“What is that?!” I asked, because I was sure I didn’t know. But they didn’t see what I saw.
Then the storm hit like a fist.
Rain fell in torrents. Lightening illuminated the sky every few moments, and thunder roared like a godly afterthought. Everything was dark, the wall of darkness had absorbed us within it and now we were in the belly of the beast. The tarp above our heads managed to keep a good amount of the direct rain out, but it fluttered and flapped and was abused by the elements around us. The grasses swayed and the sky screamed, the mist of the pounding water droplets sent moisture in every direction.
I looked out, into the storm. Now people were talking about how we should have gone back, how we shouldn’t have come, how it was a stupid idea. I could recognize this, but I knew that hindsight wouldn’t make a difference. Every sound was deadened in comparison to the heavenly trumpets and forked lightening that seemed to come down at strange angles. There was brief, frantic discussion about the likelihood of being struck by lightening. We were, after all, camped underneath the only trees within eyesight atop a shelf mountain.
The clouds were so thick, the mist so low, that my eyes were convinced they were only a foot or so above the tarp canopy. My mind whispered that the clouds had sunk so low so as to directly find a connection between them and the ground, with my body as conduit. The clouds wanted to kill me for the trespass that I had made upon sacred ground.
“Do you really think we are going to die?” Mila asked me in a tiny voice, made tinier by the non-stop thunder and lightening. I can’t remember if I looked at her, but I remember giving the verbal equivalent of a shrug.
“Might, might not. I don’t know.” I had said, or something similar. Truth was, I was scared. I was terrified. It was easy not to show, since it seemed everyone else was worrying plenty about it openly, it gave me the luxury of not having to express worry. It was covered. Nothing to see here folks, just a trio of humans who made a bad call. I felt sure that the trees would be hit any moment, by that cruel forked plasma slicing open the sky every minute or so; and on top of things everything was thoroughly wet. We sat at the base of the tree in the middle of the encampment, Indian style, our sleeping bags over our laps and every inch of cloth we owned was soaked completely through with water. I had Tiggle, my loyal canine companion, curled up in my lap (he was a puppy at this time) and snoozing soundly. I wasn’t paying attention to him. I was thinking about what it might be like to be killed by lightening.
I had faced danger before upon my travels, mostly from other humans. But humans, as murderous as they could be, can be dealt with. You can fight a human, you can persuade a human, you can barter with a human. The elements, nature, was not going to be won over by a charming smile or cracking knuckles. I was nothing to it. I had left my home in search of meaning, of adventure, about a year before the Mesa. I would die upon the mountain, I felt sure. Was I ready? Was this it? What would it be like, and would I go into it kicking and screaming? I just waited. Waited for the last flash of otherworldly fire before blackness. My adrenaline was coursing through my veins, I could feel my heart beating. Someone was crying; who I do not know. Was it me? It might have been. It might have been all of us. It might have been nobody. The wind ripped at the tarp, the sky seemed hungry. I felt Tiggle stir underneath the covering of the sleeping bag, and I opened it up to check on him. It wasn’t fair that he had to die with us, for making a silly human mistake, I felt.
But when I saw him, I realized that he was sleeping soundly and warmly (if wetly) curled up in a ball in the middle of my legs. He had no care of the lightening or of the thunder. Rain was uncomfortable, but he was protected from it. You could say he had faith in me, his human, but I think rather it is that his imagination is not so big as ours was; they say dogs do not have imagination, but to that I say “How do they predict where you are going to throw their toy? How do they predict where a prey animal is going to run to?” But that is neither here nor there. Whether Tiggle had no or just a tiny imagination, he apparently did not have the imagination necessary to freak himself out to holy terror about being struck and killed by lightening. The dog was as happy as could be, and peaceful, serene. This serenity infected me, it made everything else ludicrous.
I looked out into the storm and I laughed, and I laughed, and I laughed. I laughed like I had never laughed before and have never laughed since. It felt like something had flown out of me, like I had coughed up the psychic equivalent of the worlds largest, greenest ball of sputum into the storm. After that, I was not worried about dying. Not by the lightening, and not of the prospect in general.
“If Tiggle isn’t worried,” I said out loud, more to myself than anyone else, “I’m not worried.”
I was however paying attention to the clouds. Eventually, the rain stopped, but the lightening did not, at first. It seemed like a white, ghostly mist hung around the Mesa, and every few minutes (as opposed to every other minute) another fork of lightening would arc out in the distance, followed by heavens war drums. It seemed thick with sentience. We were alive. The Mesa had not destroyed us. We had passed its trials.
It was only the following days (after a thorough session of drying our clothes and beddings in the hot sun, the moisture sucked up by the thirsty desert climate) that we were told by the person who had brought us to the Mesa that it had been the scene of a grizzly, morbid past.
According to the person, when white settlers had arrived in the area ‘back in the day’, they had kicked the surrounding native tribes out of the fertile areas between the Mesas, onto the tops of the Mesas themselves, which were far from fertile. Since there were so many, yet so little room for them, the natives were forced to war themselves for desolate land, and it resulted in the killing of many. Take that how you will. I haven’t been able to find any information on it.
It was also over the next few days that we found other trees along the Mesa; some were fresh, alive and thriving (as much as could be said of scrubby desert trees) and a good amount of them were black, charred skeletons. Apparently our worry about the lightening had been fair, and warranted.
In a strange way I had always felt like the Mesa had ended up the climax to the traveling I had done. I had left my comfortable (insomuch as it was familiar) existence in the far north, rural New England town I had lived. I had done so out of a gripping fear of my own mortality. Upon the Mesa, I had to face such Death in the face (even if it had been a product of my mind, and of mushrooms) and laugh into it. After that moment, I felt released from a heavy chain that had been around my neck, and there is rarely a day that I do not think back to the Mesa and remember what it felt like to laugh into the storm. I had left my home to escape what I saw as inevitable Death, and I had realized upon the mountain that there was no escape. All you could do was laugh.
~ Seth Moris