Saturday, February 23, 2008

Tempe Buttes Sunrise (Part 4 of 4—starts Feb. 14)

Yesterday on the north side of the buttes I found one other vestige of old Tempe—Double Butte Cemetery, resting place of Tempe Pioneers since 1903. It sits between the stadium and the dry river bed, in the foreground of the view from the Restaurant above. I suspect its presence may be the only reason the freeway doesn’t run right next to the base of the butte.

Today I am on the south side of the buttes, with the entrance to the stadium on my right. The sky is just beginning to light, and the moon hangs to my left. Hundreds of birds ecstatically welcome the day, singing and chattering and sailing between the low trees. I watch the buttes as the light becomes brighter and the moon turns to a piece of tattered lace behind me.

The sky is pink at the horizon with a blue band above it, that clear striation you only see in the desert. Both buttes have a matte finish; no light bounces off of them. The sun begins to climb from my right—it would have been behind Great Grandfather as he drove the road between the buttes. A train whistle cuts the air, then the train thunders past. Would he have heard that? I think the railroad came in the late 1800s, so he probably would have.

The smaller butte, on my right, has a shoulder that resists the light moving up its right side. Its left side, in shadow, looms large and dark. On my left, the larger butte begins to glow all at once. It slopes up gently to the left from the stadium, which sits squarely on the old road. A green carpet from recent rain softens the slope that supports wispy brush and cacti in its thin, light brown soil. I think the butte on the right would have kept the opening between the big rocks in shadow as long as it could in my great grandfather’s time, but eventually the soft first light would have captured it.

Within twenty minutes, sunrise is over. The sun is bright and small, creating a silver lining on scattered flat clouds. I pull down the visor of my hat. No more matte finish—the buttes, the stadium, the trees, and the long-tailed dark birds are all brightly lit.

Last night, I noticed several small caves on the north side of the buttes. Today I notice more of them near the top of the large butte on this side. My great grandfather had one “wild child,” a boy who “kept his own schedule,” as my great aunts said. I can imagine him hiding in those caves, creating havoc by throwing rocks and fighting with other boys. He later took up partying, and as an adult even ran tequila across the border during Prohibition. He would have loved the idea of a bar called “Tequila on the Rocks” up where he surely consumed his share of tequila on those rocks.
That boy was my grandfather.

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