Obsidian Waters

Battleship Rock

In as much thinking I’ve been doing on ‘place’ the concepts of ‘time’ & ‘space’ are never far from my mind. Place as a concept is incorporated into both of those and perhaps connects them?

I recently attended a workshop on the use of ‘time’ in storytelling taught by my friend and former professor Dan Mueller. The workshop was an intensive study on how temporal distance and movement time changes perspective of characters, events, theme, etc. It’s a device that is so much present in art that it often gets overlooked.

This adventure, for example:

The day before the workshop, Dan and I planned a hike in the Jemez Mountains near Battleship Rock. We’ve been planning to hike all summer and just so happened that this day before the time workshop was the first possibility of us being in the same place since May.

It was the perfect day and the perfect place for a hike before contemplating the concept of time.

The Jemez mountains are on the western slope of Valle Grande (the opposite side of Bandelier), the largest volcano in New Mexico, whose eruptions formed the Jemez Mountains and all the beautiful formations in the region. The Jemez Mountains only slightly resemble Bandelier and Frijoles Canyon, being more basalt and iron-red than ashy porous tuff.

I like thinking about the mountains forming, how long the rocks I pick up have been on that ground. How old they were when they broke apart. Everything here is so ancient. More ancient than I can often comprehend. And one day or many days there was/were a volcanic eruption that caused this whole place to be formed.

The trail to McCauley Springs begins at the Battleship Rock campsite, winds underneath Battleship Rock itself, a goliath single palisade. The colors of the stone are gorgeous: red, yellow, orange, and pink. It almost looks like someone must have painted the lines on the stone.

Beyond the rainbow of Battleship Rock the trail to the springs is lined with obsidian boulders, unpolished, but their sheen is given away in the stray sunshine that weaves through the pine trees.

Dan has been here a few times before, and the trails hold his memories from before. “There’s a false trail here somewhere,” he says and when we find it he says that to make that mistake would lead a winding way over the top of the mountain away from the springs. This is part of the concept of time, though, writers are explorers, a false trail, is time etched somewhere on this mountain. Dan says that there’s a huge tree log somewhere that was just fallen when he first got there, and in the decades since has had a trail and weather worn through it, so that now it lines a path. Since he’s last been here there has been a lightning fire, and more fallen pine trees, but the springs are still there.

They are so clear they almost blend into the reflections that the forest casts into the waters, but once I saw them, I couldn’t believe they were there. There is one in the clearing and another just down the slope of the mountain. The water is always about seventy degrees, claimed to be therepuetic, and full of little minnows. The view of the mountains is straight ahead and the water trickling out of the mountain and the buzzing of dragonflies are the only sounds we can hear until the clouds open with thunder.

We hike back down the mountain in the rain. It’s been a long time since I’ve seen a rain like this one and there is nothing quite like a thunderstorm in the mountains. For me, they are unforgettable. My memories of rains in the mountains feel like a nebula of sounds, temperature, and place.

The perfect place to end this adventure was Los Ojos, a fabulous saloon in Jemez Springs. The swinging doors open to a warm cabin with a small stage and taxidermic rattlesnake guarding the bar—years of dust under its coppery scales.

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