"The taste of meat lingers on my tongue. Rain and river. Bedrock to soil to plant to milk to bone, muscle, and sinew. I am eating my canyon. Eating stone.”
I have written here before about my adoration for the prose of Ellen Meloy, and once again I have to bow down to this amazing naturalist.
Last night I regretfully finished the final pages of Eating Stone - Imagination and the Loss Of the Wild, Ellen Meloy's last gift to us before her untimely death in the fall of 2004.
Meloy's magical colorful phrasing, her artistic brush-stroked words fill curiously unnoticed voids in my soul and carries me away to wild places. Who else could describe a ram's scrotum thusly:
..."the size of a ripe cantaloupe from Texas."
Or describe vandals' bullet holes among rock images as "bubba glyphs"?
Tracking the lives and habits of the almost extinct desert bighorn, Meloy shares her love of the wild and of the creatures that inhabit it with us. Interspersed with her factual reporting are essays on Hopi spiritualism, geology lessons, and Mark-Twainian wit that bites your tongue like the stogies favored by said long ago American humorist.
I randomly open the book to any page and find jaw-dropping prose, literary craftsmanship I can only dream about possessing.
Here is a passage that combines both the power of her descriptive writing and deliciously wicked sense of humor:
On the back of the elephants, above the canyon, things become a bit dreamy. Ravens chortling softly. Prehistoric thoughts on the rock behind my head like cartoon bubbles. The memory of black-haired children alive with laughter around a table in an adobe house. Air with exquisite taste; clear, chilled, like iced lime. A redrock land that stretches a hundred miles into the sacrament of space. I am not paying attention.
I hear the sound of a waterfall. How nice, I think. A waterfall just like Tahiti.
Unmistakable: the splash of liquid on stone. This is most curious. No rain in sight. Not flash-flood season. No water except for scattered frozen puddles in the wash on the flats below. The place is as dry as old sticks. This is not Tahiti.
The water sound comes from a low saddle of slickrock above me, barely seventy yards distant. Atop the rock, in classic position, head erect, hind legs stretched back, back slightly depressed - is a bighorn ram. He is pissing out a thunderous stream on the sandstone.
If you haven't discovered the seduction of this woman's writings, make haste to mend that hole in your library. Celebrate through her eyes our precious western landscape that is disappearing faster than you know.