Devil’s Kitchen

Melissa Stagnaro

Days like today – with the sky a clear blue and the kind of heat that sinks lazily into your skin – remind me of Colorado’s Western Slope, where the Rockies meet the High Plains Desert.

I made my home there, in Grand Junction, for several years returning to New York. And on mornings like these, my thoughts always seem to drift back to the time-worn vistas which mark the region.

The landscape in that part of the country is the antithesis of the rolling hills and lush greenery of Central New York, and at first I struggled to find its beauty. Eventually, I discovered it – and something akin to inner peace – while hiking among the stone monoliths and box canyons of the Colorado National Monument.

I spent many an hour, and covered an untold number of miles, trekking in and around the park. In fact, I traveled my favorite backcountry trails – Liberty Cap, Monument Canyon, Old Gordon, Black Ridge and Devil’s Kitchen – so often that I can still see those vistas when I close my eyes.

I retreat to those memories at times, when I long for solitude and serenity. Because I’ve found there is still comfort in the remembered feel of sliprock beneath my trusty hiking shoes, the echo of the pinyon jay’s piercing call and the joy of exploring a landscape of ancient rock, shaped by the forces of nature and the elements.

There is an old Native American legend, or so I’m told, which says visitors to Grand Junction are destined to return, unless they take the time to gather soil from the formations which mark three points of the compass around it: The Bookcliffs to the North, so named because of their resemblance to so many tomes on a shelf; the Grand Mesa to the Southeast; and the Monument.

It is something I failed to do when I returned home to New York, 2 1/2 years ago.

On days like these, when I feel the pull of the sun and the sky, I can’t help but wonder if it is in answer to the call of those ancients spirits, trying to lure me back.

In homage to those spirits, I offer this, a poem I wrote about one of those favorite trails:

Devil’s Kitchen (2007)

Battered sneakers covered
in red dust carry me
down into the valley.

Scrubby juniper mix
with spiky Mormon tea,
desert sage, pale Indian

rice grass and a few
scattered prickly pear,
magenta fruit hosting

globules of marshmallow fluff
waiting to turn scarlet
between my finger tips.

Rich soil rises like cities
in miniature, plump and black
from the recent rain.

I breathe deeply and savor
the sweet crispness
of the Spring air.

The trail forks before me,
but I worry not which way to choose.

I will lose my self in the clear
blue of the sky.

And find my self in this sacred, sacred place.

Follow me on Twitter … @evesunmelissa.