She peers out at me from the curve of my arm, a reminder released from the buried depths of my skin. She holds me with her eyes. Powerful but compassionate. I feel the ink seep into my muscles.
A promise not to forget. To not take this life for granted…
Mesa Verde, Colorado 1998. Fire scorched, black ashes, and drooping trees feel like fresh wounds as I enter the park. Skeletons of the earth are laid bare like fallen giants, the forest’s bones exposed. I am traveling alone. Having conquered yet another battle with my lungs, I am celebrating my freedom from hospital beds, high doses of prednisone and nebulizers. I set up tent in time to head out and explore before dark. Driving down winding roads to the ancient cliff dwellings, a splash of color catches my eye. I pull over to take in a stunning patch of wildflowers. Beauty in resilience. Life returning, a reminder of the endless cycle of rebirth, time spiraling forever on. With my camera hanging around my neck, I crouch low to the earth to take aim, try to capture the small miracle on film. But a movement distracts my trance. A presence hovers above me. I slowly lift my gaze, caressing the rocks with my eyes, searching the crevices, stumbling over pebbles and brave clumps of grass, delicate petals in the desert punctuated by prickly protectors. I momentarily marvel how life takes root in the tiniest grey, green leaf of lichen.
Then suddenly I see her. Soft padded feet the sandy color of the boulder that she rises from as regal as if rising from a throne, commanding my respect. I am startled by the realization that I am trespassing in her kingdom uninvited. I am at her mercy. How long has she been observing me, tolerating my intrusion? Her eyes sear my skin, and I am instantly humbled. Mesmerized by her power and grace, I watch captivated as her back curves into an elegant arch as she lunges from the rocky crag and lands before me. Time and space blur out of focus, and we are alone in the world. Our eyes lock in an intimate embrace. I rise slowly to full height as she pours like liquid towards me, her shoulders rolling in a supple display of strength. Hypnotized by the rhythm of her stride, I back slowly away, attempting to match my own steps to the fluid nature of hers.
I am stunned by the complete absence of fear, in its place only awe. Her penetrating eyes never leave mine, and I am whispering to her. I hear my own voice like an incantation spiraling out of my soul, a secret code I didn’t know I knew. Like a song sung under your breath, communion, the muscle memory that walks you through a sacred ritual forever encrypted from the mind. Our steps are a loom weaving our disparate worlds together. And for that one fleeting moment I surrender, dissolve indistinguishably into our shared air… and then she is gone. With one agile leap, she disappears into the wilderness. I feel the sudden emptiness like a gaping chasm and gasp as if rising from the waters of a baptism. Blessed, relieved, but irrevocably changed.