Chasing Rabbits in the Land of the Dead

Under a cloak of stars, we left the land of the living for Mictlantecuhtli’s bones.  South of the Echo Cliffs and east of Cameron, conical grey hills rise from a flat, barren plain, interrupted only by a single low anticline submerged under the ashy soil.  The pipeline road runs straight through the hills to a dry wash deeply carved at the foot of those sandstone cliffs that mark the border of Hopiland.  In this improbable underworld we saw few rabbits.  Those we saw were large and thin and nervous, darting quickly from our spotting lamps, disappearing impossibly into the scant scrub.  Driving the pipeline road I have never heard the sounds of nighttime insects or the rustle of kangaroo rats in the brush.  At the end of one night, camped at the edge of the wash, I heard  a horned owl, faintly, and in the morning fresh tracks signaled the passing of a silent coyote in the night.  The daylight shows a landscape of warm red hills and cheerful blue sky, punctuated with banana yucca and yellowgrass clumps.  At night, the color drains and the land becomes close and quiet, eerily illuminated by the harsh white glare of the spotting lamps.  Driving this way, in such a place, it does not surprise me how few rabbits we have seen.

The other night, driving home across the rez, booking it for I-40 before the moon set, I hit a buck jackrabbit, he going fifteen, me going seventy.  I drove, then parked, then walked back to the wet slick and the low lump on the pavement shining in the moon.  The spine was snapped cleanly, and the guts whole.  With an apology and a little something offered, I took the body, and in the morning butchered up the meat.  Perhaps I blundered there, going too fast on a country road, but that sick feeling of destruction I usually get when I obliterate some creature inadvertently was absent this time.  There’s a lot of good meat, enough for two meals with company over at least, and perhaps that has assuaged any guilt I feel.  Still, the event, the last careful glance as the rabbit paused in the headlights,  makes me wonder if this was perhaps deliberate.  I am learning to know rabbits far more intimately than I ever had intended to, this spring.  They are noble creatures in their way, tricky and proud, all muscle and sinew and shrewdness.  I am grateful for this good meat, and I am grateful for the opportunity to learn.  Perhaps one night I will see a familiar lanky shade darting into the darkness in the silent grey hills east of Cameron.


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