We were in the middle of the Dying Ground when I noticed her for the first time. A low sun cast long shadows over blue earth as she knelt on a bare hillside, picking through pieces of petrified wood and the bones of beasts long forgotten. Beyond her diminutive form, above the dusky round hills to the east, a nearly full moon eased its way upward over the Painted Desert.
We were creatures out of time.
The remainder of the group had gathered together in a low swale about a quarter of a mile away, listening to a park ranger explain Triassic floodplains and ancient volcanoes. An eerie softness was borne on the cool April wind that swirled around the buttes. Knowledge of all the hidden history underfoot cast a cloak of quiet reverence over the group.
In one hand I held a fossilized piece of animal armor. My mind and body had wandered far into the primordial depths. In a shallow gully I had scared up a Great Horned Owl. And at the top of one small, pleated hill, at its very apex, I came upon her. Her small fingers were lightly sifting the soil, deep eyes looking beyond the surface into the past. Perhaps it was her grey bunting jacket that made her seem a part of that landscape. Or the long black hair billowing around her shoulders. Or something in her Asian countenance that hearkened back to primal Bering Strait migrations and Native American orientations.
In that world of palpable silence, the pastel blues and greys seemed etched into clay, and her subtle movements were magnified against the austere sweep of the badlands. We did not speak, though I desperately wanted to say something to her. Instead, I passed within a few yards of her, pretending to scan the ground for more prehistoric puzzle pieces. Our eyes met very briefly. As I recall, she smiled.