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Cold Spring Ruin   Pastel on paper  Akiko Hirano

Water

Akiko Hirano & Tim Wong

At dusk, the doe picked her way warily down the side of the canyon to the waterhole, the only remaining water since the last rain. She knew predators might be waiting around there. She stopped behind some bush at the edge of the wash and scanned around, her ears perked. No movements but dark shadows cast by the rising full moon. Total silence. Thirst made her bolder than usual, she walked into the open towards the pool. The first few sips tasted so good she completely let her guard down. The last thing she felt was the sharp claws digging into her flanks and a powerful jaw clamping down the back of her neck.

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The Deer Skull   Photo  Tim Wong

When Kuro-e came across the waterhole, all that remained of the deer was her skull separated from the spinal column with part of the rib cage still attached. The pool had dried down to a muddy puddle crisscrossed with animal tracks. Among the tracks of deer, coyotes, and racoons, the unmistakable clawless paw prints of a young mountain lion stood out, bigger than those of the coyotes. That caught Kuro-e’s attention and prompted her to keep watching behind her back. Before continuing down the canyon, she took a sip from her water bottle and made a mental note of how much remained. In this arid land, the boundary between life and death is razor thin, and the line is drawn with water.

The day was getting uncomfortably hot as Kuro-e continued her way up another canyon through brushes and cacti. The landscape was parched into blobs of white heat. She paused at a junction debating if she should finish the last mouthful from her water bottle. That was when she saw water stains running down a rock-strewn gap leading up a side canyon. She scrambled up to investigate. The gap opened into a broad hidden valley, an amphitheater big as a stadium. Awe-struck, she walked slowly into the basin, feeling like intruding into a cathedral. The huge overhanging arch took her in. Canting her head to take in the colorful stripes of desert varnish, she saw stone structures. At the far end of the deep alcove lied an Anasazi ruin.

In its heydays, this must have been a sizable village with buildings crowding the base of the long arch. Remnants of those buildings lied scattered in the dirt. Dozens of handprints lined the backwall, organized into families in shades of red or white, advertising ownership of the canyon. Massive boulders bearing rows of grinding basins would have allowed the inhabitants working shoulder to shoulder to feed the sizable population. Kuro-e walked along the base of the arch to its highest point. A well-preserved kiva perched at the lip of the alcove, its ventilation shaft still intact. From there, Kuro-e had a commanding view of the entire basin toward the only entrance where she came and the wash far beyond. This was a very desirable location for the community.

Behind that kiva, the inhabitants had built a stone-and-mortar wall guarding the interior of the alcove. What were they guarding behind that wall? Kuro-e entered through a collapsed section and was immediately engulfed by musty cool air in the dark. The transition was so abrupt it was like stepping into another world. She took off her sunglasses and realized in the dim light she was standing in a dish-shaped cave covered with fine sand. In the deep recess of the cave, along the backwall where the roof curved to the ground, luxuriant maidenhair ferns sprouted like magic. Water dripping from the ferns collected into a shallow pool. Unlike the rest of the pueblo outside that protective wall, the space within the cave was completely devoid of any structures. No pictographs, handprints, no utensils nor a single pottery shard. A perfectly empty space holding only the pool in reverence.

Kuro-e took several steps, squatted down, dipped a finger in the shallow, then touched it on her parched lips. Only then she remembered she had not drunk for much of the day. She took out her empty bottle and leaned forward for deeper water but stopped in mid-motion. She froze. There was something else that she remembered. Almost imperceptibly, she slowly turned her head and stole a glance behind her back, before letting the bottle slide under water.
 

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The Spring   Pastel on paper  Akiko Hirano