Since no one wrote about Bowden I guess I will – I love Ehrlich’s work as well, but Bowden has a special place in my heart because of his connection to a place that I love, Tucson.
He’s haunted by mysteries and the passages of other lives, and his ability to find those traces in places as haunted as the Sonoran desert makes my skin crawl, in a good way. As he speaks of the shell trade, he says that
They made shells into ornaments, amulets, various objects of beauty and power.
In our twentieth-century eyes this smacks of business but for them it was probably best understood as a quest. The people passed this way seeking visions and dreams and the shells became a door opening up the secret regions of their heads. Southwestern cultures once had many such journeys – salt journeys, eagle killings, shell journeys – all ventures leading to places off the map but deep in the country of the heart. This is a game almost no one plays anymore. But then the world that risked such journeys has been temporarily obliterated. (134)
Part of my fascination with Bowden is that he writes of such unknowable geographies, ones that I feel like I should know but can’t. I find myself always looking for places that it feels like he has been before me, or else that I have visited as well but couldn’t articulate, and that response to his writing feels in my mind, or my soul, or my body, like truth, almost with a capital ‘t’. He speaks of energies that to me vibrate, and I’m not sure if what I’m picking up even exists, and that perhaps the madness that I see in the desert is actually my own.
After a day crawling around a cave in the very same Sonoran desert I enjoyed a cigar with my wife and one of my favorite people on the planet. We were filthy, of course, and still a long way from our vehicles, but we had to sit for a moment and do something that I think might be called savoring. As the desert cooled, we watched the sun fade behind the Catalina Mountains, and we heard the calls of screech owls and the twitter of bats, flitting all around us. We had seen, in the cave, old planks and frames designed to protect the miners from shifts in the earth, but their impotence against this sort of geological shrug was clear. We had also seen bats and cave crickets and old cans from outlaws who had hidden from posses and other folks none too pleased with them. We had seen all these things, and they had seeped into our privileged suburban flesh, especially when we thought we were lost and might join molecules with the darkness.
As we sat under a scrub oak, on a flat shelf of sandstone still warm from the sun, we listened to the night noises and perhaps even longed for a fire. The opening of the cave was close, but we were back above ground, in a landscape that now felt safe and almost comfortable. As the stars popped out (and we realized that we had to get our asses in gear) I felt intense peace and then longing and sadness.