The rutted road dead ends at a nameless canyon that eventually plunges 3000 feet into the gorge of the Colorado River. For over a year, I had scoured maps and planned a journey to the drop off point, miles from where I am.
It's past noon under a hot desert sun and time is tight. I scramble down several hundred feet to the bottom and check the tracks: a curved line with claw marks on each side – lizard; a pair of vees, large and small – doe and fawn; small paws – coyote; and, best of all no cattle or human prints, telling me that this canyon is rarely visited.
The canyon is like a tree. I start at the tip of a small branch and before long another joins in. Further on, branches join on the right, then the left, then more on the right. The return will be like opening a combination lock: turn left, left, right, left, right. To miss a turn will mean a night spent out without water; or worse.
in the sand
dry grass tips
The wind picks up and blowing sand stings my face. The tracks I planned to use to find my way back are already disappearing, so I make stone cairns at the intersections. Feet turn into yards, minutes into hours, a few intersections into dozens.
Itís taking too long, so I pick up the pace and quit making cairns. Did I bring my coat? Matches? An extra water bottle?
Suddenly I'm at the edge. Below is the great river that further downstream carved the Grand Canyon.
a golden eagle
Most of the water gone, the sun low, I start back. The first major intersection comes quickly and both branches look feasible. I scan for footprints, none visible, impulsively take the left. Another intersection, go right, continue on to yet more intersections, many more than I remember. Panic begins to nip like a swarm of biting insects.
over hot sand
a horned lizard
I drink the last of the water, stumble on a root. Shadows are lengthening and the canyon walls are flaring in pinks, oranges, reds. Walls deepen to lavender, then purple. I climb out in near blackness, groping for hand holds, blocking thoughts about snakes and scorpions.
At last the silhouette of my truck, Rosinante. I sag out of the pack, grab the water jug, drink deeply, dump the rest over my head, dance a small jig. I stretch out on the sand, my pack for a pillow, and gaze at the night sky.
fades to memory
Ray Rasmussen's haiku, haiga, haibun and articles have been accepted for publication in Modern Haiku, Frogpond, Contemporary Haibun, Heron's Nest, Simply Haiku, Bottle Rockets, Haibun Today, Haigaonline, Contemporary Haibun Online, Roadrunner, Tinywords, Haiku Harvest, The World Haiku Review, Lynx and Ink Sweat & Tears. Ray designed the Contemporary Haibun Online web site and serves as technical editor. His web page designs are currently used by Simply Haiku and Roadrunner haiku journals. He has served as haiga editor for Simply Haiku and haibun editor for the World Haiku Review. Ray dreamed that in a previous life he was a university professor.