And yet, just when you think you cannot bear another day of heat and fire, it
rains. The summer storms change everything. The entire town of Flagsta=—all
of its plants and animals and humans—
lets out a sigh of relief. It feels like a
miracle, really, the way that nature takes
San Andres, La Libertad,
THE WESTERN SKY was blood red when we reached Kayenta, Arizona,
on our way to Flagsta=, in summer 2006.
I figured that old Flag was finally burning,
as it lies in the largest ponderosa pine forest in the world—a forest that will eventually burn (“not if, but when,” as they
say). The red sky is typical of summers
here, when the dry, warm, and flammable
months of May and June test the mettle of
those who claim this town as home.
That summer, it turned out that Na-
vajo Mountain was burning—a hard,
long burn in a remote mountain area. The
fires in southwestern forests are getting
larger as the years go by, in response to
drier, warmer times and a century of mis-
management of fire-adapted forests. Two
years ago, the eastern half of the San Fran-
cisco Peaks burned near the edge of town.
I was at the Museum of Northern Arizona
for an art lecture when, suddenly, the
mountain was up in smoke. Everybody
congregated in the museum’s parking lot,
unable to do anything but stare.
THE WARM AND FAST Amayo River hides behind the tamarindo and pito
trees that sway left and right with the
westerly breeze. I used to cross that river
every morning to get to my grandfather’s
adobe house, approximately a mile from
my aunt’s aluminum champita up the
hill. The dirt road that leads to my grandfather’s house was without a soul most
of the time, except for the movements of
horse and cow along the brown river and
The horribly built gate on my grandfather’s land is always falling apart. The
wood, amate de conacaste, was never completely connected to the barbed wire when
my grandfather built it, and no one has
tried to fix it because it is the only memory
of him we have left.
I remember crossing the river and the
gate and hearing my cousins warming up
for a game of pickup soccer. Kevin, Carlos,
Carmen, Karina, Victor, Alfredito, and I
had created a makeshift soccer field, with
goal posts formed by nance branches and
lines created by bushes and juicy green
cucumber plants. We never knew whether
the ball was in or out. I remember our yellow plastic ball dancing on the dirt, my
left foot circling, my right foot moving forward. My body follows.
Visit www.orionmagazine.org/place to see
more contributions and to tell us about the
place where you live, or simply write to us.