Imagination, Media and Sacred Technology

I was taking a panoramic video of the idyllic surroundings - Pema playing naked in a shallow stream sparkling with blue crystals; Silke napping underneath a tangled mass of broken tree trunks and driftwood; the soft orange and cream hues of the volcanic ash that formed the curved, perforated rock walls of the surrounding canyon - when suddenly, out of the corner of my eye, a stone leaped from the shore into the stream next to my naked feet.

 

“Whoa! A toad!” I shouted, then almost fell backwards.

 

I hastily snapped a photo, deposited the phone in my pocket and shouted for Pema. “Pema! Hey look! A toad!” It was dark green with a thin gray stripe down its back and calm, reverent eyes. Pema stood up, pink and naked in the small river. She was engrossed in her river fairy house, complete with grass dolls, but my shouts had piqued her curiosity. She began lumbering towards me, but before she could reach where I stood the toad took a second leap, then another, landing safely on the opposite shore and becoming, to all appearances, just another stone.

 

“Where Dad?” Pema asked, sidling up next to me.

 

“Right there,” I pointed.

 

“Where?”

 

It was only a foot and a half away, which I found comical. As I leaned forward, extending my finger - “Right there,” - I heard Silke shuffle in the background. “A toad?” she said groggily, “Where?”

 

“Oh, I see it!” Pema shouted. Then she pointed too. Silke crawled out from underneath her cave of broken trees and into the sunlight, her age written plainly in the slack lines of her sleepy face. The toad jumped. Pema clutched her belly gleefully and stepped back to avoid it. “Right there!” I shouted. “Oh,” said Silke, the sound swallowed by the gape of a yawn. She moved a few black and gray hairs from her face. “Now I see it,” she mumbled, and her whole expression lit up, ruddy and cheerful, like a child.

 

The toad, now back in the water, sat calmly while the three of us hunched over our bare toes to get a good view. The toad blinked its eyes and its white throat undulated softly, rapidly. About the size of my fist, it was streaked with gray and green patches and had small bumps all along its back and legs. Water trickled by, and the sand, driven by the small current, constantly tumbled past the toad’s legs and against our toes, causing the mica, which had sparkled magnificently enough on the footpaths, to flash a pure crystal blue under the water. This was our second day at Bandelier, a national monument, or park, preserving the canyon, the surrounding meadows and forest, and, not least of all, the vast system of caves and stone buildings once inhabited by the Anasazi, the cliff dwellers, ancestors of the Pueblo Indians.

 

I reached my hand down slowly, curiously, wondering if the toad would allow me to pick it up. I’m not sure what made me think I could catch it (I had, to my recollection, never before held a toad, or a frog), but I was suddenly stricken with the urge to try. My hand slowly approached. The toad hopped. I snatched. Then it hopped again. I leaned forward and snatched again. No luck. Pema laughed. Silke rumbled. Then the toad and I performed the classic toad-human maneuver well described in stories of old, wherein I splashed noisily through the water, hands grasping wildly, while it, with deadpan expression, stayed one jump ahead of me. Pema and Silke laughed righteously. Finally, my brain caught up with my eyes and arms and, anticipating the toad’s next jump, I reached near the landing spot as it arced in the air and quickly diverted it to my grasp. Gotcha.

 

Satisfied with my prize, I immediately began soothing the poor creature, which was surely frightened to all hell. Holding it gently, but securely, it squirmed in my cupped hands as I brought it over to Pema. I could feel its ribs push against the sensitive nerve endings of my palm as it squeezed its face between my thumb and forefinger, trying to escape. Bringing it down to Pema’s eyelevel, I could see that one of its eyes was a little blurry, and I feared for a second that it had gotten injured. Pema and I watched as it blinked. One, then two eyelids opened, then closed. Its iris, rectangular like a goat’s, became clear again. “Wow, Dad,” Pema said, as we leaned in. She held her finger out and touched the top of its head. Its flesh was cool and soft, like wet jelly, and I wondered what my hands, dry and warm, must have felt like to it. Then its two front feet wiggled out, and I could feel its strong back feet pushing against my cupped fists.

 

We had had a good look, so I decided to release it in the stream, just in case it wanted to rinse off before moving along. I put my hands above the twinkling surface of the water, and opened them. The toad flopped awkwardly, if not gratefully, into the river, pulling its legs underneath like a tight bundle and sat there recuperating in the water for a second or two. Its little throat undulated constantly. The three of us watched intently from above. Then, as if nothing much had happened anyway, it casually hopped for the shore. Venturing a couple feet away, it located a shady spot under a few graceful arcs of grass, and returned to stone. It may have wanted its freedom, but it didn’t have much else to do.

 

Silke turned back to her driftwood cave. “I’m going to get my bag,” she said. Pema loosed her curiosity and tacked upstream, returning to her fairy house. I stood up and stretched, taking in the surroundings once again, the succulent leaves along the shoreline, the tangle of tree trunks sheltering us like a fortress (there had been a flash flood a few years back), the mingled canopy of deciduous and conifer trees. There was an arc of blue between the canyon walls, and the dappled sunlight along the river felt ambrosial. I had been here before, many years ago, and the same unmistakable sense of warmth had filled my chest back then. I don’t believe in magic, but this canyon, whose walls billow and recede in soft, feminine curves, filled me with a possibility just beyond my ken, something unspeakably warm and bright. I could understand why people chose to live here thousands of years ago. It feels like home.

 

Behind my reverie, I could hear Silke’s bare feet stepping noisily into the water, thumping in the sand, then rustling through the tall grasses on the opposite shore. She’s such an oaf, I thought. Me, Jack Sprat, and here my wife can eat no lean. She threw her bag down with a thud, then shouted, almost simultaneously, “Rattlesnake!” I turned just in time to see her skittering down the shallow embankment, as if on hot coals.

 

*

 

The day before, the three of us had packed the car by midmorning. We had originally planned to go backpacking in the mountains, but the monsoon rains were still coming almost every day and we didn’t want to suffer through five days wet and cold with only a tent. So we decided to take it easy and car camp near Tent Rocks instead, a few hours south, near Santa Fe. The canyon would be great for day hikes, and if the weather got real sore we could just retreat to Santa Fe and get a hotel room. Normally I cling to my plans, but my routine had gotten sour of late and it felt liberating to just play it by ear.

 

Pema was already sitting in the car when I suggested we circle up and say a brief prayer before our trip. She hopped up without the least hesitation and the three of us held hands under an old elm tree. I said the typical things - thanks for the time, each other, the food, the car, keep us safe and joyful - then asked if Pema had anything to add. “I’m thankful for that we get to do this…and the food…and these friends…” she said, echoing a familiar monologue. “Thanks pup,” I answered, then turned to Silke, who added, “May we discover something new.” We looked at each other, smiled, and ran for the car.

 

*

 

As I drove down the gravel driveway, buckling my seatbelt, I turned to Silke. “Hey, what about Bandelier instead?”

 

*

 

The expression of imagination, or creativity, is, I believe, one of the most direct routes to joy and tranquility. At least, it is for me. This can be as elaborate as a lengthy work project or the majesty of a Shakespearian play, but it can be as simple as a song, recounting a brief story, or forming a pile of like-colored rocks. It could just be dinner. Whatever it is, and however it manifests in our lives, the creative expression of imagination tends to leave us feeling whole, useful, like we belong. It is one of the primary qualities I wish to elicit in my daughter and the other children in my care, not because I want them to become famous and successful, but because I want them to be happy. And the best way to cultivate creativity in others is, I believe, by fostering it in myself. There is a reason my daughter never asks me to watch a movie, and that’s because she never sees me watching one.

 

I don’t mean to pick on movies, or newspapers, magazines or books for that matter, all of which have their strengths and weaknesses. I have subjected myself to as much media influence as any other person in America, but in my young adult years, driven mostly by rebellion, I chose to eschew TV, the newspaper and most media sources. I largely think that was a divine accident, and I don’t ask that anyone agree with me. It’s simply my belief that, having rejected the intense stimulation of media into my stream of consciousness, I freed myself up to engage with the world in front of my face and that ultimately led to a greater sense of fulfillment in my life. That is, I’m happy.

 

I’m happy because I know it. And I clap my hands. In other words, I sing. I rub my hands together and feel the coarseness of my fingerprints. I look at the dirt. There’s all kinds of shit in there, and it’s not just brown. I look at the leaves in the trees, the sky, and I try to notice the differences from day to day. I can spend hours simply feeling a piece of wood. Now, this isn’t special. It’s not better. It just is. But I’m enamored with it, and the fact that I require nothing so much as a patch of earth and a few healthy minutes to create a stirring sense of wonder and joy within me. But I can enjoy a good carpet too. Curiosity feeds me. Observation captivates me. In response, imagination and creativity spill forth almost effortlessly. I want the children in my life to feel that happiness too, to feel wanted and needed, like they fit, and this is the most direct way I know how to do that.

 

As a child, I used to play a game when sitting in the car on a long road trip. To pass the time I would clench my right foot (the good foot) whenever the grass outside my window stretched the whole length of the window from left to right. Broken up by any interruptions, say a driveway or another road, I would release my right foot and clench my left. Full green, clench right. Broken spaces, clench left. I would shift back and forth, often easily enough, but as the roads we traveled varied, and the speed of the car increased, the precise moment of transition became narrower and the tension grew. Ultimately, I made mistakes. To counter them, I allowed myself to make “stops” or “saves”, which required a full green window long enough so that I could clench and unclench my right foot midstride, while mentally saying “stop.” I could only stop the game if I had more stops than errors, though at some point the ultimate goal became acquiring copious amounts of stops, which I gathered furiously by rapidly squeezing and un-squeezing my right foot while repeating, “stop, stop, stop, stop, stop…” as I passed a long section of grass. You can probably read into that game, most notably the maze of asphalt and concrete inside the dense, inner-ring suburb of my youth. Needless to say, I got pretty good at that game. It occurs to me, just now, that this might be the first time I’ve ever told anyone about it.

 

*

 

Silke was still shaken, but even before she made it across the stream her nervous tension was giving way to laughter. Me too. My body was dumping dopamine into my bloodstream to make up for the energetic blast of testosterone I had received when I heard Silke shout, “rattlesnake!” My muscles relaxed and I could sense that everything was alright. She hadn’t been bitten, just frightened. Pema was at a safe distance.

 

Turning to look in the grass, I spied, plain as day, a thick coil of snake about ten feet from me, slowly retreating in the opposite direction. It had dark brown-red stripes up and down its back, and was as thick as my forearm. I couldn’t easily make out its head, or its tail, and it was hard to tell how long it was. Much of it was still coiled up, and the grass camouflaged its movements, which appeared to be in several directions at once. “Wait a minute, that’s two snakes,” I said, trying to make sense of it all. “Wait. Maybe it’s three.”

 

By that point, it was clear we were all a safe distance away and I knew the rattlers were only protecting themselves. They certainly weren’t after us. The toad, however, still huddled nearby on the shore. Its little throat expanded in and out, rapidly as before. Had it known?

 

Silke and I watched as the snakes uncoiled themselves, one clearly departing up into the bushes parallel to the river, another slithering further away into the distance. They were calm and each moved very slowly, giving us plenty of time to watch them, their departure stirring up swaying heads of grasses even as they disappeared in and out of view. Pema sidled up next to me, then took a couple steps up the shoreline. “No! Wait!” I shouted. “Those are rattlesnakes, Pema,” Silke said, straight-voiced, a little surprised by Pema’s brazen steps. “You don’t go up there.”

 

“But I want to see,” Pema whined.

 

“Okay, look,” I said, reaching for her, “You get on my back.” I picked her up and placed her on my shoulders, taking a few tentative steps up the shoreline. I could easily make the snakes out, a safe distance away, their movements calm and peaceful. “See them?” I asked.

 

“Yeah, right there,” Pema answered, excited to see such large snakes. We see garter snakes all the time, and occasional bull snakes, which can be quite big. But these seemed outrageously long, maybe six feet, and as thick as my arm. They were evidently adults, and there was no question there were two, but whether it was only two was never fully satisfied to me. The nearest one was now hidden entirely in the brush nearby and the furthest was almost out of sight, heading for some low-lying oaks. I turned back to Silke, shaking my head at the nearness of our encounter.

 

“Did you throw the bag at them?” I asked, “Or did you throw it before you noticed?”

 

“I didn’t notice anything,” she answered. “I threw my bag down without thinking. They must have felt it. And then, I heard the rattle…and…” she drifted off. I couldn’t stop smiling. Neither could Silke. I had the dawning sense - toad, snake, venom, the warm light of that canyon. I scratched my head, grateful to have Pema in my arms. This encounter was somehow medicine.

 

“You know, I’ve lived in New Mexico for more than thirty years and I’ve never seen a rattlesnake,” Silke said, growing reflective. “And now…” She shook her head, holding her hand out to the spot where the snakes had first been discovered in the grass. It was a bit mystifying.

 

“I know, I know,” I repeated, enchanted, echoing her reflection. “I haven’t seen one either. I…I…” stammering, I left off. Then, another thought struck and I resumed. “I’m surprised there aren’t any signs. I mean, there are tourists walking up and down this path all the time, day after day. Hundreds of them. You see signs all over for bears, and, come on…I mean - it’s a national park!” I held my hand out, baffled at the lack of legalistic notice I’ve come to expect in a well-funded national park. My mind was a jumble. Maybe rattlesnakes weren’t that common. But then how had we just stumbled on two, maybe three, very large snakes. Hidden by the fortress of driftwood, we were hardly a hundred feet from the main path.

 

Fact is, I had seen a rattlesnake before. At least, I think I did. A few months ago I was walking along the edge of the Rio Grande Gorge, over a large rock slide, and I noticed a distinct pattern amongst the loose gray stones. Looking closer, it revealed itself to be a slim brown and white snake, half hidden underneath the stones. It clearly wasn’t a garter snake or a bull snake, but it did have intricate patterns on its back and so I wondered if I had finally stumbled upon a rattler. It was still cold in the gorge, it being mid-spring, and I knew the poor thing could hardly move, if it was even alive. I poked it gently with a stick, then watched as it slowly slinked its way further under the stones. It was alive alright, but tiny, hardly bigger than a toothbrush. Its little tail shook violently, but there was no rattle there yet. Besides, even bull snakes do that. But whatever it was, it enhanced a healthy fear I already had. I walk these canyons and gorges all the time, often alone. It would only be a matter of time till I would stumble on one again, this time an adult, or worse, a juvenile.

 

“Dada,” Pema said, interrupting my reverie. “That’s where I took a poop.” She pointed to where the snakes had been lying still. I raised a hand to my face, sliding it slowly down as my mind retraced the steps. Before the toad had hopped into our lives, before I had taken that video, Silke was still slumbering beneath the driftwood when Pema had stood up from her fairy house and called out to me. She needed to poop. I waved my hand to the shore, right to the very spot we had found the snakes, indicating the glorious bathroom that surrounded us. That could only have been fifteen or twenty minutes ago. That’s why Pema had started to walk over there. She wasn’t just looking for the snakes, she wanted to know what they did to her poop.

 

*

 

There are things that defy explanation. Whether as scientists, spiritualists or simply as storytellers, these mysteries at the edge of our known world are both deeply haunting and deeply needed. They are what drive us, what opens the door to curiosity, observation and imagination. For whatever reason, good or bad, we have a need to feel unique, to believe that what we know is special, not known to the average person. Yet we need others, select others, to share this with. Esoteric knowledge, no matter the form, is a required for life, and everyone, from the lonely academic to the lowly laborer, relishes their uniqueness.

 

I read a compelling theory once, an explanation of the unique speed undergirding the human brain in the context of the staggering power of 21st century computers. The gist of it is this - a computer, no matter the speed, must reach a conclusion before returning an answer or moving to the next step in the algorithm. Even highly elegant and flexible code, complete with probabilities, must be, one way or another, followed precisely. That is the crux of computer technology - it’s always right. It always produces the same answer. The human brain, on the other hand, does not wait for complete resolution before producing an answer, or moving to the next step. Once an answer appears likely, we simply jump to the conclusion. This allows for all sorts of error to creep in, but it also makes us lightning fast and full of creativity. No two people, given the same input, produce the same answer.

 

Have you ever seen someone, or something, walking ahead of you at a distance and recognized them by the subtlest signals? A couple hundred yards out, a person is mostly just a glob on the horizon. Maybe he or she is a little fuzzy, but then somehow you notice the particular gait of this person’s movement, maybe a unique outline of their form, and think, “Oh, I wonder if that’s Bob. I should say hi.” You follow, walking closer and closer, till, now just a hundred yards away, you see a familiar hat, Bob’s hat, and the way Bob moves his arms a little side to side. You smile. “That must be him.” You move towards him, beginning to recount a few details - his wife’s recent illness, the car trouble, the way Bob always has a cup of coffee. But Bob is fast. You wonder if you should shout. Then, as you get within fifty feet or so, why, that’s not Bob at all. They’re not even wearing a hat. It’s just a passing stranger, like your thoughts. You smile and nod, glad you didn’t shout.

 

Have you ever walked in the forest and mistaken a dead tree trunk for a person, or a bear? Have you ever seen a face on a rock wall? The moon? Do you notice the way, once the outline of a duck suggests itself amongst the clouds, your relationship to that cloud changes? What exactly is a cloud, after all? Do you really know, or do you just think you know? Have you ever seen a toad’s deadpan expression, maybe in a photo or real life, and anthropomorphized its thoughts? So hilarious, those toads, just perfect for a pie in the face.

 

Whether you appreciate these sorts of thought experiments or not, it’s evident that our minds have a way of bleeding out beyond our factual environment and suggesting things much before we’re able to fully determine them. This is the source of much stupidity, but also great creativity and possibility. And yet, why do we see human faces in the rocks, ducks in the clouds? We don’t see hyraxes or aurachs, at least most of us don’t. Our imaginations and creativities tend to follow the lead of our experience. Children build playhouses. They make soup and cookies out of mud. They become their favorite TV characters, or the protagonists in their favorite books. Even fairies, magical as they are, resemble the human forms upon which we base them.

 

*

 

I stepped aside the narrow ledge carved into the rock, leaning back conveniently on the steel railing, placing a hand on Pema’s shoulder as a man and a woman with distinct Asian features passed by with courteous nods. There was little room to move around here, a hundred feet in the air, and the final passage to the cave above us was via a forty-foot wooden ladder, which the couple had recently descended. Silke passed by the couple and joined Pema and I on the ledge as we waited for the couple’s two teenage daughters to descend. The man, their father, called out to them in a foreign tongue, presumably reminding them, like any sane father, to be safe. You could see that he loved his girls. Pema had walked up the previous three ladders herself with no trouble, one foot following the other. I trusted her, but I stayed close. One of the daughters, now halfway down the ladder, called back to her father, this time in English. I looked at the man, a good ten to fifteen years older than me. “We are from Thailand,” he said, smiling sweetly. His wife nodded demurely.

 

The two daughters made it safely down the ladder and I escorted Pema past them, smiling courteously, eager to get up before the next group of tourists, now hovering near the top, began to descend. We had been here yesterday. We knew the etiquette.

 

Stepping over the last rung of the ladder, I looked around as Pema ran into one of the small caves, familiar from the day before, on our left. The main cave, about the size and shape of a modest amphitheater, is chalky and white with small pastel rocks, purple and orange, mixed into its surface. Ash, the whole canyon from top to bottom was ash from a nearby caldera, a volcanic explosion five-hundred times the size of Mount St. Helens over a million years ago, which eventually compressed and formed a layer of rock several hundred feet deep. You could feel it. The walls deteriorated with every stroke of my hand. My clothes were covered in it. The floor, the path, the river, everything was coated in a thick layer of chalky dust. Everywhere I looked, the cave was covered in deeply grooved shoe prints, like those on the moon.

 

Off to the right sat a small, reconstructed kiva. The rangers had cordoned it off, but Silke walked right past the signs, poking around the roof. “It’s locked,” she said, indicating the roof entrance that led inside. Apparently she had been here years ago, when you could still climb down. At opposite edges of the cave, two on the left and one far to the right, three small, closet-sized caves were carved into the surface of the wall, whether naturally or by the cave’s previous residents I couldn’t tell. The sign at the bottom said twenty-five people used to live here.

 

 “Live here?” I thought, dusting myself off, “They didn’t just live here.”

 

*

 

The day before, after visiting the caves near the visitor’s center, we had followed the long path along the river to this distant amphitheater, now called the Alcove House. After tucking our heads inside a couple of the smaller caves, giving a quick exploratory hum as we looked around, we eyed each other knowingly. They were worth a deeper exploration.

 

A few months ago Silke and I had stumbled across a large culvert under the highway near the Rio Grande. We were alone and she and I had both looked at each other and pointed - have you ever? Want to…? We did. We sang with the kids all the time, but this was different. Half an hour later we crawled out, almost delirious with bliss, having discovered a common affinity for the environment of sound. Underneath the highway, packed under twenty feet of gravel and dirt, We had had us some proper church. So it was no surprise to either one of us to be exploring these caves with our voices as well as our eyes.

 

Earlier that day we had shared a few exploratory notes in some of the caves near the visitor’s center, but nothing extravagant. There were so many caves and lots of people waiting to get up, or down, the ladders. We kept it modest. Now, as we walked the interior of the Alcove House, we were a little bolder. I released a long, resonant tone in the center of the main cave. A couple visitors, lingering near the ladder, looked up and smiled. There was a nice sound, but nothing to write home about. Then I smelled something. The visitors started climbing down and I walked to the opposite side. There, crouched in one of the small caves was Silke. She was burning some incense, Paulo Santo, as she is wont to do, and she had her flute.

 

I crawled in, curious to hear the flute, which piped some nice notes, but nothing exceptional. Pema, hearing the sound, spotted us and ran over. She climbed in my lap as we began to sing. At first we sang quietly, but then, seeing that we had the whole of the amphitheater to ourselves for the time being, we began increasing the range and depth of our tones. I let out the fullness of my voice. At some point, as we climbed the scales of our voices, I heard - no, I felt - a distinct resonance. It was just a glimmer, but it was like the whole cave shook with sound.

 

“Did you hear that?” I asked.

 

Silke smiled. “I most certainly did.”

 

We began searching our voices more consciously, slowly plying our voices up and down, listening for that powerful resonance. It wasn’t constant, but only appeared with certain notes. Small events informed us, like when I leaned forward to adjust my legs, which were fast falling asleep. In the center of the small cave, the sound carried like anywhere else in the world, but as I leaned the vibration in my chest back to the wall of the cave, a distinct phenomenon occurred which literally shook the bones in my pelvis. Holy shit, I said with my eyes to Silke, who looked back at me with a knowing smile.

 

Silke began chanting deep in her throat, her chin pressed close to her chest. The note, whatever it was, was deep, and I could feel the walls coming alive. I echoed the tone, slightly mellower and deeper, adjusting the minutia of my throat to scale up and down with titration-like precision. I listened to the Aahhh… I listened to the Oooo… I listened to the Eeee… It didn’t take long for us, trading breaths rhythmically, to keep the walls of that cave shimmering with a sound that penetrated our whole bodies. It was as if we were inside a huge crystal singing bowl. Pema sat, enchanted.

 

It was a single note that did it. Climbing up or down scale, the resonance faded immediately, just like a chime or a bell has only one tone. To keep the resonance, it simply required us to keep that pitch, otherwise the walls faded and all the sound was simply in our throats. The human voice. But when keyed into that particular tone, that particular vibration, it felt as if the whole cliff were vibrating with us. The whole canyon was singing along with us, touching octaves and harmonies that, moments ago, we couldn’t even have imagined.

 

I have a remarkable capacity for air, particularly when singing, the pressure of which forces the oxygenated air into my expanding lungs and, quite literally, makes me high. Mostly, I am modest with my voice, but when I wish to, and surely I wished to then, I can release and hold a strong note for what feels like a very long time. At the rise of each breath, as I shaped my throat back into that shimmering vibration, there was a brief moment, like call and response, when it was simply my own voice. Then, as I caught the frequency, I felt as if my whole body was resonating with the inner chambers of the earth. I don’t know how to describe it. I can never fully describe it. The whole earth shook, and when it did I could no longer feel the vibration in my own throat. It was as if I was pushing an energy from deep within my diaphragm directly into the resonance of the world. I disappeared. Then, as each breath ended, the resonance would briefly dim, then abruptly end. It was unlike anything I had ever experienced.

 

By sharing our cycles of breath, Silke and I were able to continue sounding for minutes on end, maintaining that resonance, till our breaths fell out of sync or one of us fell to joyful laughter. It was intoxicating and when we weren’t singing, we were grinning from ear to ear. Do the rangers know about this? I wondered. Surely the Anasazi did. My eyes drifted over the kiva, only a few yards away, and over the tree-lined river below. My goodness. But before I could drift too far, Pema would shout, “Again!”

 

*

 

That night, as Silke and I sat in the dark at our campsite, watching the stars come out, we debated about what to do next. We had planned to go to Tent Rocks, its sloping canyon walls much like those at Bandelier. I looked over at Pema, who was singing softly to herself in a hammock nearby, wrapped in a sleeping bag. The sound we had experienced earlier that day washed over me. What a mystery. What dumb luck. There was something about those caves, the warm, feminine feel of the canyon.

 

“Let’s stay here,” Silke said. I agreed.

 

*

 

Three days later, having returned for a second day at Bandelier and singing for another couple hours in the caves high above the canyon floor after our encounter with the rattlesnakes, Silke and I were walking alone on a very different path. It was raining and Pema was with her mother for the night. We had shifted our camping trip in order to adjust for that anomaly and were now returning from a long hike along a thickly forested mountain trail. It was getting dark and I was getting hungry when Silke, spotting a thin vein of quartz in the rock, stopped short on the trail. “Let’s go up there,” she said, indicating a brief ledge on top of a rock slide. “I always pay attention to crystal veins.” I rolled my eyes, and followed. There, not thirty feet away, stood the opening to a cave. It was round, just above standing height, and the waning light of day disappeared quickly into a vast darkness. It appeared to be very, very deep.

 

The truth can lead you to the edge. Imagination can make you sing.