The night is cool and the slight breeze carries the scent of dusty jasmine, it is a welcome relief from the hot days filled with sweat. It holds a promise and a secret.
The promise reveals itself in the mating flight of two eagles that call my name as if to give me cause to look towards the edge of the volcanic cliff they glide dangerously above.
As I glance upwards I see in the stone wall a carving I have become familiar with though it is something most people miss despite its size. It is Malice, Fear, it is the summoning of a guardian to keep those at a distance who have no business being close. This is Diablo Canyon. The carving is of el Diablo himself though I am certain the name it first carried is long lost.
When the railroad passed through here many years ago the Superintendent ordered the demolition of the carving. It frightened the workers. “A bad omen”, they would say, “We are not wanted here”.
They were right.
The railroad failed. The only remnants are the beds upon which the rails once lay and even those have nearly disappeared, swallowed by a landscape that has rejected civilization and its monuments.
This is a sacred place. A place shared by the Jacarilla and Mescalero Apache, and possibly the Anasazi, the “Evil Ones” who inhabited this area long before anyone else.
It is protected by skinwalkers, shape shifters who gave up their humanity in order to live as protectors and warriors, keepers of the secrets it hides.
I once managed to track a skinwalker to its den near here, a vile and dark place that reaked of carnage, purely by accident. Later I found the ring of stones on a butte close by where the rituals were performed to bring about the transformation.
His den was only two ravines away from my own makeshift den, a 1964 International Harvestor with a massive camper built on its extended frame.
I had the permission of the BLM officer, a kind and gracious man nearing retirement, to stay there in exchange for my useless efforts to return the area to a semblance of its natural state. More importantly, I had, I hoped dearly every night, struck the same bargain with the skinwalker.
Many times as I raked the broken glass and gathered the rusted metal, victims of gunfire and carelessnes, I felt his presence and once, while hiking the ravines, careful to steer clear of his den, I saw him in the thick brush beside me, a huge dark form like a wolf but the eyes that stared back at me were the eyes of a man. Or what used to be a man.
I stood still and repeated my vow with my arms out as I did every night, hoping to please or, at least, placate him. “I am here to help. If you do not want me here you need only tell me now and I will leave”.
His heavy breathing, rich with the smell of blood and age and warm on my skin he was so close, paused while I spoke. Then, in a blur of nearly soundless motion, he leapt off and in a second was gone.
I never saw him so clearly, or so surely, again, until this night.
The eagles again called my name as if to pull me from the trance I spent four days acquiring. I was on a vision quest and the vision had begun, but it was unlike any I’d ever experienced before.
Image: “Diablo Canyon” by Christopher Wieck