Tripping on Tailings


Scratch and tap, scratch and tap, grinding crunch, and swivel. Into the Jeep for another day. Sun waters the eyes, constricting at the radiation, the steering wheel grips each knuckle in an ache of chill, Reverse to the right, pull out in Drive forward, left. Two right turns and one exit, onto the highway we go. Conversation seeps out of the groggy few speeding into the breaking day, all that eastern Washington has on display from a mark of 63 mph.

Some days the clock trots you into nihilism forgetting where you are or where you've been awash in the stretching present engulfing these short winter days. Anger at the din shouting over a river lost dissolves into something useful, a keen curiosity about the whereabouts of your friends.

An hour lingers with all three of us, learning and relearning about each other while gravel flings out from the tire-edge of a rural four-way stop, another cascade of quarry tailings has us alter and out of the car, dodging highway bulls puffing diesel in streaks of sooty grey. She's there also, a partner in crime running away with my heart as she stares up and my friend and I clambering up a 35 degree slope why and why not we holler down. If not now when? Without the seething chase against futures lording over our tedious efforts and game play, what mess is there to be made? A mess indeed. Geologic trash chinks against its kin, crumbling and tumbling over its matrix in shards, we're scrambling to the near-top of the tailings, tiny clouds flexing in and out of our vision. Leaf! Pine cone! Dawn Redwood! Maple! Torn and fragmented glimpses of the past scattered around our leather boots the frost sticking some to each other and the course mid-day light draping us in winter warmth. A good day is a day way of spending a day. Diggers' rejects marvel up at us, found at last to me the death mask of another epoch rising up around the scene in extinct conifers their acid leaves piling atop themselves in decaying mats overwhelmed by the tropical storm suffocating them until a half-rusted chisel reveals them again in a world of the living. Wind blows athwart into your mouth and nose but the brush of a dusty forearm frees you to keep skimming the devastation left from a tsunamis 50 million years lost. A meandering forest coalesces from the petroleum shingles smiling at the sun who now peeks shyly from behind stringy clouds. Wherever art thou, mysterious creatures? They've all gone for the season minus the chittering of chickadees and a jay someway off but the river will not be silent mulching the bedrock of millennia through tortured currents changed by all many of industry and life perambulating from somewhere to anywhere to a soft song of an unending present.

Fossils break at my touch as my love breaks into a smile, marinating in mirth at my woes thrown to a series of holy supplications to any spirit nearby for the thing to arrive in my wobbling grip in one piece. Alas, two bits acquiesce from the mother matrix and unblinkingly a tiny fin appears connected to another adjacent and there another and finally the mirage liquefies into the very real remnants of swimming creature between index and thumb a fish! A fish was pummeled by water and mud and leaves, its world collapsing unidirectionally to preserve this body. Throw intention out the window let the biting molecules of water carrying it into the fog to join the blanket of night encroaching from the east. The slurry of Ecocene landscapes cripple and fall into the subconscience a call from the friend brings another fossil and another swimming vision of the world that once was. You must go now, the day is late and the belly whispers to each of you in groaning tones of neglected discomfort.

Adjourn back to the Jeep, stiff and creaking from crouching in the cold. Another dozen hours of precious time paid to the highway and spent milling in conversation with friends of the heart. My love reaches up to check the blackening imprint of a rose's profile, she quints at the curving stem and serrated leaves set delicate and tenacious against the tasteless beige matrix.

"It's something innit?" I throw the phrase at the two of them in a triumphant haze of personal victory.

"Yea," she says.

"Who knew?" says the other.

Another cold night in the shadow of a forest, electricity warms the blankets and we three read and commune in the dim light of cellphone screens and reading lights. Somewhere another fossil is being made, slumbering for eons for the curious touch of adventure. To know why these things touch us is to waste countless effort on challenging the joy of exploration and not in the execution of life.

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