I am a word processor. I have to sit at my desk all day whether I have work to do or not. When I’m not busy I read the newspaper. They don’t mind us reading, and the newspaper reminds me that there is a world out there.
The law office where I work enjoys one of the finest
I keep photos on my desk as a collection of substitute views. They are photos I’ve taken on recent vacations. Everyone else has pictures of husbands, wives, children, pets. I have pictures of rocks, canyons, mesas. But sometimes I forget to look at them. Sometimes, when I don’t have anything to type, I sit and stare at the blank computer screen. Sometimes I can’t help myself.
My boyfriend, Porter, suggests that I could look for more challenging employment. “Not you, too,” I say. I count on him for pleasures repeated endlessly without direction--dinners, talk, bed. Career advice from Porter is betrayal. I try to tell him, my plot years are over. I’ve gone to school. I’ve found jobs. Now is the time I should be having children, so I could follow their young lives during the years that things change.
The routine of work is like the cycle of the seasons. “Billing time again?” we ask each month. I tell Porter I am Persephone, condemned to type fifty weeks a year so that for two weeks I may return to my mother, the earth. “But it’s not a bad job,” I hasten to say. He still looks sad for me, so I add, “Maybe I’ll go back to school.” It’s not a bad job. When it’s boring I read the newspaper.
I read the newspaper, and Sandra, the receptionist, reads romances. She says, “I used to try reading more serious things, but in this job, you always get interrupted.” She says she’ll write one herself someday. She says, “I’ve certainly read enough of them.”
Caitlin, the secretary, reads as much as Sandra. She reads romances, although she prefers mysteries and thrillers. “I already know how this one’s going to come out,” she complains when I stop by her desk. Under her desk, by her feet, is a bag of fat paperbacks that Caitlin and Sandra have shared.
For a law office, the pace of work is slow. We have our rituals--pastries in the kitchen on Friday morning, offerings to the gods. We are like a music box set in motion, or one of those European clocks with figures that march out when the hour strikes. I type; Caitlin photocopies; Sandra answers the phone. On Friday afternoons we ask each other what our plans are for the weekend. On Monday morning the music box starts up again. We ask each other what we did this weekend. The work pays well. The lawyers don’t mind if we read.
When I read the paper I look for my favorite kind of story, some discovery in the world, reported: mummies in a Chilean cave, a five-thousand-year-old man frozen in the ice.
Today at work we are busy. The lawyers shout, “These
documents have got to go out by five!” I am not involved in their desperation.
I have seen it too many times before. I do my word processing and then I steal
some time to read an article about the discovery of a kind of tree thought to
have died out fifty million years ago, a fern-like conifer from the age of the
dinosaurs. The trees, a grove of them, were found in the
Wollemi (said the article) in the aborigine language means look around you.
I read the article again. The words, wollemi, look around you, send me into a kind of ecstasy. I put down the paper; I look around. I see an office decorated in neutral tones. I hear the computer before me, the printer behind me--their drone incessant, like labored breathing. Then I see my photographs--my mesas and canyons. There are such things and I have seen them. Wollemi. I breathe deeply.
I breathe deeply. I am on the couch, falling asleep while Porter watches NASA TV on cable. He can watch it for hours, late at night, even the yellowed industrial films that they show when there is no live coverage of space shuttle missions. He knows the names of all the rockets. In old science fiction movies he can identify the stock footage by mission number, by date, by what he was doing in his young life.
I try to wake up enough to get myself to bed. Porter is sitting forward on the couch, looking at a picture of the sun.
“Did you ever look at the sun?” the doctor asks me. “When you were a child? At an eclipse?”
“No,” I say. I wonder why he asks. My eyes follow him as he moves around the dimly lit examining room. He’s administered some drops, and my eyes are full of liquid.
“I looked at the moon the other night,” I say. “Through a telescope.” The doctor’s interrogation makes me feel guilty.
“There is a scar on your eye,” the doctor says. “It was not caused by the moon. It is a typical burn scar from looking at the sun.”
“I may have looked at the sun once,” I say.
“It doesn’t affect your sight,” the doctor says.
He releases me to wash my hands and put my contact lenses in. The world comes back into focus.
“Let’s get this focused,” said the astronomer. The telescope was big, like a cannon. I was waiting my turn to see the comet impact sites.
Porter brought me here to this
I knelt beside the telescope and looked into the eyepiece. I found the planet and four dots, the moons. The planet’s bright disk quivered from atmospheric haze and from the motion of my body.
“I don’t see anything,” I said.
The astronomer said, “It’s not like the pictures on TV.”
I bent my head to the eyepiece again. “It must be my eyes,” I said. “I need new contact lenses.”
Standing in line with Porter for another telescope, I happened to look back, beyond the road where we’d parked, up the hillside and into the trees. A yellow glow was visible behind the trees. “The moon’s coming up,” I said. “I’m going to watch it.”
The moon rose, bright, nearly full.
There was a small telescope by the fountain. I pointed it towards the moon. It was so bright that a beam of light streamed through the eyepiece when I took my head away. That night I saw, for the first time, the rough surface of the moon. The curve of the moon. The moon.
“It’s not the moon,” the doctor says.
When I get home I tell Porter I have a scar on my eye. “The doctor said I must have looked at the sun when I was little.” I feel marked, as if I’ve discovered a pentacle on my palm. “It is strange,” I say, “to have a scar I didn’t know about. No other doctor has ever mentioned it.”
“My eyes are worse,” I say. “I can’t keep working on the computer.”
I don’t know what else to do. I look around me. I look at
Porter. I notice how well he looks. I hate to admit it, but I tend to take him
for granted--like good weather in
I've worked in this office long enough to know the habits of the lawyer whose office is across the hall from my workstation. It’s her view I steal.
“It used to drive me crazy,” Caitlin told me my first spring. “The way she closes her curtains. The janitor’s not allowed in there, you know. She has to close them herself. It’s spring now, so she’ll start to close them a little more each day. It drove me crazy until I figured it out.”
“Solstice and equinox,” I said. “Her office is like
On summer mornings the lawyer gets on the phone and complains to building management: “Can’t you do something about the sun?”
The sun rises without me every day I go to work and I can’t stand it. When I’m on vacation I make a point of seeing it every day, sunset too, and moonrise and moonset.
I’ve dragged Porter all over the southwest. Last year, at
After a vacation my memories come easily. In idle hours I turn over photos and narrate my story to someone who is not there, saying this, and this.
I say: it’s quiet there. The land has a smell. Imagine, it is all around you.
Sandra is planning her vacation, a trip back east to see family and friends. I hear the lawyer across the hall tell her: “Traveling has always seemed like just a lot of work.”
Work hurts my eyes today. I'm tired of looking without
seeing--of scrolling through documents on the computer without reading. I close
my eyes, then open them onto a photo of a
I want to find something worth seeing.
“It might be worth seeing,” I tell Porter. I’m talking
about Chitactac, an Ohlone
village site I’ve heard of near
I get Porter to take me there.
It’s unattractive bare ground, picnic tables and barbecue grills right beside the highway. It’s a hot, dusty day in July. There is one other car parked in the lot, and it’s a shabby car, and a woman is amusing a baby at one of the picnic tables. Behind the picnic grounds a trail descends to the level of the creek.
“Circles, spirals, bedrock mortars. That’s what we’re looking for,” I say as we walk past the tables to the trail. “A poor place for a picnic,” I add in a low voice as we pass the woman and the baby.
Below the picnic grounds, between the path and the creek, stands a single boulder sprayed with names and dates. On the other side of the boulder is a small mud beach. A sign says swimming forbidden. A man and a boy are splashing in the water anyway.
Down the path to the right are more rocks, low cliffs going down to the water’s edge. “There,” I say. “There, we might see something.”
It’s easy to climb to the top of the cliffs. Smooth paths cross before natural alcoves, some small like shelves, others large enough to crouch in. Sloping pools would catch water when it rains, and almost every level surface holds a grinding spot.
I chase across the rock, stopping at each round hole just long enough to take a picture.
I put my hand into one deep, cylindrical grinding spot.
“No petroglyphs,” I say. But here is another mortar. Point and shoot. Quick.
From the top of the cliffs I can see the man and boy in the creek. They must think I’m crazy taking pictures of the ground.
“What's the name of this place?” Porter asks.
Busy taking pictures, I’ve almost forgotten he’s here with me.
I continue to look through the camera, although I chide myself: each variation in the surface of the rock was known to them, and I should stop long enough to memorize the rock, as I would memorize a poem. Stone takes time to see. But I have no time; the day is passing, and where are the petroglyphs?
Later, when my pictures are developed, I will see it the way I want to when I’m here: the picnic grounds, and Uvas Creek. The picnic grounds are bare and ugly; but just below is Uvas Creek. House-sized boulders line the banks of Uvas Creek; boulders first, then sloping cliffs, and cliffs across the creek; even in July the creek flows with clear-running water. Green-leafed trees cast green shadows on the water, and berry bushes flourish on the banks of Uvas Creek.
Grinding spots. Small and round, like navels in the rock.
Circular gouges in the rock. Symbols of the sun or earth.
In one place there is a steep slope down to the water, loose soil beside the rock. Below, a rough triangular pillar, topped by a triangular face aslant and overshadowed by a triangular-oval back. On the triangular face, two concentric circles and a center dot.
“Porter,” I shout, as in one moment I see the rock, and the carving on the rock. What I’ve come for. Finding it, I stand enraptured. Then, touching rocks and trees for balance, I plunge down the slope; I feel like I have wings.
Up close, the image dissolves into the texture of the stone.
I climb back up the slope, to the point at which the circles reappear. Porter joins me. I take a picture. It’s the last frame on the roll. Just as we are leaving, and crossing the field of rock, I glance down and near my right foot a spiral emerges, inches above the ground, like something alive in the stone. That one I see only in memory.
I start to forget what I am, what I can be. The rituals of work overwhelm the cycles of the days, the months, the seasons. “Is it billing time again?” we ask each month. Apollo’s chariot makes the coffee at eight, and turns the voice mail system on at five. I fear what lack of contact with the earth can do to me. It is like being without love. I love Porter but even that is something I am capable of forgetting. I glare at the closed door of the lawyer across the hall. She never takes a vacation; she’s the one who thinks traveling is a lot of work. It is a lot of work, I think: the work of memory, the work of travel and the work of love.
On my lunch hour I walk to a small, neglected downtown park. The grass grows thinly there. There I can walk on dirt, when all around me everything is paved.
I return to my desk and see my pictures, windows into another world.
Chitactac is another world in December, after the rains. Green floats over the ground. This time we take the set of stairs that bring us down to the middle section of the cliffs. Approaching from above, we encounter the clifftop first, a gently rolling field of rock. The spiral is the first thing we see. I reconfirm my initial impression. It is alive in the stone: a mouth, an eye. I start taking pictures.
I take pictures of the spiral, then point the camera almost randomly around me: at the rock, the trees, the creek. I know my pictures will be good. It is a wondrous landscape. Moss covers what in summer was dry stone. The stone itself grows green, is growing.
Point and shoot.
I slide down rainsoaked rock and land in an enchanted wood. Huge old oaks with trunks as stemlike as anemones lean in toward the rocks. At the far end of the grove is the painted rock I saw the first time. On one side of the painted rock, wind or water has made an alcove big enough to lie in. Above the roof of the alcove, a slender oak bends over the rock like a lover.
I look past the rock and the trees for Porter. Wollemi. I run to catch up with him.
To my mesa and canyon I add a photo of one of the bedrock mortars at Chitactac. The mortar is perfectly round, a few inches in diameter: a navel in the rock.
Not perfect, on close examination: but round.
I prop the photo on my copy stand at work, so I can see it while I’m typing.
“What’s that?” asks Caitlin. She’s noticed my new picture. “Is that the moon? It looks like the moon.”
The moon in winter rises over the
It will happen again. This year I’m ready. I look in the paper and find the box that gives the times of sunrise, sunset, moonrise, moonset, and the tides. I think it's wonderful that this information is printed in the paper. When it comes I'm ready. I see the first light. “Everybody has to come and look at the moon,” I announce. They all put down their papers and follow me into the conference room. I stand there with half a dozen lawyers and we watch the moon rise.