There is a road I take to church that is an empty, winding vein, struck pale and sick by winter wind and city salt. It cuts through snow-caked crop fields that haven’t felt the tread of a tractor in months. Come warmth and sun, alfalfa will peek through the soil, tangle together, and bloom in purple, then die in rotation between the bars of a swather.
The old Reese dairy farm shrugs past me, desolate and gray. No heifers turn feed around on their massive tongues, no calves trip over knobby legs to dump their over-sized heads into grain buckets. There are just ghosts and broken machines and crumbling compost piles smothered by frayed tarp and torn tires. It is the beginning marker of a long, barren in-between, connecting the stopover town named after a Mormon apostle to the four-lane highway designated US 91.
The land doesn’t roll here; it’s as taut as bow strings, interrupted by one natural trench and three inhabited houses. Telephone lines dip and rise to their posts, capped by the gargoyle-like figures of raptors, their feathers the brown and patchy underbelly of the storm clouds in the distance. Keen is how we describe them here, aware of the earth and how it beats a benediction beneath the peach-streaked sky.
Today, they are not quite alone. A solemn visitor watches them from a distance, shifting awkwardly atop a pole that is too small for him. Destitute Shoshone warriors who died near the banks of the Bear River 40 minutes north of here would have called him bagwêshi. Sun bird, a symbol of health and fertility. He’s heavy and tired now, sacred feathers bending in broken angles.
Pebbles grind together as I pull into a hastily made shoulder. I take out the keys, slide out of my seat, and stand tall on the frame of the driver-side door. The wind pushes a curl between my opened lips and whorls the feathery nape of the sad giant above me. His head twists like an owl’s. I can’t perfectly see his eyes — I know they will be a deep yellow — but he glowers down at me and I feel like they are a piercing, icy blue. Blue like the Western sky stretching its limbs across the land.
Portrait by JWFisher on DeviantArt
Captured in him is sad history. Blood and Indian Paintbrush and tradition caught between agricultural progression and decay and suburbanization. Primordial loneliness in a sea of wires and connectivity.
Someone turns right off 91, and his body is immediately a deep, tense, building energy. His talons shift on the wood, his weight ripples through his feathers, and when he leaps into the air, it’s as if he’s pressing the whole sky down on me. Wings as long as I am tall furl open in a long streak, and I stretch my arms out, too.Trying it out.
I watch as the eagle, the sun bird, bagweshi becomes calligraphy in the distance, and the last thing I see is the white breach of his tail feathers as he leaves this place behind.