~Part Six~

The breath is the smallest cycle of hope and expulsion—the entire myth of Paradise lost and regain'd again and again. Yet, breath is what carries the Pilgrim on his Progress, what brings him o'er oceans and o'er mountains; breath is what brings his body forth from the past that so desolates, toward the future that might triumph beyond!

The air of the West pierces a man so, in thinness, in speed, in temperature and quality and dust! The air of the West has so many qualities and weights but it remains inescapable and intangible all the same—as incapable of being grasped as Divine Purpose itself. I could not count every death I was spared on every mountain and every ledge. The South Pass across the Continental Divide is as wide as a missing mountain in the chain, but I knew it as the needle's eye.

I met salt in the desert and I met light in the desert, but I saw no prophet and my only revelation was a glimpse of the ruthlessness of geological time. The prismatic, brutal light of noon baked us all like a million magnifying glasses, but the salt's smooth surface forgot all light and let the heat slip off so callously&mdashplunging us into the frigid depths without the slightest hesitation that I would have taken it personally had I not been consumed by my own smallness.

In the Great Salt Desert, the sky is blue, the ground is white, and you lose yourself between them; there is nothing else between them but obscene temperature and unthinkable time.

I did not find God in the desert: I found my own will to survive and the smallness one discovers in being robbed of everything else. There is nothing but smallness to be found in the vastest struggles—otherwise, we wouldn't need God on our sides. Why else do we latch onto causes?

[The fiddler plays "Loop #3, Signs & Wonders."]

In 1864, as the War reached its most decisive moment, I arrived in New Orleans via Mexico in the winter. I had volunteered my services to the Confederate Army secretly the previous year and relayed a plan I had regarding the conduct of the War in the Western Theater—of which there had been none for a few years, now that the Texas Rangers were otherwise engaged.

Once commissioned a Major and given proper leave, I set out from New Orleans to pursue Jefferson Davis and present my plan to more or less hand to him Arizona and New Mexico. As a local United States official, with obscurity enough to serve me well and allow me to slip about undetected, I could conduct volunteers to Yuma in the guise of miners from California and, within but an afternoon's labor "float the flag" as I had promised in my letter.