He crouched over the cook fire and blew across the surface of a tin cup and watched the ripples on the peat-dark coffee and he watched the rising steam. The monolith beside him loomed. The granite spire was scorched with a permanent shadow from a thousand such fires gone ablaze in a sudden gust of desert wind. The wind would rise to gale force gusts at times and blow through the arroyo like a mile of boxcars out of nowhere and then it would stop dead and the desert would sigh to a hush. He thought about the power of water and ice. He ran his hand over the cool rock and whispered the word exfoliation, relishing the music of the word, how it slipped and crumbled from his mouth. Then he looked up at the sky.
The slow white blur of a contrail was enough to jar him back to the binary world of bodies and form. For a second he mistook it for a shooting star; which might have kept him here in the dry-wash basin carved out of the dust in a hundred year storm. He was here all night and all through the dawn, but now he was gone. Three hundred souls bound for Bangkok, or Beijing. High up over ocean and westerly untethered. A column of pressurized air encased in a tube of aluminum and steel.
There were particles of water trailing the particles of human beings. He sipped from the cup. Camp coffee was always the best. The ice crystals above him became a floating slash of snow. There were grains swirling at the bottom of the cup. He liked the feeling of enamelware, he liked the concept of it, and it pleased him, how it hadn’t changed in his lifetime at all. He thought about the pioneers. He wondered about the speckled pattern on the cup. It always made him think of space. A camp cup was a container made of stars.
When he looked back up at the sky the jetliner was gone but the contrail was flattening into a wisp of a cloud, curving up across the dome of the sky. Cirrocumulus, cirrostratus, cirrus aviaticus. And then he remembered. It was Christmas. This was meant to be his gift. This morning here in the Sonoran Desert.
He leaned back in over the fire and fished out a brand with a glowing red tip. The smoke curled off the end and rose into the light where it became invisible. Again. He would happily pack up all his gear and drive six hundred miles and set up camp to endure a shivering night for a cup of coffee such as this. He drank from the cup until it was almost drained and flicked the dregs into the low flames where they hissed. O’ holy night.
o O o