Bringing meaning to a moment, an exercise in class:
Spring Break 2000
One hiker, already, dead. We hike for two more days, tasting the salt of our mortality like slugs; hesitant. Into the valley of rock and ridge and rolling river down, the buttery-hot sun explodes in neon pinks; sunset in Canyonlands. We trek away from that deadly crevasse, coagulated blood and cerebral fluid now unrecognizable, like a chunk of dried papaya left behind on the desert floor.
It is March and while Nick drove us all night from Walla Walla to Moab, spinning tires on snow at the pass then later choking on dust-filled air at four a.m., I used up the batteries for my headlamp in order to finish The Monkey Wrench Gang before crossing the Utah state line. Never mind that later I would want that light to shine into the crevasse. Never mind that now we are four days in, three more to go, and in our party of eight, two have gone missing.
“How long do we wait?” Ali says, failing to meet my eyes.
“Or how many miles should we track them for?” I ask.
It could be worse. It could be one hundred and two degrees. There could be no water. But we have the food and the filter. We have the tents. Since El is the only group member hiking in Reeboks his tracks are easy to find and we guess that the other pair belong to Johnny, who is also missing. But they are at least three hours deep into the wrong canyon and besides bedding and clothes, carry only the stove and fuel. We look at the map and decipher they would have to hike forty miles before crossing anything manmade, an unmarked four-wheeler cut.
We send two runners while the rest of the group waits, cooking like lizards on slick rock. A small, black fly lands on my pink skin connecting the dots of freckles on my forearm and pulling me from a sun-cooked trance enough to coordinate a well-aimed slap. The sting of sunburn is startling and I look down to see the dead fly roll down the slope of my arm.
Ali looks at me sharply, then whispers: “He didn’t deserve to die.”