The news reported Seth Jenkins dead that evening. He had been nowhere near where I suspected Jacob would have led him. Instead, they’d found him down on the San Juan River, near Bluff, Utah, a good fifty miles of near impossible country from where they’d ditched the truck. He’d crossed it on foot, and at night, scaling canyons and avoiding helicopters with infared technology and observation posts with night vision. Jacob had taught him well. A tourist had stumbled across him, where he’d dug a hole in the shade of the riverbank not far from a boat launch. Seth had fired a couple of shots over the guy’s head and sent him running, and by the time the Sheriff and some national guard had gotten there, he had committed suicide.
I drove up where I could look out over the plateau and parked the jeep. The land was divided into the geometric shapes of high elevation farm land beginning to glow green with the sprouting fields of alfalfa, oats, pinto beans, and sunflower. Irrigation machines circled slowly around well heads, leaving the fields glistening under the artificial rain drawn from the reservoir damming the Dolores River. It was a view of my country I didn’t often get, looking past the greening fields of home toward where the land stretched brown to the mountains and canyons of Utah. It seemed more often, growing up, that I had stood on the edge of some canyon and stared toward the green fields of home. Somewhere in that brown landscape, my brother was hunkered down as well, watching for someone trying to find him.
It was hard to think about Seth being dead. He had been nice to me, the times I had been around him. I had gone into the desert with him and Jacob a few times, and while they both tended to ignore me, Seth would give me a break where Jacob wouldn’t. When I was thirteen Jacob took us into Lost Cowboy Canyon. He’d decided it was time for me to “go on a solo dream, to get my vision.” He and Seth blindfolded me and led me miles deep into the canyon. We climbed a narrow ledge to a cliff ruin, walked through the sifted dust covering stone once trod by moccasined feet, until we came to a Kiva, a circular ceremonial room with stone walls and a remarkably preserved log roof. In the center of the roof a circular opening provided the only entrance. Jacob dropped into the hole and I followed. Seth brought a log with short branches over and lowered it into the opening, then followed us down.
I was blinded by the cool dark inside the kiva. The sun and heat had been relentless on the hike in and near the end I had traded my fantasies of Penny Harding for a stumbling semi-conscious stupor. After a few minutes my eyes adjusted to the near dark and I walked the circle, trailing my hand over the surface. The sun filtered through chinks in the rocks, making dust beams dance.
“This place is nearly a thousand years old,” Jacob said. “Just think how many boys have meditated in here, getting their visions, becoming men. There are spirits here, powerful medicine.” Then he gave me that Jacob smile, the one that meant I had hell to pay before I tasted food or water again. “But you’ve got to sacrifice for it.”
“He means suffer,” Seth said, and laughed.
Jacob gave him a warning look, and then he turned to me. “This is something you have to do if you ever want to come out with me again. I’ve taken it easy on you so far. Now it’s time to take the next step.” He went on to explain what I had to do. First, I had to fast, not even water, sitting in the circle of the kiva. I was not to sleep. Rather, I should wait for my vision, and I was not to leave before then. Once I had my vision, I had to find my way out of the canyon, back to the truck, where Seth and Jacob would be waiting. He took my boots and my backpack, left my knife and a quart of water, and said “make me proud,” then monkey-climbed the pole through the hole in the roof.
Seth gave me a punch on the shoulder, shook his head, and laughed. “Hey, he did it without anyone making him. I did it. You’ll live. Stay out of the sun.”
“Let him figure it out,” Jacob yelled from outside.
“Make yourself some bark moccasins and cover your head.”
“I know what to do.”
“There’s a spring about a mile down, in a little box canyon to the west.”
“Thanks,” I said.
“Hey, don’t sweat it,” he said. “It’s only sixty square miles of wilderness. Nothing but mountain lions, coyotes, and rattlesnakes.” And then he left me.
And now Seth was dead. He must have been scared out of his mind to kill himself. I wondered if he was afraid of disappointing Jacob. I opened my knapsack and took out a bundle of Jacob’s letters, including the last one he’d written a month before. Though no one else would have suspected this, my brother was a prolific writer, and somewhere, hidden in rock caches in the desert, are journals with his observations and descriptions, perhaps even his warnings and fears, along with maps of secret places and discoveries that only he had seen. I’ve seen him writing often enough. Late at night, after I’d stretched out by the campfire, he would record the days’ events in notebooks that he bound into journals that he made himself from the tanned skins of deer and beaver.
In his last letter, really a loose-leaf journal dozens of pages long, my brother had ranted about the usual: He hated the “civilization” he was leaving behind, where road kill littered the streets and people refused to return his hellos when he passed them on the streets. He ranted against the “rich assholes moving into the country from Texas and Los Angeles, buying up ranches and farmland, turning out honest working people who had lived on the land for generations.” These were the same people fencing off the land, messing up the migratory patterns of deer and elk and antelope. He was tired of them “running roughshod over the country in their Land Rovers and Cadillac SUVs,” outsiders who were literally and figuratively “pissing in the water” we drink. He hoped “that Jesus or the Revolution or whatever is going to happen comes quick,” because he couldn’t stand much more of this. He even said he could understand why Dylan and Klebold “wasted Columbine,” given how fake everything was becoming, even though he would never condone suicide.
Mixed in with all of this, was the record of his last season in the wilderness, complete with weather details, miles hiked, and descriptions of the animal and plant life he encountered, as well as natural features, especially water sources. His descriptions were often beautiful. One day he stood atop the Wasatch Plateau in Utah and looked across the Colorado Plateau, all the way to the San Juan Mountains. In between lay desert valleys and canyons carved into red, ochre, magenta, blue, violet, shadows and rock. The flat ground was broken by mesas and buttes and the occasional solitary peaks of the LaSal, Abajo, and Henry mountains, rising out of the ground like pyramids. He contrasted the lower level deserts of sage and grass with the dry woodlands of pinyon and juniper on the flanks of desert mesas, with the patchwork of snow banks and vibrant spring colors of grass and wildflowers growing in the meadows among groves of aspen, spruce, and fir atop the higher elevations.
At the end though, his writing became cramped as he tried to cram as many words on to the last page as possible, like there was no more paper in the world and he had to pull everything together in the shrinking margin of the last page:
“When all is said and done, if it ever comes down to me and them, I’m going out like Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, guns blazing.
I sold the pistol in town that evening, filled the tank on the Jeep with gas and topped off the two ten gallon Jerry cans in the back. I bought some food and several gallons of water and left San Luis shortly after midnight, driving west along Dry Creek Canyon, following the route where Jacob and Seth had last been seen alive. It seemed right, somehow. I felt good to be heading out into the desert. I got the feeling I always got when headed into the country. The stars were out and the evening cool after the heat of the day. I enjoyed seeing the sky again, and as always, I marveled a bit at the clarity of the stars after the light pollution of the Front Range. The jeep was running cool and I zipped along the canyon. I thought about the possibilities. I knew I would drive into Utah. I wanted to get back into the canyon country. Feel the heat and thirst and the grit of sandstone. I’d like to disappear into the Maze. After that, there was time to think about other options.