do it. Not that. So they made me their medic. Some medic. I was sick half the time. Once I watched them shoot down a helicopter with one of those twenty-foot steel crossbows they had. Made out of shot-down helicopters. They all cheered when the sonofabitch crashed. I wanted to cheer myself. Couldn’t quite do that either though. We had a party that night, C rations and Budweiser for all the Charlies and me. The ham and beans made them sick. After fourteen months they threw me out—said I was a burden on them. The ungrateful little Communist robots. Said I ate too much. Said I was homesick. And I was. I sat in that rotting jungle every night, playing with my chain, and all I could think about was home. And I don’t mean Tucson. I had to think about something clean and decent or go crazy, so I thought about the canyons. I thought about the desert down along the Gulf coast. I thought about the mountains, from Flagstaff up to the Wind Rivers. So they turned me loose. Then came six months in Army psycho wards—Manila, Honolulu, Seattle. My parents needed two lawyers and a U.S. Senator to get me out. The Army thought I wasn’t adjusted right for civilian life. Am I crazy, Doc?”

  “Absolutely,” Doc says. “A certifiable psychopath if I ever saw one.”

  “I get a pension too. Twenty-five percent disability. Head case. One quarter lunatic. I must have a dozen checks waiting for me back at the old man’s place. The Army sure didn’t want to let me go. Said I had to be ‘processed and rehabilitated.’ Said I couldn’t wear the VC flag pin on my Green Beret. Finally I caught on and said what you’re supposed to say and the Senator turned a screw on the Pentagon, and about the time we were ready for court action they let me go. Medical discharge. They really wanted to court-martial me but Mom wouldn’t stand for it. Anyhow, when I finally got free of those jail-hospitals and found out they were trying to do the same thing to the West that they did to that little country over there, I got mad all over again.” Hayduke grins like a lion. “So here I am.”

  Silence. A perfect silence. Too clear, too calm, too perfect. Seldom Seen slips from his customary squatting position, kneels and puts one large ear to the ground. Bonnie opens her mouth; he lifts a warning hand. The others wait.

  “What’d you hear?”

  “Nothing….” Gazing up the canyon, up at that sky. “But I sure felt something.”

  “Like what?”

  “I don’t know. Just something. Let’s saddle up and move on out of here.”

  Doc, still sprawled in the coolest corner of the shade, sighs once more and says, “I hear a koto. One koto, one bamboo flute and a drum. Way out yonder in the heart of the wilderness. Under a grandfather juniper tree. The Izum-kai are playing the Haru-No-Kyoku. Not well.” Wipes his broad and sweating physiognomy with handkerchief. “But with absolute insouciance. Which is to say, as befits the place and the occasion.”

  “Doc’s cracking up,” Bonnie explains.

  “It’s the heat,” says Doc.

  Smith staring down the canyon. “We better march along, folks.” Slings his canteen over one shoulder, Hayduke’s coiled rope over the other.

  They all rise, Doc last with his precious black bag, and shamble forth into the dazzling sunlight, the blaze of noon, under the endless roar of the sun. Smith leads the way up-canyon, walking where possible on stone. Although the canyon walls are hundreds of feet high and often overhanging, there is little shade. Too dry for cottonwood. The only plant growth in sight is a clump of datura with wilted blooms, a dead pinyon pine, some snakeweed, and lichens on the rock.

  The canyon curves left, curves right, ascending by gradual degrees toward—they hope—a hidden spring, an unknown seep where water oozes cool though alkaline from the pores of the sandstone, to trickle down through hanging gardens of ivy, columbine, club moss and monkey flower to an accessible outlet. To a tin-cup spout, a canteen-mouth drip. They long for the tinkle of waterdrops, sweetest of all possible sounds in this superheated red-walled giants’ passageway of stone.

  Smith points to an alcove in the canyon wall, fifty feet above their heads. They stop and stare.

  “I don’t see anything,” Bonnie says.

  “Don’t you see that little wall, honey, with the rafters stickin’ out of it and the little square hole in the middle?”

  “Is that a window?”

  “More likely a door. The kind of door you have to get down on hands and knees to crawl through.”

  They are staring at
the remains of an Anasazi cliff dwelling, abandoned seven hundred years ago but well preserved in the desert’s aridity. Dust and potsherds wait up there, burnt corncobs and a smoke-blackened ceiling in the cave and old old bones.

  The four tramp on over the sloping beds of sandstone, over the rocks and gravel of the waterless stream bed, through the endless sand, through the heat.

  “Maybe back there’s where I should live,” muses Hayduke aloud. “Up in that cave with the ghosts.”

  “Not my kinda life,” Smith says.

  Nobody responds. All trudge wearily ahead.

  “Never did have much use for farmers,” Smith goes on. (Trudge trudge.) “And that includes melon growers. Before farming was invented we was all hunters or stockmen. We lived in the open, and every man had at least ten square miles all his own. Then they went and invented agriculture and the human race took a big step backwards. From hunters and ranchers down to farmers, that was one hell of a Fall. And even worse to come. No wonder Cain murdered that tomato picker Abel. The sonofabitch had it coming for what he done.”

  “Nonsense,” grumbles Doc, but he is too thirsty, too tired, too resigned to deliver his famous lecture on civilization and the birth of reason (O rarest and sweetest of history’s flowers).

  No sound but the shuffle of eight leaden feet.

  “Wet sand here,” says Smith. “Water up ahead somewheres.” He leads his column in detour around the telltale sand, over a tumble of rocks and past the mouth of a side canyon.

  Hayduke, at the rear, pauses to stare up into the lateral branch. Narrow and winding, with a flat sandy floor devoid of any vegetation, and perpendicular walls standing five hundred feet toward the sky, it looks like a hallway into the Minotaur’s labyrinth. The sky above is reduced to a narrow strip of clouded blue, pinching out at the turn of the walls.

  “Where’s this one go?” he says.

  Smith stops, looks back. “Up into the Fins somewhere. That’s all I can tell you.”

  “Isn’t that where we want to go?”

  “Yeah but this canyon is a lot bigger and it ought to lead up there too and ain’t so likely to box up. That little gulch is a box if I ever seen one and I seen a few. A dead-end no-way-out surefire trap. You walk two hundred yards up that one and I’ll bet my bottom dollar you come to a hundred-foot overhang.”

  Hayduke hesitates, looking up the side canyon, then into the stifling heat and meandering turns of the larger canyon. “Maybe this one does too.”

  “Maybe it does,” Smith says, “but this one’s bigger and besides it leads to water.”

  “What makes you so sure?”

  Seldom Seen lifts his long anxious beak into the air currents. “I can smell it.” He points again to the smooth expanse of dampish sand near the junction of the two canyons. “Most of that seepage is a-comin’ from up this way.”

  “We could dig for water right here,” Hayduke says.

  “You could get a little out of that. Enough maybe to wet your whistle. But you’ll spend half an hour diggin’. There’s surface water up this way. I can smell it and I can feel it.”

  “Come on, George,” Bonnie says. “If we don’t get to water soon I think Doc is going to drop. And me with him.”

  Water. All they can seriously think about is water. Yet it’s all around them. Mountainous cumuli-nimbi hang above their heads filled with the stuff, in vaporous form. Carloads of water. High over the plateau rims, three thousand feet above at Land’s End and all across the canyonlands float huge, massive clouds trailing streamers of rain, all of which evaporates, it is true, before reaching the earth. Two thousand feet below and only a few miles away, as a bird flies, deep in the trench of Cataract Canyon, the Green and the Colorado pour their united waters through the rapids in roaring tons per second, enough to assuage any thirst, drown any sorrow. If you could reach it.

  Hayduke yields to Smith and reason. The gang marches onward, over rock and pebble, sand and gravel and terraces of slick unbroken sandstone. They go around another deep bend in the canyon. Smith stops to stare. The others bunch up close behind him.

  Three hundred yards ahead, where the canyon makes its next turn, they see a jumble of boulders big as bungalows tumbled in casual, haphazard disarray across the canyon bottom. On the far side of that pile of rocks, at a higher level, rising softly green and vividly alive into the twilight of the shadows—for here the walls tower so high that two hours past noon the direct rays of the sun are cut off—stands a prime cottonwood tree. In this red labyrinth it is the tree of life. Seedling cottonwoods, and willow, and tamarisk with lavender plumes, line an unseen watercourse beyond. A shy fragrance floats on the air. The light in the canyon, though indirect, is golden and warm, reflected and refracted from the monolithic walls above, where swallows dart beneath the rimrock.

  “The Greeks,” Dr. Sarvis says hoarsely, hopelessly, with parched throat and heavy tongue, “were the first to make fully conscious—” He tries to clear his throat.

  Smith holds up his hand. “Doc,” he says, so softly the others strain to hear him. “You hear what I hear?”

  They listen. The canyon seems filled with an absolute stillness. An immaculate, crystalline and timeless perfection. Except for one faint flaw, which exaggerates the silence, underscoring without contradicting it. The sound of someone or something plucking at the G string of a bass viol, poorly strung. A rhythmic croak.

  “What is it?” Bonnie asks.

  Smith smiles at last. “That there’s the sound of water, honey. Up in them rocks, beyond the cottonwood.”

  “Sounds more like a frog.”

  “Where there’s frog there’s water.”

  All stare at the marvelous green of the tree.

  “Well let’s go,” Bonnie says. “What’re we standing here for?” She takes a step forward. Doc leans ahead.

  Hayduke whispers, “Wait.”

  “What?”

  “Don’t go up there.”

  Something in his voice, his stance, makes them all freeze. Again they listen. Now the silence is complete. The frog, the bass viol, has ceased, and even the delicate leaves of the big tree have stopped their quaking.

  “What do you hear?”

  “Nothing.”

  “You see something?”

  “No.”

  “Then why—?”

  “I don’t like it,” Hayduke whispers. “It’s not right. Something moved up in there. I think they’re around that next bend, watching the spring.”

  “They?”

  “The men in the helicopter. Somebody. We better back out of here.”

  Bonnie stares at the waiting cottonwood tree, the water-loving tamarisk and willow, the firm-tensioned repose of the rocks, waiting unhurried for the deliberations of time and geology, the next catastrophe. She glances aside at Smith, who is now looking back the way they’ve come. “What do you say, Seldom?”

  “Something scared that frog. George is right.”

  On Bonnie’s lovely face appears a look of anguish. “But we’re thirsty” she moans, and the first tears appear.

  “Just a little sort of strategic withdrawal,” Smith says quietly, leading them back again, over the burnt bleached stones of the stream bed, which looks as if it hasn’t seen water for seventeen years. “We’ll find water; don’t you worry, honey. Stay off the sand now. Can’t afford to leave no tracks here. Real sorry about this, folks, but I got the same feeling George had when that frog shut his mouth. And it ain’t just the frog. There’s something wrong back there, and as far as I know there ain’t no reason why they couldn’t of landed some men beyond that next bend.”

  Bonnie looks back. “Why aren’t they chasing us?”

  “Maybe they know they don’t have to.”

  “I don’t get it.”

  “Maybe we’re already in the trap.”

  “Oh. Oh no.”

  Smith leads at a brisk pace, half loping half striding along, his big feet (size 12-E) aligned in perfect parallel, flopping along in synchro
nous counterstroke, wasting not a centimeter of precious distance. Bonnie and Doc shuffle blindly after him, Bonnie sniffling, Doc still maundering in a mad monotone about Pythagoras, ratio, the golden mean, Greek quarterbacks, nervous centers, Coney Island hotdog stands, his mind somewhere—anywhere!—leagues beyond his feet. Hayduke guards the rear, rifle at port arms, stopping at every other step to glance back, listen. His yellow cat cap is dark with sweat.

  We turned our backs on water, Bonnie thinks. Real liquid H2O not half a block away. I saw the tree. A living tree. First one we’ve seen all day. A tree with little green leaves on it like in the picture books. With a green frog in a green pond. My God, my mind is going. Is that what happens first? My tongue feels like a—well, say it, like a frog in my throat. Named Pierre. Good God, I am going around the bend. Wonder if your tongue really turns black, like they say? Or purple? Your teeth fall out, eyes fall in, worms crawl over your purple skin and so forth and I’m tired of this shit and if I don’t get a big frosted glass of iced tea right now with cracked ice and slice of lemon I am going to scream.

  But she doesn’t. Only the sun screams, ninety-three million miles away, that insane ceaseless cry of the hydrogen inferno which we will never never never hear because, dreams Doc, because we are born with that horror ringing in our ears. And when it stops at last we shall not hear the solar stillness either. We will be … elsewhere, then. We will never know. What do we know? What do we really know? He licks his dried cracked lips. We know this apodictic rock beneath our feet. That dogmatic sun above our heads. The world of dreams, the agony of love and the foreknowledge of death. That is all we know. And all we need to know? Challenge that statement. I challenge that statement. With what? I don’t know.

  I don’t care, thinks Hayduke. Let them try it. Just let them try something, the fucking swine. Whatever they try I’m taking seven into hell with me. Seven of them for every one of me, sorry about that, men, but that’s regulations. He caresses the polished walnut of the pistol-grip stock, which fits so fitting to his hand. Who needs their bloody stinking law? Who needs their filthy polluted water? I’ll drink blood if I need it. Let them try something, the fuckers, I’ll never let them forget. I’ll never let them do it here. This is my country. Mine and Seldom’s and Doc’s—yeah, hers too—and just let them try and fuck up any of this and they’re in real trouble. Real deep trouble, the fuckers. Got to draw that line somewhere and we might as well draw it right along Comb Ridge, the Monument Upwarp and the Book Cliffs.