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11 a.m sun glaring and I scramble up canyon. Do the lenses on your eyeballs burn and dry out? A scuffle of dust and the jangle of clips on a backpack announce: someone else, moving down canyon, footfall quick and purposeful, steps descend as if each rock is certain, a cloud of sandy loam. I note a fit body in a dirty t-shirt sleeves ripped off, nylon shorts, but flesh too gritty to be considered ripped. His head tilts downward, face shaded by a brimmed hat, the type sported by river raft guides. Cowboy hats don’t ventilate enough. I pause under the pepper tree, and a minute later he stops in the shade too. Now I can see a face—actually a youngish face—a few curls of sun-bleached hair plastered to the temples and forehead, a few lines of sweat run down from these very temples over cheekbones and into the light beard scruffing a squared jaw. Eyes averted downward he says hello quietly, and then glances towards the tumbling river nearby. Loner, it’s an unspoken pact of homesteader-hippie disregard, keep your shit to yourself. I notice his veined forearms instead: tanned, powerful worker’s arms, manual labor toned.
I ask, Did you find anything?
He hikes up his cargos by the belt, and falls into a crouch next to the backpack. I move closer and squat alongside. The rip-stop nylon creeps up his inner-thigh, betraying a pretty wicked tan line and the edge of a tattoo. I can see the definition of his well-exercised quad through coarse leg hair, calf gently bulging below the knee. I lean in. He rips into the front pocket of his backpack, retrieving a black leather pouch about the size of a pack of Camel Lights… the pouch is delicately opened and a small glass vial rolls onto the palm. I notice dirt beneath all fingernails, which have not been clipped: pointed, like a proper coke head or perhaps Dracula, in any case not worrying about human touch. He holds the vial against the black pouch to see the contents better, three or four little stones, each the size of half a smushed pea—glittering white. But now the stones’ colors brighten, suddenly burning through a shift of colors, descending the spectrum for a minute. Then settling on white again. One and three quarters ounces here, he says, eyeing me cautiously. Here, give it a shake. You can feel the weight. Shake-shake, rattle-rattle, sure enough.
You live up here, don’t you?
Recoiling out of the crouch, he and I, now his pack slings over the shoulders, and suddenly we’re squared chest to chest. He places a hand on my shoulder. This actually seems natural. The stranger bends forward, his hat brim brushes my temple, and he whispers into my ear, I’ll see ya around—pausing, slight inhale—stay hydrated. Sour breath lingers on my neck until later on, when I am back at home and I wash the dust away.