We were enjoying a quiet stroll in Arches National Park when we heard screaming in the distance. We had been hiking toward a rock arch that few tourists know about because it was discovered so recently — one day a park ranger was clearing away brush and there it was. Some people think it grew overnight, like a mushroom. It’s still not on the maps.
I pulled out my binoculars. About a half mile away, on a crowded trail leading to a more popular arch, hikers were scattering as if in a panic. Many of them pointed upward, took one last picture, then hurried back to the parking lot and drove off.
I couldn’t see where the trouble was. “What do you think? A bear?”
“No,” you said, “something bigger. Look up.”
It was the sky, and it had come swaggering into this area of open country, shoving aside gentler air masses that got in its way. Its face was scarred with pale clouds stretched and torn at the edges, like raw cotton dragged over the hide of a horned lizard. We felt a sense of dread as the menace moved in over us.
No beast is ever so terrifying as a rebellious sky with savage tendencies. That’s why all those other hikers had fled. I would have preferred the bear.
“Should we be worried?” I asked. We hadn’t moved, but the wildlife was getting anxious.
A lizard shuffled back and forth erratically on its perch before darting into a hole. Critters scurried about in a burst of confused activity. Even the rocks seemed to tremble.
“We’ve seen worse,” you said. “But this isn’t just a storm, it’s the whole sky.”
“It’s just feeling a bit ornery,” I said, trying to be understanding. “Maybe it has a thorn in its paw, metaphorically speaking.”
“A thorn in— What does that even mean? It’s air.”
“Okay. Then indigestion from something it ate, or absorbed.” Too much tainted pollution can make anyone a touch cranky. “Maybe it has the vapors,” I added. You ignored the joke.
“But I think you’re partially right,” you said. “This piece of sky is acting like it doesn’t belong, like it’s not accepted.”
“Maybe it doesn’t know how to fit in. I can relate.” That’s why I had spent so much time in the wilderness at an early age.
“It was probably driven off by the rest of the atmosphere for being unruly, maybe when it was young, so it’s been wandering on its own.”
Now the outcast was back, wild and undisciplined, encroaching on human habitats, causing a ruckus in the national park where we happened to be. But it wasn’t really bad at heart — it was simply out of harmony with the world and had never learned how to behave like a decent sky should.
People think that nature is always in some mystical state of balance. But no, nature gets out of balance all the time. This was one of those times, and I knew what you were going to say.
“We have to do something.”
I agreed, with reservations. A sky like this was a threat to the region. It would disrupt the weather, frighten the rivers dry, upset the wildlife. It could even wreck the delicate rock formations the park was named for. And, as we had seen, it scared away visitors. Yes, someone should do something, but still.
“We’re on vacation,” I protested.
“No, we’re camping for fun. This will be fun. Or at least interesting.”
“Whenever we do something interesting we usually end up in trouble. So, okay.”
“You’ll help then?”
“I can’t let you do this alone,” I said gallantly. “I have to be there for you — so you can rescue me when things get dangerous.”
We jogged the rest of the way to the arch. It was seventy feet tall at its highest point, with an opening fifty feet wide. Not a bad specimen, I thought. And it had a certain stateliness I admired, like it wasn’t in a hurry to get anywhere. It stood majestically against the rogue sky.
Our plan was to calm the threatening troublemaker and get it in harmony with the world by sending soothing vibrations up into the air.
The way I put it makes it sound like some New Age healing therapy, but it’s really just physics. Setting up the right kind of resonant frequencies in the air would bring the sky in tune with the rest of the atmosphere. It’s been done before, so we’d heard.
First we’d have to meld with the arch — the nearest rock formation available — and use it as a transmitter of sorts to get the land vibrating, which in turn would send oscillations through the air above it. We needed an area big enough to affect the sky. A few hundred square miles should do it.
We went around to the north side of the arch, out of the sun, and found a spot where the rock reclined a bit. We stood next to each other, leaned back, and put our palms flat against the surface. I slid my hand over until it touched yours.
We looked up at the sky and I commented on the clouds. I imagined I saw a turtle or a sleeping dragon in the shapes. You said no, but one of them looked like the profile of an F-16, or the vacuum chamber of a cyclotron. Okay. I liked my turtle better.
“How do we know what the right frequency is for the sky?” I asked.
“We’ll feel it.”
“Or what about playing it a tune?” I had in mind an upbeat ditty from Pet Shop Boys, thinking the sky might be into 80s synth pop, but you nixed that idea. “You’re right,” I said, “early punk is more its scene. It’s got that unkempt, moody look. Some Ramones perhaps.”
“Pachelbel’s Canon? That’s soothing.” But I doubted the sandstone landforms could handle the violin parts. They’re more suited for the double bass. “Okay, no music.”
We settled back with our eyes closed, took deep breaths, and eased into a rock-mind state of being.
There were no patterns of thought to mesh with, no handle of consciousness to grasp onto, as there would be with most living things. Instead, we had to sense the subatomic motion in the hard matter pressed against our bodies. Each mineral that made up our flesh and bones sought its twin in the rock, forming bonds of vibration — infinitesimal standing waves that bridged the space between — joining our minds with the silent pulsations of the waking arch.
This is how it had been taught to me by an old shaman during my days exploring the area around Mt. Hood. I later taught it to you when we were in the Andes. We had practiced it avidly for months, until we can now barely hold a piece of pottery without feeling its clay essence surging through us.
Now for the risky part.
To fully merge with the arch, we’d have to immerse ourselves in a timeframe that spans the ages. In that state it would be easy to lose track of human-scale time and resurface ten thousand years from now, only to find our bodies petrified or crumbled to dust. Even now, a passerby looking at us would merely notice a slight bump in the arch, translucent in direct sunlight perhaps, but otherwise indiscernible from the stone structure.
The shaman had told me, “Watch the sun, feel it. If it sets or rises, get out of the trance, wake up. One day can spin into many if you’re not careful.”
And so, carefully, slowly we released our hold on the present and opened our minds to the eons.
We became aware of the arch’s long history like it was our own memory — hundreds of millions of years forming out of sand and salt, crushed under innumerable tons of pressure, pummeled and squeezed by the shifting landscape, carved into shape by gushing, dripping, freezing water, pounded by the elements. A rough life.
Getting in touch with geologic time always makes me feel like the tiniest, most insignificant speck-of-dust microorganism in the universe. But it’s still pretty cool.
“Are we set?” Your thought rippled through the rock and into my mind.
“Yes,” I responded.
“Now to bring the sky into harmony.”
We sank into a deeper state, reverberating with a crystalline hum that spread outward from our bodies, through the upthrusting curve of rock, so that the arch became suffused with the One Note, the undying melody, the imperishable song of earth-sky. Again, a bit New Agey, but the physics I mentioned still applies.
Then our minds encompassed the landscape all around and the arch led the chorus — ringing like a gong as everything from the smallest stones to the most magnificent formations joined in, murmuring and thrumming with a single voice that welled up from the ground and energized the air above, sending soothing waves skyward to harmonize the entire atmosphere.
But the sky just sneered at our efforts, like a teenager pretending to be too sophisticated to care. So we amplified the volume.
The arch quivered. We heard a crack as a chunk of rock the size of a car splintered off and slammed to the ground.
“It’s breaking apart!”
“Keep it together.” I didn’t know if you meant keep the arch together or myself. Maybe both.
The sky was taking more notice now, or just getting annoyed. It decided to put on a rebellious act. Fortunately, it wasn’t carrying enough moisture to conjure up a massive thunderstorm. But it surprised us with one clever trick — it froze its ragged clouds with blasts of cold air and turned them into an arsenal of ice bolts, which it hurled down on us. The ice shattered harmlessly on the ground, then melted into puddles that were sucked dry by the thirsty soil.
After that juvenile attempt at defiance, the sky relaxed and seemed ready to listen.
The land was like a choir of angels singing to the heavens. We could feel the sky starting to respond, to hum in sympathetic harmony, seduced by the vibrations that permeated the air and soothed its aching soul. Unable to resist the allure of becoming part of a greater whole, the sky let itself join the chorus. We had succeeded. The song swelled, reached a crescendo, then subsided, leaving only the natural sounds of the wind.
The entire dome from horizon to horizon was now a seamless expanse. The outcast sky was home.
All was quiet again as we detached our minds and bodies from the arch. I felt stiff and a bit dazed, typical side effects of melding with stone. And my head was still buzzing with the land-song. It would take a while to shake that off.
“Well,” I said, swinging my arms to loosen the muscles, “not much time seems to have passed.”
You glanced at the sun. “Only an hour or so.”
We walked around the arch we had used as a transmitter. It was thinner and worse for wear, and we noticed a few stress fractures in the sandstone. Several new boulders lay scattered underneath it.
“It might not last much longer,” you said.
“Like the Wall Arch that came tumbling down one night, ten or fifteen years ago.” That would have been something to see.
As we hiked back to the car, I looked up at the puffy white clouds that now drifted serenely overhead. I thought I saw a jackrabbit in one of them, or maybe a duck. I didn’t ask what you saw.