Wednesday, July 02, 2008

Bold Coyote at the Creek Crossing

Bold Coyote at the Creek Crossing

In my previous post, I mentioned my resumed regimen of daily bike treks to rehab my recent total knee replacement. One of the routes I take is on one of the many Denver hike and bike trails that circumnavigate the city. My favorite is the Cherry Creek Trail which runs from the Cherry Creek Reservoir in Aurora, down to the Platte River near down town Denver. I access this trail from right out my back door. On a recent ride I stopped near one of the many picturesque bridge crossings, to appreciate the rejuvenated ozone by the running stream. As I arose to resume my ride I was stopped dead in my tracks by a bold coyote that was regarding the crossing and me near by, before he continued over the bridge. Apparently he did not consider me a threat so he boldly crossed and went on his way. This event stimulated a waking dream of previous outdoor adventures that eventually brought to mind a short story written by my dear friend Gloria Marthai.


High up the mountain there’s an isolated ranch house. Serene, silent sentinel of the past, it looks down upon the vast sun-drenched Sayula Valley. Far below, the railroad cleaves a fretted path through the town of Zacualco where a monumental sculptured head of Emiliano Zapata reminds one of restless, angry revolutionary days.

Guardian of history, the ranch house has given undisputed refuge to many, renegade and lover alike, for 150 years. Artesian water surfaces wondrously in the huge well that gives the ranch its name, El Pozo, the well. It’s here that many have lingered to quench their thirst or bathe.

Memory is lost of the ones who built the original single story stone house. Tentacles of vines now invade the red-tiled porticoes that offer generous shade. Oak for the hand-adzed shutters and doors came from surrounding forest. Brick for the turreted second story, added during the time of the Revolution, was carried by mule up the high-reaching trail. The house is two hours’ distance from the nearest habitation. Gun slots conjure up images of confrontation and turbulent, hostile times. Yesteryear’s happenings at El Pozo, but fleeting moments, are becoming misty, claimed by the cataracts of time. Only a few remain.

In the 1920’s, Padre Tito, a Catholic priest and distant cousin of a local family, administered clandestinely at EL POZO to a cluster of people craving nourishment. They gathered secretly and reverently, weathered, hard-working men with sombreros in hand, their women shrouded in rebozos During the Cristero Rebelllion, the devastating conflict between Church and State which closed Catholic churches and schools, Padre Tito performed the sacraments at great peril to his life. His muzzle-loading rifle stood nearby the makeshift altar. Simple accouterments for celebrating mass were concealed in a niche in the thick wall of the house, capped by a volcanic stone. Until his death at the age of 102, Don Pablo who, as a young altar boy, assisted Padre Tito, used to sit on village corners talking about the way things were in the old days.

Tall, gaunt, sinewy Adolfo, said to be hiding from the law for having killed a man, spent a few years at EL POZO in more recent history, tending a small herd of goats. Whatever the other circumstances, he was a kind, gentle man seemingly content with his solitude. His infrequent visits down to the village were to sell goat cheese and purchase basic provisions to supplement his hunting and small corn crop. When his desire came to move on, he disappeared without a trace.

Frayed, dusty ropes, still hanging from a beam where a cradle had swung in the cooking room, evoke current memory of Lupe and Jorge, the most recent occupants. The house must have smiled to hear laughter and singing and sounds of love mingle with the timeless rhythms of EL POSO’s restless wind. As newlyweds they were completely enamored with life and each other and sought to make their marriage ideal, one with nature. Once again the sweet fermentation smell of silage perfumed the polished clear air and melded with cooking fragrances. Left in disrepair over the years, the inside of the house was now white-washed and the shutters and door hung squarely from their hand-forged hinges. Hanging orchids from the nearby oak forest adorned the mesquite beams of the porticoes. The lowing of cattle blended with the pitty-pat of tortilla making and noises of frolicking tots, for the babies began arriving each year with Jorge delivering them. The young family thrived and blossomed with rosy cheeks and tanned, taut bodies. Each day produced a gem, as Lupe said later in retrospect, a jewel to hold in one’s heart forever.

When word of the tragedy struck, the village below was stunned. Jorge was kicked in the chest by his three-year old stallion, and at 35, he didn’t survive. Lupe and her children moved to the village of her beginnings carrying their grief with them.

Did the house grieve for the void that remained? Some say yes, that Jorge’s resonate voice still calls to the cattle, that the drum beat of his stallion’s hooves can still be heard as he canters the trails of the high meadows. Cup your ears on a still night and listen. The house knows.