An Officer and an Oracle

An ex-cop seeks solace, hits bottom, and comes out firing in canyon country

| September-October, 2009

A mosaic of rocks covers the ground where a middle-aged, lightly graying man crouches over his heels. Around his shoulder is a coil of climbing rope. He leans forward and runs a hand across red dust and sharply broken debris. It looks like he is reading an invisible sign—an oracle paused in the desert.


“Come on,” he mutters to the ground. “Give me something.”

I am looking too, crouched near him, hoping for a sign, a clue about how to get through this landscape. Around us, pale, bare cliffs tower one above the next. Canyons plunge into inescapable, winter-cold depths. Dirk and I have been walking for several days through this land, an untrailed, remote quarter of the Navajo Reservation in northern Arizona. This mode of travel has been our mutual pastime, wandering for weeks or months on end into the wilderness, seeing what might become of us.

We’re balanced on a platform of rock, geologic scaffolding, not a single living thing visible around us, no shrub or sprig of grass. The land looks elemental, the very bones of the earth.

Dirk pushes his fingertips into parched blowsand and unearths a bighorn sheep dropping. The small, oval scat is exactly what he was looking for. It means there is a passage, a way through.

Oryx Orange
8/25/2009 3:16:59 PM

Beautifully lived, beautifully written. Wandering through this story manages to recapture wandering through the desert, where every detail contains a simple lesson and, once complete, the mind turns immediately to contemplation of the next such trip.

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