A Meeting by the Desert Watering Hole
04/08/2011 80 °F
Far back in a desert arroyo, in the depths of a narrow slot canyon, there is an oasis that belongs to the birds and the bees.
This place is very near where rain water begins its brief journey through the desert. Not far away is the end of the canyon, the very top of a slot box canyon. It is possible to climb out, and to be out, is to be atop a short mountain overlooking a formidable country of crumbling rock formations and twisted canyons.
It begins like this: As rain hits the coastal mountains, gravity takes hold of the water molecules and sends them on their way down to the lowest point possible by the easiest route possible. In short, this is where rivers are born, though here in the desert they flow only very occasionally.
This slot canyon is narrow, maybe four feet wide at the bottom, a dry wash, strewn and choked with gravel, boulders, and giant stones wedged between the walls. They are immovable by man, but with time, water, and wind could move them. For me, they are an obstacle to an easy hike, but I prefer a challenge anyway. It’s as though nature has gouged into the rock with a knife, and is still in the process of polishing the edges of the cut.
It’s shady here for much of the day. Only during high noon does the sun slant its way down to the bottom. Even then, it doesn’t completely reach every nook and cranny of the rock. The lighting is contrasting: a slow and steady change from dark and light, black and white.
I’m perched on side of the slot canyon. I’m about thirty to forty feet up off of the canyon floor, sitting on a smooth rock covered in bird shit. I like my perch. It is a unique place to sit, and I know of only two other people who have sat here.
Next to me is a rounded bowl of smooth rock. At its base is a pool of brackish water perhaps twenty feet in diameter and at least two feet deep. It’s probably deeper from the force of the water falling that carved this place. It smells faintly of rocks, dust, bird shit and old water. A thirsty man would guzzle it down and relish the liquid, but I take pulls on my water bottle to quench my thirst.
This natural cistern is really a feast for the senses, and mine are in tune with the place. There is a warm desert breeze softly touching the side of my face. It’s warm, and I can feel the heat of the day immersed in it, even though I’m sitting comfortably in the cool shade. My views are of the far side of the rock canyon, and of the pool filled with floating bits of plants, and water insects. There are water striders mostly, whose light weight and surface tension of their feet allow them to walk on water. Some unfortunate bees have also landed in the water. When they beat their wings in a futile attempt to regain flight, narrow concentric circles emanate from them and radiate outward. Picture visible radio waves broadcasting from the a radio station. The surface of the water is black, except for the perfect reflection of the top of the canyon. I can only see a narrow thumb shaped slot of the top of the canyon, due to the black rock of the top of cave.
The birds and the bees make this pool special. The bees are everywhere, attracted to the fresh water. The place is filled with the constant thrum of lazy bees, buzzing and flying around seemingly aimlessly. In the book, “The Zoo Keeper’s Wife,” there is a passage which refers to the ‘rumba of the bees.’ I’ve always liked this line, and this place definitely was filled with the Rumba of the Bees.
Desert birds are also attracted to fresh water, and it wasn’t long before a flock of black chinned sparrows flittered down to take a drink. They flew in as a flock of five. They cautiously flew down, five feet at a time, eyeing me up, as they made their way to the water. Who was this intruder? I was someone to keep an eye on, but not someone to pass up a drink of water for. I kept still, with my camera ready, and it wasn’t long before they started drinking. The birds took turns drinking and watching. There is safety in numbers, even when drinking.
They flew off, and left me alone again with the bees. I was satisfied with my find, this was a good place to sit and spend the morning. I thanked the bees, and excused myself, climbing down the rock cliff back down to the dry wash of the arroyo.