Responder: Chelsea Pickslay – Soaring Wingate Cliffs Above Little Death Hollow
Initiator Author: Bruce Lewis
Writing Title: Death In the Hollow
Responder Artist: Chelsea Pickslay
Artwork Title: Soaring Wingate Cliffs Above Little Death Hollow
Size: 20 x 16″
Medium: Painted paper collage on cradled wood panel
History Professor Bryan Byrne had set up his tent in a shaded area near the trailhead to Little Death Hollow, an eight-mile slot canyon in Escalante National Monument. He spent the cool morning by a fire, drinking coffee as he watched the sun rise. His dog, Dino, lay by his feet, half asleep.
“Dino, are you hungry?” The black and white border collie’s head snapped up.
Byrne prepared a bowl of food for Dino, then placed a grate over the fire and set down an iron frying pan. After it heated, he dropped in a half dozen pieces of thick-sliced bacon and watched it crackle and pop.
When the bacon was crisped, he removed some of the grease, leaving just enough to cover the yolks of the eggs he gently placed in the skillet. Ten minutes later, he was wolfing breakfast with his third cup of black coffee. After cleaning up the dishes, he loaded his day pack with snacks and water for himself and his dog, then doused the fire.
From his campsite, they walked two miles into the hollow, marveling at the high, red sandstone cliffs. Byrne let Dino off the leash to run—a violation of park rules—figuring they were alone; no one was in the campground, and no cars were parked at the trailhead. Layers of rock revealed eons of geologic formation, the undulating walls a tribute to nature’s artistry. The canyon was so narrow he could stretch his arms wide and touch opposing cliffs.
Byrne closed his eyes, leaned his head back, and pulled in a deep breath of cool, dry air. When he opened them, he was looking into an azure sky, punctuating the multi-colored canyon walls. The light and color were glorious. Overwhelmed by the beauty of the moment, a surge of emotion rose through his chest into his neck and face. He burst into tears of pure joy, sobbing and smiling at the same time. He wiped his face on his sleeve, then pulled out his phone to take photos while Dino ran ahead, disappearing around a twist in the trail.
The faint sound of thunder sounded in the distance, alerted Byrne to the possibility of a flash flood. He didn’t panic until thunder and lightning struck twice more, each time nearer than the last. He suddenly knew he was in danger.
“Dino, Let’s get out of here.” He took only a few steps before he realized it was too late to escape. A moment later, a tumbleweed impaled him, its thorns sharp enough to puncture a bicycle tire. It tore at his legs and arms as he fought to untangle himself. Despite the pain, he grabbed the twisting plant with both hands, spun it around, and let a blast of wind carry it away.
Barely free of the hazard, Byrne realized water was swirling around his feet. In an instant, it was up to his knees, then his waist, then over his head. His arms were pinwheeling to keep his head above the water—now a muddy churn.
He clawed his way up to the surface, opening his mouth to gulp in precious air before the roiling stream pulled him back down. Dino’s four legs furiously fought the surge, terror in his eyes. When Byrne surfaced a second time, he saw Dino and tried to close the distance between them. He was too late, as he slammed against a rock wall, his leg shattering, driving him under water, nothing more than flotsam pushed along by the flood.
© 2022 Bruce Lewis