THE BUS LEAVES US AT THE EDGE of
nowhere. The dust has hardly settled when Ali asks, "Isn't it majestic?"
Not a town, not a canteen, not even a peanut vendor. Mountains in the
hazy distance and across the road in the direction we came from a stretch
of desolate plane. It's hard to find a delicate way to say, "Isn't WHAT
majestic?" . . . so I stare ahead as if beholding the marvel,
He spins around with his arms out for all the world reminding me of a talk-show host. "Welcome to Taoist sacred ground." Ali says.
"Sorry, but the Tao is from China. Even I know that much."
"Ah! but so is this ground."
"Get out. How was it brought? Boat? Railroad? A teaspoon at a time?"
"O, much harder than that: millimeter by millimeter, over millions of millennia."
"This is where earth and ocean intermingled. This enormous isthmus they call Mexico is the yin to India's yang."
Ali turns around and again faces the dull blur of mountains he calls majesty. "We move with caution and respect, or on the way we will encounter much difficultly. Try this with me: find the best means to get to the tree from here."
There is just one tree, so I know what Ali is talking about. My steps trace the shortest distance, dodging a stone or two and brushing around a few bushes. A little winded and sun-dizzy, I sit beneath the tree, grateful for the shade.
Ali in turn makes his way to the tree and me. His course is comical, a cartoon character's zig-zag trajectory with a couple of serpentine loops thrown in. Hands out and palms down before him like a campy tap-dancer, with the exaggerated tip-toe movements of a caricatured cat-burglar or cheating husband, except SWIFT. When he gets closer I see that his lips are working, but the words he speaks are silent. Ali arrives after much exertion without once having looked up from the ground, and stops completely before raising his eyes to address me. His breath is not even audible. "I should have been more specific, Sunshine. I meant respect and caution for the earth, not so much for yourself. Look before you step. When you walk, let the earth be your guide to make the least impact possible on her fragile back. . . . We'll camp in the foothills tonight, tomorrow start our climb."
This night, my first night at the edge of the holy land, I think I understand the concept of the firmament. When forefathers and 'mothers beheld the ceiling of stars they saw it stretch all the way to the horizon, without the interference of city lights or sullen skyscrapers. It's like a dome, and I blink and yet still when I open my eyes there they are: glimmers on the horizon as bright as the polestar. If I hike to where the sun was swallowed up I'll arrive at them eventually. But Ali has designs on the other direction: to the place where the ancestors lay and, long before the Brotherhood was one, the first fruits of our magic acid were synthesized by the sun and soil. There is little moon to speak of, already following the doomed course of the sun. The dark mountains of the Sierra Madre Occidental, edges mostly legible as the abrupt absence of stars, loom before us in forbidding ranks.