Other Kinds of Women:
       
A Map of Black Widows in the Land of Air


 by Lydia Paar

1.
 
Before she died in November, at the age of 98, Katie Lee, the activist, old-time friend of Edward Abbey, told my friend from Prescott that when she was ready to die, she would strap a pack of dynamite around her ribs and walk to the top of the Glen Canyon Dam.  After it was blown it to bits the water covering all the old sites could drain back to feed its ancient, long- thirsty riverbeds, communities, ecosystems.
 
Whether she chose not to, in the end, blow the dam, or whether she couldn’t make it to the top before she passed is a mystery.
 
There are others like her, though; I’ve met them.
 
 “Today I know your magic call
Will lead me back to the canyon wall.
And the music in your rapids roar.”

-Katie Lee, “Song of the Boatman,” sung aloud on her 98th birthday.
 1

                                                                                     ~​

2.
 
It was stillness she was seeking, or at least she had thought that: a gape-gift of space.


Her eyes sought out over the ragged land. 

Over the small bridge: a gift shop, with as much turquoise in ring and belt buckle as the white man could sell back to its own people.

Under the bridge, a condor, stretched for sun. 

Below that, muddy water, slow.

Behind the bridge, sheep chewing down grass in a rolling brown shrubland dotted with the ever-same, never-ending grass.
 
Scrubbing her teeth with her finger, she squatted like an animal in the bright mid-day, looking out of the back van door as if it were a cave and her safety.
 
But what danger could be here, worse than the other dangers from where she’d come?  The hot sun welcomed and cleansed, a dry bath of light that kept all this land brown and less habited.  For that, she was glad.

Is it possible to be engulfed in this expanse? 

Can emptiness eat?

America’s gritty cities followed her, at night, stars resembling streetlights and glinting glass, momentarily pearled pavements. 

Offices stuffed wall-to-wall with brutal need.  Traffic lanes stuck with desire.  Bars with brass rivet leather sofas for thinkers, talkers, deal-makers, not doers. 

The couches, the couches: always the couches, chairs, carseats, busseats: places to pause. 

Places to hold still.

She could feel ossification, the creeping cold christening the marrow of her teeth again in memory, so she shook her head and stood up out of the van.  Those stuck ways of life were collapsing all over each other in her mind, but she had a road to go now.
 
Past the bridge, a long and elegant cliff, crowned near-to-red. 
 
She walked to the bridge and peered through its bars down-canyon, where slow, flat-flowing brown seamed with one or two tiered white ripples seemed to turn around the corner, leading to a waterfall-clad cave where, rumor had it, some task-useful items had been stashed, many years ago? 

But she wasn’t sure.
 
She pulled out the map. 
 
Near: Tuba City.  Where the first car had been robbed and dropped minus the passenger snackbox. 

No.  Turn the map around.

She was farther north.  Those are the Vermillion Cliffs. 
 
She aimed her finger like a gun where the blue slate of brightness descended abruptly to align like math against the top plateau.  Farther from said Rumor Cave, but closer to the spot itself.  And a hardware shop on the way, sure she thought.

“What’s waiting up there for me?” she asked the soft-puffed clouds of the sharp-angled plateau.
 
What wasn’t up there was this parking lot, nor the van.

Next stop on the map:  a clean backseat, with room for more. 

The dead dog Rover she’d turned over into an unmarked hole outside that one town…what was the name?

She missed the dog, lit a cigarette, and considered how much jerky she could buy in the Dine Visitor Center with a dollar fifty.
 
This mundaneness was soothing: a place to hold wait peacfully.  Her stomach rumblings faded in the expanse of the as-yet-barely-known.  She would go seeking shadows of old legends, all burnt the same tan color, leather brimmed hats above worn leather cheeks: some with shock white hair flapping like dandelion puffs, some, the black-braided. Both, with eyes toward opened arteries.
 
And on the way: a few ingredients, the potential for spark, light on dark, the desert come to life as it, sudden, sometimes does.

She was not far now: a place where space itself opens vast hollows of time between towns: the cacti become landmarks, mere boulders: statues.  Riverbeds again, monuments to the great shifts, when storms shit rainfall so plentiful it must deluge-dump to drain together, crowded, fast and hard, down paths so cracked and barren it is all torn apart in a great mud-marriage. And, finally, the bursting and thundering down of long-captive life into hot, receptive lands, birthed fast and hard and damaging, an-at-all-expense train from the past shoved forth into the present like a breech baby sudden unstuck. 

This is the map of the past, now the future, she thought, in one action, embedded and waiting:  the artifacts recovered, industry expunged, and the ancient village, ready, risen like sun-bound Atlantis. 
 
    

1 Reported by Richard Sandomir, November 10, 2017, in The New York Times: “Katie Lee, Folk Singer Who Fought to Protect a Canyon, Dies at 98”

Lydia Paar hails from Portland, Oregon, but has spent the last ten years in Arizona, receiving her MA in Creative Writing from Northern Arizona University. She is at home most in the desert and feels she may have been a Saguaro cactus in a previous or future life. Despite this delusion, she maintains a job, a new marriage, and a dog named Bruno.