Ruminations From the Western Slope

Ruminations From the Western Slope
Colorado River near Moab, Utah

Saturday, January 18, 2014

Duncan of the Desert

   Duncan had the weed and we had Duncan, in a manner of speaking.  Clay and I met him by the cottonwood tree just south of the big bonfire where the rest of our group was singing and laughing after a long day on the road.  A waning crescent smiled above the Great White Throne.  The dark cliffs of Zion Canyon imposed a crooked horizon against the star spattered sky.  It was the spring equinox before the Summer of Love.
    I didn’t know Clay or Duncan very well.  We were fellow travelers in a geology field course on a charter bus that had left the Peninsula only four days earlier.  Clay was a short, straight looking dude, as collegiate looking as they come.  But Duncan looked dangerous with his leather biker vest, pompadour hair, and neatly trimmed beard.  Somewhere between the Grand Canyon and St. George, Utah, he let it be known to the two of us that he had a small amount of grass with him and was all too willing to share it once opportunity knocked.
    I was more than ready for it.  My earlier attempts at getting high were a failure.  Only a week before Stan and Jim had driven me up into the Los Altos Hills under cover of darkness where the three of us huddled in Stan’s little VW bug, and I was given a lesson in inhaling.  The pipe was passed around with its little ball of glowing hash, and I hacked and coughed and tried to keep it all down.  Soon enough the guys got the uncontrollable giggles and I tried to play along until Jim said, “You’re not high!”   And he was right.
    But now I was getting a second chance on a significant day in a spectacular setting, still reeling from the immense influence of the southwestern landscape.  Before last week, I had only seen pictures of it.  But now I could say that I had hiked all the way to the bottom of the Grand Canyon, walked on red earth, smelled the burro shit along the trail, built a bonfire by the Colorado River where the guys went native crazy long into the night, and been overwhelmed by the weight of all that sky and sandstone pressing against me. 
    Duncan hunched over his little matchbox full of dope and carefully extracted a few pinches, putting them into a crude clay pipe.  “Let the games begin!” I thought as he passed it around, and this time I inhaled but did not cough.  The cool March air enfolded us as the smoke curled up and over and blended with the bonfire smoke and the singing students just a hundred yards away.
    Within minutes the deed was done, the campfire circle breaking up as budding geologists slipped into their respective sleeping bags strewn all around the group campsite.  I lay in my bag and waited.  Looking up at the stars.  And looking.  And looking.  And feeling myself floating over canyon walls.  And realizing that I had at last achieved euphoria.  Hung up on the moon and the silhouetted matrix of tree canopy and the smell of clean earth.
    Duncan was riffing nearby, singing “Do You Wanna Be a Rock n Roll Star” in a Bela Lugosi voice.  And I thought it was the funniest damn thing I had ever heard.  I was convulsed with laughter, snorting and shaking to catch my breath.  The night was alive with sound and color and clarity.  The big sky over southwestern Utah was smiling down too, as if it was digging Duncan as much as I was.

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