ON HE RODE — Chapter Thirty

Ha-wong! Or would that be kara-whong!? Just what sound does a meteor make when it plows full-speed into hard desert rock? Anything like the Smack! of horsehide on cowhide of a Big Jim Wilson fastball to the open pocket of a catcher’s mitt? Of course I jest. It’s more like the sound of one giant hand clapping . . . against another giant hand. Scat! Shoo! Begone! I hear you, Lord, and will comply. Just give me a few minutes to check this crater thing out.

(By the way, who was the Seattle Rainiers’ catcher when Jim Wilson threw for his fifteenth-straight win? Ray Orteig? What year? 1950? Eighteen years ago? Or so? What do I get if I’m right? Anyway, it’s been a personal eternity in the snap of God’s thumb. Ah, well.)

So. I’m sitting here on the edge of a dry crater plunged into earth’s hard crust by one plummeting astral rock a pretty long time ago. What’s the best way to think about something so random, so powerful, and, finally, so inconsequential? A big hole in the desert. So what?

But was it really random? Might it not have been a well-aimed projectile, a message? An omen? If so, who sent it, and who’d they send it to? Was it truth? Were there consequences?

Boy Scouts might sit around a lingering campfire overlooking the evening-shadowed oval of crater.

“Wha’d you give me to go down there? At night?”

“Why’d I give you anything? Wha’d you give me to not pitch you over the edge?”

“Snakes down there. Rattlers.”

“So? Catch one. Tame it. Getcher self a Merit Badge.”

Chance, free will, and the fate of godless galaxies. Save it for your eleventh-graders, Mr. English teacher. Melville. Jonathan Edwards. Whitman. (Whitman? Really? Dickinson?)

Try this: One of the Scouts’ older brothers, once a Scout himself, loaned him a fat manila envelope containing soiled and dog-eared black & white glossies depicting grown women in various states of undress and desire. Rented it, more likely. Nickel a look. Nobody’d better try to palm one. Big penalty for loss or damage of any kind.

When that starts feeling a bit too nasty, they do something more Scoutworthy, like banking the fire with thick slabs of old-growth Douglas fir bark. That’s how me’n Evers (Evers and I, for purists) came ridiculously close to burning down Twanoh State Park. Who would’ve thought fir bark could blaze like that? You learn a lot about nature in the Boy Scouts.

I end up not spending much time in crater contemplation. It seems adequately Scoutworthy to compare the gradual erasures of erosion, as in the Grand Canyon, to the sudden ruin of explosion, as in the Great Crater. Not exactly fire and ice, but perhaps related and could suffice? A hundred feet of altitude equals a hundred miles of latitude. All things are connected. God says so. Doesn’t (S)He? So long Great Crater.

Howdy, Carlsbad Caverns. Well, not so fast. The pattern of my wander emerges as I trundle onward, my destination: Bryan, Texas. Between the Great Crater and Bryan lies New Mexico, and within New Mexico sits a lot of petrified wood, thorny cactus, weaving and pottery, stretches and patches of Rte. 66, and then Carlsbad, home of the caverns. The Great Southwest Trifecta: Grand Canyon, Great Crater, and Carlsbad Caverns. John Muir himself could not have planned better.

Of course John Muir did not have that marvel of modern technology, the automobile, to ease and hasten his way. He would have walked, poor soul. I too might end up walking or in other ways improvising my way to Bryan, Boston, and beyond. But I hope not.

Truth or Consequences, Albuquerque, Los Cruces, Taos, Gallup. No doubt about it, New Mexico wins the eye-catching town names contest hands-down. Is there a Bizarro Nueva, New Mexico? A Hands-Down, N. M.? Shouldn’t there be?

(For pop culture enthusiasts, I will present a personally hand-drawn one-hundred-dollar bill to the first reader who tells me in which comic strip the truncated lyrics of the probably spurious song “Two Sons from Tucson” once appeared.)

In the meantime my appreciation of a gorgeous Phoenix sunset is seriously compromised when my turn signal jams flashing left, left, left, and I want to turn right and can’t make it stop. Hard to cross heavy lanes of traffic and pull off the road to the right, but I finally do it and get things straightened out. After that it’s a matter of finding a place to pull over for the night. I’ve never seen a city sunset so spectacular. Wish I’d seen more of it. Next time I’m in Phoenix . . ..

I keep thinking about the crater and what it must’ve looked like when the rock hit and how the concussion must’ve sounded and felt. How far away would you have to be to survive? Was anybody living there when it hit? Why did it happen? Could it happen again?

Well, yeah, of course it could, whether it’s some wobbly space wanderer fatally wobbling too far or a projectile aimed precisely at that specific target by an agency of supreme ire, an angry God. Maybe the big meteor that killed the dinosaurs was a targeted shot against a critter population too far out of control for simple containment. Just wipe them out. Save the lizards and such for historic record. And the birds, always save the birds for their flight and their song. And a few of those cave-dwelling humanoid sub-species for their foolish foibles, their entertainment value. Alley Oop, shop, boo-boop. Know what I mean? Jellybean?

Suppose, just suppose, those latter critters, those vaudevillian refugees, should somehow manage not only to survive the challenging circumstances, but to gradually take control and turn nature’s resources to their own advantage. And suppose they become so good at using those resources for their own selfish purposes that they fail to acknowledge an obligation to protect and perpetuate them. And suppose they corrupt those resources, waste and misuse them, pollute them, so overburden them with the increasingly frenzied needs of an overpopulated human monoculture as to bring forth another meteoric event, another Ice Age, another targeted extinction. Just suppose.

Just suppose there IS a God and that He dealt with the dinosaurs and will deal with us in our turn, unless we mend our evil ways. But this time He won’t fling a meteor, He’ll just sit back and watch us do His dirty work for Him. Epic. We turn ourselves into the massive petroleum reserve of some future civilization of unrecognizable new species. Aliens? Galapagos updates? Us, in disguise?

And if there really ISN’T a God? But of course there is a God. Isn’t there? I mean, there is a Spirit animating the universe, binding it, binding us, uniting us, being One with us. Being us. Or not?

I’ve been saying my prayers lately. I say them now. Who knows?

Carlsbad tomorrow.

Mahalo for reading!

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