Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Morning Meal

Morning Meal. I approached a fork in the trail with dawn to my right and had to choose between left or right. I chose to stay down and away from the light a little longer and went left. This led me to pine tree arch. The arch is gouged out of the right side of a narrow corridor between two sandstone fins. The arch opens up to a downward sloping field of sand and low scrub flanked by walls of stone.

I sat in the sand at the top of the scrub field between the two stone ridges with the rising sun casting the shadow of pinetree arch onto the wall behind me. The first thing that I began to notice was that there was no wind and with no wind the scrubs weren't chattering and the loose sand wasn't rolling along the foot of the stone. I watched swirling clouds of mosquitoes rising from the scrub to look for a mate as my ears grew accustomed to this aural stillness. Then a new sound cut through my deafness, a slicing of the still air and a ruffle of feathers. The first of it was barely audible and as I turned to look for the bird, another slid through the air right above my head. The only sound produced was that of the Western Meadowlark's slender shape shearing the still air as it glided through the circling column of mosquitoes. There was then a rippling sound as the bird flapped his wings to circle a boulder at the edge of the field and dove through the mosquitoes once more. Soon there were three birds sweeping back and forth, three feet from the ground. If I was quick I could have grabbed one from where I sat.

As I sat watching the birds have their morning meal I became aware of some reddish ants toiling near my feet. Soon, I could hear them too; tossing sand as they scrambled over pebbles. I almost thought I could hear the stridulation exchanged between ant compatriots on their linear path to and from their occupation. I got onto my knees and put my face near the sand to get a closer look at the ants. Some of them seemed to have strange bulges on their abdomen that looked like grains of sand had merged with their bodies. As I looked around, I saw that every open sandy space was covered in ants. I wondered if these were all from the same colony and if not, how far did these ants travel from this particular patch of sand over the course of their lives.

Now, within the shuffling of the ants and the rushing of the meadowlarks I heard the scratching of small rodent claws on a boulder 10 feet away and turned to see a kangaroo rat sitting on top of the rock. I watched her for a while as she waited on the boulder hoping to conceal herself from my gaze by remaining motionless. I slowly rose to walk over for a closer look. As I began to walk slowly towards the boulder my shins ached. I looked down, wondering if I had really been sitting that long only to find a dozen ants clinging to my legs, bravely trying to drive me away from their colony. Now that I noticed them the pain began to grow rapidly and I quickly brushed them off. This was not before they had produced red marks the size of a 50 cent piece on my shins. With the pain of the bites subsiding I made to continue my pursuit of the rat only to see that she had taken advantage of my preoccupation with those jingoistic ants to make good her escape.

As I made my way back up the hill I heard one last sound, the scraping of hiking boots over the rocks as another hiker emerged from the arch into the scrub field. I could no longer hear the sounds of the meadowlark and the ant and the rat, only the ordinary daily sounds of sand on boot soles and zippers clicking and jacket swishing. The morning was over and the day had begun and I made my way out of the field. As I left, I turned to look at the boulder and saw that the kangaroo rat had resumed her place at its summit.

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