A Long Walk Over Uneven Ground: Vignette VIII
12 Febrero…El Desengano 35 km west of L.A. Bay
An underground mine…J thinks for gold, maybe silver, even copper minerals possible. We leave Sierra Calamajue reluctantly…Extreme conditions keep people close together…coming out into civilization is a shock. Finishing the survey of the Puertocitos-Laguna Chapalla road is an accomplishment and a letdown. J is not really happy with the rocks. Says none of them “kick”…We had done the best we could within the limitations of foot traverses and the unwieldiness of the postal van. Still it was living…
Trying to identify new minerals…one may be acicular talc, another boulangerite or one of the many secondary copper minerals. We examine both rock ID books we have along, and the field tools: acid, knife scratches, extensive examination under the 10-power hand lens. Unless it is one of the common minerals, one is never absolutely certain about the identification using field techniques. She is always amazed at the resources J has at his disposal: the library of names in his head, the ability to eliminate, to hone-in on, to limit the possibilities…
13 Febrero…El Viejo (aka El Desengano ruins)
In the Spanish dictionary, ‘el desengano’ means disillusionment, disappointment.
It is the metallic surfaces on the debris at this old mine site, the cast-off enamel pots with rusted holes in the bottom, Pemex gas can lids, the weathered surfaces that catch her eyes, make her look closer. She wants to build a sculpture of all the abandoned pieces, but after a shower under the morning sun, they move on…
14 Febrero…Destination El Arco and Calmalli
J mixes aguardiente with coca-cola found in an unopened 2-litre bottle fallen off a truck on the road to Calamajue. This is truly a low-budget trip! El Arco looms large in the imagination, almost mythical.
15 Febrero…Almost stuck on the Las Animas road. The shovel, a piece of plywood, carpet under the wheels and skillful driving on J’s part got the van out. Confusion coordinating the topo and road maps…washboard, sand dunes, hot plain all day…
18 Febrero…Just before Cuesta de la Ley, J spots a man-made feature, a dump of rock falling, the excavation from a shaft, of modest scale. At its base we pick up turquoise-splotched rock and spend a happy hour looking at the green-blues, peacock, mauve, lavender, sea-green, even reds and burnt-orange…rocks with painted surfaces. J takes samples in case it is part of a larger system…
After the camp at the beach, we are salt-water clean again. Nightly I clean with cotton balls soaked with hamamelis (witchazel)…refreshing…
NEXT WEEK: The Art of Prospecting: A Long Walk Over Uneven Ground…Vignette IX
This writing project is a collection of essays about prospecting in the desert environment. It has always been called A Long Walk Over Uneven Ground. It has been a work-in-progress for over 5 years.
It is an inquiry into the influence of space. The focus within each essay is specific to a particular place (in the desert). Based on journal writings and thoughts gathered during a series of working journeys into the Sonora desert regions of the northern Baja Peninsula, the Basin and Range topography of Nevada and its southern extent in the state of Sonora, Mexico, the manuscript is an internal dialog with the desert: what is seen at the surface and what that stimulates of internal musings and thoughts. The narrative description of prospecting provides the perspective and acts as a metaphor for the process of change, the way language used to describe rock formation is relevant to the metaphysical worlds we move through and enquires into the translation of abstract space into real place using maps as a framework that confines being within a physical space.
Having gathered experiences working as a prospector in the intermontane desert which extends from Mexico north through the United States, I want to continue to document my experiences at locations within the northern extent of this desert in British Columbia, specifically within what is referred to as the Interior Plateau. I want to see how the quality of light and the sensory experience of color might be different here than in the southern portions of this desert. In order to do this, I need to live on the land, as close to it as I can get, and stay there. I have to move across its surface and feel how it exerts its influence upon me.
I would like to contribute to the awareness of this unique environment and create a connection to the better-known deserts of the south portion, to the experiences where I first recognized my love of this space. I hope that the writing that might result from this relationship would be a celebration of this environment and nurture awareness of its fragility and visual influence upon our spiritual equilibrium.
NEXT WEEK: The Art of Prospecting: A Long Walk Over Uneven Ground…Vignette VIII
Space…outside what is inside. The spiritual component of living. Separate from time, an extension and a container of self. Space is the place through which energy vibrates. Without space there is nowhere for energy to go. It is the container of life. The more space is filled with things, with objects of weight and mass, the more matter there is, the more difficult it is to move, to make connection, to vibrate, to be telepathic, to be spiritual.
The lightness of sound and radio waves keeps space open, is a passage vibration oscillation transmission light communication telepathy.
As sound, words are clear and light. On paper they become solid objects. Writing words on paper gives them weight, makes them heavy, keeps them in place, stops them moving, captures and controls leaving them fixed and permanent, preserves them so they are always the same. Translating communication into matter captures the moment, stops time.
Travelling through space is moving unimpeded, all possible movement possible. Not still, not static, no intent to capture, hold fast, becalm, stay the same, to preserve. Space allows change, experiment, altered states. Space is freedom to grow…
Evanescent, incandescent, fluorescent, bioluminescent, phosphorescent, essence, essential, necessary…the essence of something is the spirit of it. How can something requiring movement be grasped? Its movement is its existence.
Space is the medium through which movement occurs. It has no energy. Without space, energy vibration movement cannot exist. Energy vibration sound light is the content of space. Movement is essential.
The mother said once: I’m going to keep moving…I’m afraid that if I stop moving I’ll die. Ceasing to move: Is that dying then?
Prospecting is in the wild spaces, the places where people come and go from…Prospecting is in space…
NEXT WEEK: The Art of Prospecting: A Long Walk Over Uneven Ground…Vignette VIII
Prospecting is movement in search of space. It is a nomad’s way.
From this day forth
I shall be called a wanderer
Leaving on a journey
Thus among the early showers
You will again sleep night after night
Nestled among the flowers of sasnqua.
At the La Turquesa granite boulder campsite she finds more points. In one bands of burgundy cross-cut the white quartz. It lay in the roadbed exposed by the passage of vehicles and cows. How long has this been a camping place where people seek shelter, food, water? Are we reverting, the prospector wonders.
Prospecting along the pediment of the range, they come across a hot springs, are low down out of the wind. Immediately she finds fine-grained chert-like flakes…argillite? She looks ardently for worked pieces, ones that have been handled, touched, altered by the hands of skilled toolmakers. The cows like this place, too. In the background from the corners of her eyes she hears him hammering upslope: breaking rock over here, over there, moving around. She slows down gathering a handful of worked pieces.
Who came here years ago? She imagines the spring bubbling in the barrenness of landscape. Imagines that they came to make tools, weapons, to gather pigments. After cleansing to decorate their bodies for battle, for hunting, for parties.
She gathers diligently, then selects two pieces, leaving the others where they fall moved by her interference. One piece is a core from which flakes for working were struck; the other is a flake fractured from a core. Neither is finely-worked or finished; both were altered by skilled hands. To her they are objects of beauty, of mystery, connections to the past, representing the moment they came from, the moment she stands in, the place she wants to go to.
Prospecting is the oldest profession. Finding flakes, points, the remnants and detritus of toolmaking, rock altered by the skilled hands of toolmakers, in places where stone circles remain, where hot springs precipitated, is a reminder that humans have always made use of rocks, have always paused in places where there are rocks of economic value. Humans have always been prospectors.
Prospecting is a going back there, an entrance into that world…a reconnection with, a never leaving of…There is no substitute for walking the ground, moving over and through it, touching its surface with eyes and soles. Translating the energy from the core, from the center through the shoulder, along the arm, through the bones, transferring the momentum to the hammer, striking with force to reveal the chemistry, the content, the possibilities of the rock.
The incentive, the profit motive, is driven by passion. The passion is the antidote to pain, to illusion, to suffering, to aloneness. The economic incentive is merely an excuse to be out there, under the sun, under the sombrero, under the volcano. Hammer in hand. Pack on the back. Within it, a litre of water laced with Tang to temper the alkaline taste, a small knife, an eyedropper bottle of dilute hydrochloric acid, a handful of crackers and toilet paper, clothes discarded as the day heats up. Wind flows in the arroyos, across the plains, through the canyons.
It is enough to be moving following a watercourse on the trail of float rock.The essence of prospecting is detecting dispersed material and understanding the mechanism of dispersion and tracing the material back to its source. (From the personal library of Patrick J. Burns, Geologist)
The eyes settle down on the surface scanning the foreground in a Carlos Castenedas way so that the body feels afloat, forgets the weight of the pack, its stickiness, the heat of the sun on forearms and nape of neck, the hotness of leather boots.
Movement is the essence of prospecting. By movement, the receiving and accepting of experience, being aware, taking a chance, putting oneself in a place where anything might happen, being exposed, standing on a slope eyes scanning the space below, across, above. Experience is created.
Movement is elevation above the surface. A surface is still, a guide directing the path. Movement is action. In action, there is freedom: freedom from constraints of words that capture and hold thoughts, make them concrete, solid, walls of brick adobe stone twigs logs glass clay sand. Lines, the abstract elements of words, contain and capture movement, freeze it into an instant of time. Movement passes through time, past time, beyond time. Time can be counted. Distance is related to time. Movement though cannot be measured.
Movement is eternal energy surpassing the concreteness of time, the measure of time. It is life. To cease to move is to die, to become merely mass, globular blobular cellular structure.
Movement is the reaction of the mind to thought. It is ephemeral, unconscious, involuntary, of its own volition. It cannot be recorded. It cannot be grasped.
Movement requires the senses. It is not necessary to think but simply to move using the involuntary unconscious space of mind, to act in good faith, to believe that in movement all will be known. To use the senses is to become natural, to become who you were at birth.
Movement is birth. A tunnel, a passage, a journey outward: simple gestures capturing the beauty and truth of the space within which you reside. You are a resident of space…
NEXT WEEK: The Art of Prospecting: A Long Walk Over Uneven Ground…Space
Energy…a feeling passing through, coming from within, enveloping from without. Emotion is energy, the motor, vigorous driving in the direction to go. Logic is unnecessary. There is no need to ‘think’ a solution, only to listen. Emotion rises as truth unsullied by conscious thought, by opinion, by ‘logos’ mind. It is the ‘gut reaction’. In the German language, “gut” = ‘good’.
The magma chamber, its molten superheated substance, is the source of volcanic energy. To alter, it must erupt, explode, come to the surface, burn, uses up the energy, get mad, get made. The explosion creates the new face, the new being. The energy is fearsome, frightening, terrifying, awesome, powerful, forceful, explosive, a detonation, exaggerated, perpetual, persistent, serious, volcanic. Metamorphic. The magma chamber is the ego, the will of the process.
Does energy have intent? Intent suggests purpose. Encountering something energy stopes, releases itself into another form, transmits its effect. To have effect energy must move. Exploding, flowing from the magma chamber it finds a path. Touching something, energy dissipates, spreads, is transmitted through another substance. It is released. This release is freedom.
To contain energy creates tension. Tension creates stress, pushes at the limits, at the membranes, stretches the skin, the structure that holds the center in. When the tension is too much, the membrane splits. Something emerges. Tension is relieved.
Through movement energy is transformed.
NEXT WEEK: The Art of Prospecting: A Long Walk Over Uneven Ground…Movement
He held the rock out to her, its surface pocked with nooks and crannies bleeding patches of hematite like dried blood, blushing pink in places mingling with spaces clear and creamy like Chinese silk woven with dendritic black manganese sprouting and spreading from cracks: suggesting transformation.
The original rock is subjected to intense heat or pressure or both. Silica replaces the original chemistry streaking through the matrix. Hydrothermal fluids melt and separate the original form shooting it full of new substance, transforming the rock cellularly. Minerals caught in the flow extrude onto surfaces, follow the cracks. Cooling, crystals line vugs and fill pockets. The original rock is beyond recognition of its former state. It is transformed; it is altered.
So it is with her. Family and society press her into shape, direct her formation. Love hardens within assuming crystal form.
Now she begins her second act of creation. The original form is subjected to intense injection of hydrothermal fluid. It is forced into her veins, her arteries, the crevasses of her body, the recesses of her mind. This fluid is anger. Its heat transforms her. She needs to feel this anger to fuel the transformation. The heat and chaos, fire and passion, reds and oranges, violets and purples, create the absolute yellow and ultimately the purest clearest light, the light of her existence.
It is the heat, the intensity of fire that she needs now, its consummate gases becoming coals, burning orange glass. Reducing to the essential element. Gases igniting violet, blue, purple. No one comes near: the heat is too intense.
Inside she fractures, fragments, comes unbound, unbonded, spreads apart at the seams. A chemical torrent flows through veins releasing elements bonded for years. She needs these elements now. Holds on to the anger. Feeds it. Lets the burning do its work. Lets the cracks open. The surface can’t be perfect. Inside there must be vugs and seepages, flow and transport, movement and change.
Time is required passing unmeasured, uncensored, uncontrolled. The longer the time to cool, the more perfectly the crystals form.
But is it the crystal form she wants? What is the perfect form, her perfect shape? What shape should she strive for after the anger has done its work? Can she choose? Or, is the chaos of transformation beyond her control?
What surface does she want to exhibit? In the rocks she sees all the possibilities, all the surface textures, lusters - dull, metallic, pearly, vitreous, glassy, greasy and silky - and transparencies, the way in which light passes through the mineral specimen. How transparent does she want to be?
Is she reflective, or refractive? In the first case, she thinks of gold, of silver, of their malleability, of making them molten, tempered by fire, repousse, gilding, ductibility, assuming the desirable shape with ease. Resisting tarnish, taking a polish, making the surface reflective so light can’t penetrate. Is this the surface she wants: the malleable mass, the reflection, all that you can see?
Or, is it a crystal’s transparency that she desires? The surface meeting at angles, planar, geometric, juxtapositions and always letting light inward, refracting light, bending light, bouncing light outwards, concentrating its energy. An observer can see clear through to the other side.
Looking at rocks suggests all these possibilities.
NEXT WEEK: The Art of Prospecting: A Long Walk Over Uneven Ground…Alteration: Energy
The Arroyo Calamajué is a broad plain of golden grass. The mission, built in 1766, was used only one year by Jesuit priests who were kicked out of the area by the Spanish government in 1767. The adobe walls exist no longer; the substance of adobe has piled up making burial mounds which mark the perimeter of the foundations. Stone corrals still stand adjacent to it. Within one of the corrals is a hearth ring. The setting above the Arroyo Calamajué is windy and so magnificent, Patagonian in aspect and scope.
Following the arroyo we discover a spring bubbling effervescently, carbonated from a selenite deposit. Botryoidal algae encircles its pinhole exit from under the surface. Gas bubbles form on my fingers when I stick my hand into the flow, which pushes against it geyser like. A claim marker nearby, an upstanding rectangular prism of whitewashed concrete, bears the words in square black lettering “La Manatial de Juventud”…The Fountain of Youth…
In 1792, José Longinos Martinez, a Spanish naturalist on orders to participate in an exploratory expedition of what was then referred to as New Spain, passed through Arroyo Calamajué and wrote of the ‘Fountain of Youth’:
In the vicinity of the abandoned mission of Calamajué there is a spring on the slope of some fairly high hills. The abundant selenite in this water is incrusted about the circumference, where it has built several layers of earth (tepetates) or platforms. From the center of the incrustation flows a stream about the size of a tile and a half, almost cold (10 degrees), containing aluminous selenite and vitriolic acid. The passers-by, principally soldiers, bring sugar and drink this water as if it were lemonade. They say it is refreshing,
but they are quite mistaken, for the effects are quite the contrary.
Water from these springs runs in the arroyo like a river creating an oasis. I bathe my feet in the bubbling geyser. They feel good all day…
NEXT WEEK: The Art of Prospecting: A Long Walk Over Uneven Ground…Electrum
Under the Lens...Arroyo Calamujue Rock
In the shadow of the crumbling mission I found you.
Your beauty lies in content, the weightiness of gold, its solidity, its everlastingness. Your gold is not shiny; it gleams from within as if generating its own heat.Your surface fractures in fish-scale layers. It is rich with iron stains, a rust-red sulfide bleeding. I like your other side best: the grass-yellow of the arroyo beneath the ruined foundations. From the fold-lined cavity exudes the scent of sulfur and the green garlicky aroma of arsenic.You are a rich rock evoking images of Spanish treasure, of gold bricks fabricated in the mill. Your gold paints your surface spreading over the quartz fractured by black-red veins.You have a heart…it is made of gold…
10 Febrero…I dreamt turquoise steps last night massive like the pyramids at Tenochtitlan. Today we follow turquoise up a draw finally finding the hole numbers sprayed on esquisto laminar or schist rocks. We marvel at the tenacity of the prospector who dug the thin turquoise layers from the strata, carried it down the jagged metamorphic canyon taking it out to market. Overhead the nooks and crannies are former living spaces like hunter’s blinds or lookout posts.
Happy to get back to the van. Cold all afternoon out of the sun with the wind howling up the canyon. No insects tonight; too windy. The van shakes. The wind gusts like walls of water from the canyons. The bushes squeak and whistle. I don’t sleep thinking a wall of water is about to wash us away.
In this landscape I am conspicuous standing out from the barrenness. Each slope, every wash, contains something different to look at, to consider.
I sort my sample rocks leaving a pile outside the van like a wordless monument to my passing, like a claim of my presence, that I was here following in the footsteps…
NEXT WEEK: The Art of Prospecting: A Long Walk Over Uneven Ground…The Fountain of Youth
6 Febrero…When the road turns rough we stop in a circle of granite boulders an hour before sunset. Drink coffee outside on the clean granite sand. Notice cherty flakes. Surmise that they are toolmaking detritus. J… finds one with a worked edge that looks like topaz.
Searching for firewood later there are more chert flakes, a floral bouquet in my hands, and a point lying prone on the desert floor. The best spots are still the best spots. We imagine the makers, how long ago, who taught whom, did everyone know how, how often did points break in the process of making, during use? What wood did they use for shafts? For fires? Who held the point last?
Supper is refried beans chorizo tostados scrambled eggs an avocado-tomato salad on the side. There’s 3 or 4 yams left, 8 or 9 eggs, an avocado or two, 3 or 4 onions, a five-pound bag of rice, a bag of pinto beans. J… says it might be a week or two before we get supplies again. I dream of croissants and strawberry jam, gingerbread and whipped cream, warmth and fullness.
7 Febrero…Apricot sunrise…a two-coffee morning…
Walking on rocky roadbed, a relief from the sand of the past two weeks. Lots of epidote on surfaces a pastel yellow-green. Walking on, there is more pink rock, an outcrop with conglomerate cutting through it. Up the draws past pools of water rivulets falling over granite pools rimmed with salt promises of a wash and shampoo later in the afternoon sun.
Gopher holes and adits across the hillsides on the push-ups, the hummocks that indicate the alteration’s center. In rock shelters in the riverbed tin cans rust, broken shards of former glass water bottles shine. Rock walls support cardon lathe lean-tos built as shelter from the sun. Everywhere in the riverbank there are living areas and sleeping areas.
Break rock all morning…under the lens all surfaces very beautiful. Rocks seamed with turquoise impregnated with silica networked with boxwork yellow-brown goethite. Standing on the hillside broiling in the sun under my sombrero silence except for the tap of our hammers and the buzz of bees, the crunch of breaking rock, my occasional exclamations, the crumple of J…’s plastic sample bags. In the arroyo is the presence of man, the scent of dog. Why are alteration zones in the most beautiful places?
I find a ‘cosmetic’ rock, slippery, shiny with patches of hematite pigment. When I add saliva it becomes paint. I spread it on my nose, rub the powder over my legs, my belly, my face. It is smooth and silky. This is my sample, I say to J… The cosmetic industry must use earth minerals. I wonder where they source them from. My skin glitters with the gleam of mica. I absorb the hematite colors, the palette of brilliant vermillions, ochres, greys, violets, purples. I become bronze…
NEXT WEEK: The Art of Prospecting: A Long Walk Over Uneven Ground…The Color of Gold…Arroyo Calamujue Rock
The exterior of a rock is a reaction to the outside world, a document of the action of time. How far has this rock come? Is it rounded? Did it experience turmoil, abrasion, exposure? Has it broken down readily or resisted, remaining compact, intact? Are some parts eroded away leaving others to stand out more durable, harder, more resistant? When she sees a rock, before she breaks it with a hammer, these questions surface.
As soon as she sees it, the rock begins to tell her a story. Each rock is a beginning and the story. Each rock is a chapter. Each rock is a character. Each rock is a setting. Each rock is a memory. She becomes the collector and the narrator of the stories…
With each rock a relationship develops. Magnified by the hand lens, the surface of the rock draws her into another landscape enhancing the one around her. In the surfaces, she sees other worlds. Each rock evokes a place she has passed through, touched the surface of.
These rocks are the survivors. They are the ones she keeps. These are the ones she decides not to leave behind. They are pieces of the places she loved the most, the places where the known world faded from memory and consciousness, the places where she stood alone under the sombrero absent from the world of humanity, the pack on her back, a hammer in hand, the leather boots laced on her feet, a lens held to her eye…a detective, a collector, a prospector…
Each crystal mineral structure pigment chemical matrix mass contained in the rock has a name. But the name is merely a name. Its reality subsumes the name, is the nameless beauty of formation and alteration. These rocks exert magnetism, an invitation to be held, to be examined. They are submissive, exhibiting a longing for possession inherent in objects of beauty, a longing which affects her. In the jargon of prospectors and geologists, such rocks acquire the name of ‘sexy’ rocks.
Whether gathered as specimens or for the ‘mantelpiece’ such rocks are a visual record. Taking them away in her backpack, she has a document of the moments of their discovery, of the first encounter. It recalls the sun on the slope, color vibrating around her standing there examining the surface, oblivious to the burning on the forearms, the sweet sweat trickling between the breasts, exuding from the armpits, the thrum of honeybees in the yellow blossoms, the yearning for an evaporative breeze, the barrage of names and explanations. Such rocks taken evoke the place and the moment becoming a record of time and visual space.
Afterwards, out of context, collected rocks seem small and insignificant as if their magic was an illusion created by the spatial and temporal states in which they were first encountered. Still, they are all that is necessary to provoke the senses, like a seashell replaying the sound of the surf from the waves on the shore from which it was first gathered.
The value of these rocks is a sentiment created by their ability to hold time…the incomprehensible geologic time of their formation and subsequent journey and the moment in which they were discovered and recovered from the surface upon which they existed…
NEXT WEEK: The Art of Prospecting: A Long Walk Over Uneven Ground…Vignette VIII La Turquesa drainage