Magazine article Sierra

Three Neat Hops

Magazine article Sierra

Three Neat Hops

Article excerpt

I've forgotten how to draw. Sitting above the wash in the canyon, I push the pencil around with all the worst attitudes: impatience, secondguessing, fear. The pencil marks in my sketchbook look fake, listless, graceless. I assume I'll remember how to draw again, though in this state it's hard to be absolutely sure the ability will come back. The best way to endure such an exile is to think of it as a chrysalis phase. The most basic skills have dissolved, but even now are in the process of regeneration.

A few days later I come to the canyon with a heavy heart and no drawing tools. The canyon's southfacing wall is a puzzle of light and shadow, the pieces all rounded, like shoulders, or the hollow under the rib cage when you lie on your back. A fly as big as a cicada has appeared on a rock in front of me. I think it's a bot fly, the kind whose larvae live under the skin of mammals, breathing through a small, round opening. The fly is blacker than any ink and casts a precise shadow that makes me want to head for home immediately and do something reassuring, like ironing.

On another morning, early, the canyon is jolly with swallows. All the members of this group are violetgreen, little bullet-bodied birds, sociable and deft. They vanish into the great shadow cast by the north-facing wall, then blink on again, emerging from it.

One swallow passes near me repeatedly and shoots down the narrow wash, following each curve. I try a few tiny thumbnail sketches based on that flight, pretending not to notice that I've started drawing. …

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