Outside I can hear the coyotes. Earlier in the day a pack of javelinas came close and grunted. We did not see the elk, black bears, or mountain lions that live around here, but we saw the hawks, the wrens, the myriad sparrows, and once the sun set we saw the stars.
Arriving to these things didn’t come especially easily because the road from Valentine to Fort Davis climbs to about 5000 feet over 41 miles. The grade was never especially hard, but it was always up, up, up. Always up.
This part of West Texas is striking and stark in its beauty, from the snow that remains from the storm of a few days ago to the giant boulders that bump up against the skyline, to the disturbed and overgrazed fields filled with cholla and prickly pear. The ranch houses come in a couple of flavors, ornate, dilapidated, or functional. Always, no matter what the thing is, living or dead, man-made or god-made, it is always struggling against the forces of down.
Up is hard. In the case of the hawk or the cougar it takes a million years of evolution, of survival and struggle, of careful genetic construction to build the final perfectly imperfect thing. The timbers that are cut and then raised to make the structure of the barn, the stones that are broken and shaped to make the wall or the well, the human relationships that are built day by day, month by month, decade by decade, all of these things fighting, struggling, exerting every ounce of energy to attain up.
But the work of a million years, the work of a decade, the work of an afternoon, can all be destroyed without talent, skill, ability, knowledge, or expertise of any kind. The power of down only requires malice, anger, ill-will, or the most complete wrecking force of all, ignorance. The power of down is wrapped up in the universe in forces of entropy and gravity, trending everything inevitably to collapse. On top of that, you can see the carcass of the dead hawk, the carcass of the overgrazed field, the carcass of the enervated and deboned small town, the power of down easily and relentlessly overwhelming the power of up.
We all have the power of up within us, as well as the power of down. Up requires everything, demands our total commitment, our full concentration. Down only requires us to push over, to smash with hands, machines, or most down of all, with words.
The farther that I travel from my orbit the more clearly I see the down, and my own inertia following that trajectory. The farther that I travel from my orbit the more clearly I see the up and feel the immense difficulty of rededication to build, rebuild, succor, heal, grow.
Up is weak because it takes time, effort, and continual rededication. Down is easy because it takes nothing more than the twitch of a knee connected to a steel-toed boot. When we got to Fort Davis we were tired even though it was a mere 25 miles or so of up. Steve had invited us to stay with him, to get a hot shower and to take a run at the laundry, not to mention a hot meal cooked in the kitchen. We took him up on his offer of course, and it was a good thing we did.
It was a good thing because the power of up is exactly this way. It is weak, and it takes time and effort to build the thing up. But magically, once the thing is built, the person is raised, the relationship is soldered, or the feathers give rise to flight, up becomes strong. Not indestructible, but strong.
Mark the difference.