A world within a world. I have just read these words when the dogs bark. Both of them. Serious barking. They only do this when there is something serious to bark at, so I leap up and feel a burn in my knee and then the cold of outside on my bare legs, hoping the serious thing is not a stranger coming up my long driveway, because I am not dressed.
A broad flat of old riverbed spreads below the cliff below the cabin. It grows crops of invasive, toxic Russian knapweed in years of the right moisture and also three-leaf sumac ripe with berries in the fall, so I look there first, where I have watched a black bear stripping single branches of berries with her large, delicate bearpaws, but the only movement on the flat is the creek cradling around it, gray with silt washed down by last night’s snow-rain. After I dress I’ll check the gauge to see exactly how much we got.
Belatedly I look at Jessi’s black, border-collie head, at where it points, her ears and muzzle arrowing across to the other side of the canyon. Grayblond moves into my vision like a floater, then bounds slowly away from the sight of me in my rose-pink T-shirt of bamboo fabric, silkscreened taro across my sagging chest, my bare legs ashy and bruised but muscled still, my feet in sheepskin slippers now muddy on the bottoms with the mixture of snow-moistened soil, grayblond head looking over her shoulder before disappearing into a piece of juniper forest that hasn’t yet begun to die of drought or beetles or sadness at this world spinning too fast toward destruction.
The coyote was at the cliff edge watching my dogs before they saw her. She didn’t leave until I entered her world within a world. How long did she sit there watching? Minutes? Days? Does she know I have cats here now? Does she want to play with the dogs, or see that Bow is three-legged, a target? Has she sniffed for calves hidden by their mothers near the trunks of piñon pines or the thick rushes near the creek?
This cabin on this ledge is my world right now, within the world of Disappointment Valley. What takes me beyond my lowly, selfish pout at isolation—beyond cows calving into spring, my job to watch and record and water them, stopping to feed the dog, cats, and goat of a neighbor twenty miles away (only two neighbors between us) whose husband is dying in Mancos probably today—what takes me beyond isolation and the immediate needs of all these critters is reading the words of others.
Which is what I was doing before being interrupted by a coyote. Orion’s spring 2020 issue, How Earth Endures, compiled, edited, published, and received before our greater world changed during these last few weeks yet each piece is absolutely apropos of our world now. I was reading “On the Lam” by David Treuer: “Dec. 6, 2019. We stand before petroglyphs … Maybe four thousand years old? My daughter is fourteen. And there she is: an Indian girl … looking at Indian art 125 years after we were all supposed to have disappeared. But there we are. There she is. A world within a world.” I’m in his world when the dogs bark and I streak outside and a coyote lopes into the trees, looking back over her shoulder.
There are so many words to read. There is so much to read beyond the words.