Saturday, November 9, 2013

The Firing Squad

The firing squad waits for the blood to come first before shooting. Lined up three deep around the amphitheater facing the delicate arch, they watch the horizon for clouds that might snuff the light of the sunset prematurely. The tour guide rallies his troops, setting f-stops, leveling tripods and spinning polarizing filters. There’s forty thousand dollars’ worth of cameras sitting next to me on top of five thousand dollars’ worth of tripods in front of twenty thousand dollars’ worth of tourists. The gravity of their preparations and expectations feels like it might collapse the whole damned ridge.
Across from the ridge, staring down these glass barrels and showing no signs of flinching, is the delicate arch; a pair of chaps without a cowboy or a sandstone window to the La Sal range. The arch stands on the rim of a half bowl leaning back precariously over a 400 foot cliff. A mantelpiece of red rock sitting on one thick, muscular, straight leg and one impossibly thin, frail leg bent at the knee and…a man in a plaid shirt, my hero, standing directly under the span looking up in reverence.
The crowd starts to murmur…”What do we do?”…”He’s ruining it for everybody!”. I’ve seen this happen before and it can get nasty with shouting and curses hurled at people who wander over to the arch. This time I’m ready to fight back against this crowd for trying to deny the arch to the one person here who is actually immersing himself in its magnificence rather than trying to take the same postcard picture over and over and over again. But the grumbling only bounces around among the crowd of photographers; none of them willing to cast the first stone across the amphitheater towards the man in plaid who seems completely and wonderfully oblivious to the existence of anything but this arch. He starts to walk off to the side of the arch and the crowd holds their breath only to gasp when he stops short of exiting the border of their carefully framed photos.
I’m watching this over my shoulder as I’m facing away from the arch making sketches of the rounded cliffs behind the bowl. A woman with a hiking stick that would have been the envy of Moses is taking pictures of the arch. She moves in front of the scene that I’m drawing but rather than bug her while she’s taking in the arch I flip the page over and start drawing a different section of the cliffs. I've gotten the first bulging shadows penned in when she takes a few steps to the side and blocks my view again. I flip back to the previous drawing and pick up where I left off. I draw in a few loopy juniper trees before she shifts back in front of me. I’m craning my neck to get the last few details on either side of her when the man in plaid steps down from the ledge beside me, apparently done with his meditation at the arch. He walks up to the woman blocking my view and says “Honey, would you like me to take your picture before we go?”

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