The Story of the Point
Dead Horse Point is a peninsula of stone in the sky that stands about 2000 feet above the Colorado River in the Canyonlands area near Moab in southern Utah. A narrow neck of land maybe thirty feet wide, cliff on either side, connects the island of the peninsula to the “mainland” where, driving toward or away from the Point, you get the impression that you’re simply on flat land, table land, land that is innocent of the way it abruptly falls away when it reaches the Point.
The Point is in my favorite part of what I’ve seen of the world and stands as the most dramatic and unforgettable place I know. I’d love to try a reading there – an open festival for writers and musicians. But I think we’d need a fence.
This is the story of its name. In the 1800s the area was populated by wild mustangs. As the photo shows, the Point was a natural corral; all anyone had to do was build a fence and a gate across the narrow neck of the peninsula. The fence around the rest of the Point was the aversion of any animal to the sudden plunge of open air. Food and water had to be brought to the Point for the horses. Then the time came where an unwanted herd was neglected and forgotten and ended up dead. The story ends in one of two ways. One is probably fact and the other legend. The first is that they died of thirst there on the Point. The second is that they saw the water of the Colorado almost half a mile below them, and their thirst drove them insane enough to jump off the Point for the river in their mad appetite to slake it.
This photograph is an aerial view of the Point. When Shake saw it, when it left its indelible imprint in the tissue of his young brain, there wasn’t a paved road, or a parking lot, or a visitor’s center. The Point hadn’t yet been gentrified. At the top of the photo you can see the narrow neck that connects it to the mainland. If the bottom of the photo could be extended, you’d be able to see a horseshoe bend of the Colorado River, and in the distance the Canyonlands. Its imprint on Shake reveals itself several times in the trilogy as an image of both his fear and desire to trust his father. Click the photo for a larger shot.
Its Use in Journey
He doesn’t have to tell you much. Just where it comes from. Why it feels the way it does. What it’s called and what it means. What you’re supposed to do next. Now that you’ve felt it. Now that you know what to do to feel it again. What he was thinking while he stood there with the doorknob in his hand.
Is everything all right.
And after that he never said anything. Never sat you down and told you, with the meticulous logic of taking apart an arithmetic problem like a watch, what you did wrong and why you were wrong when you did it. Just kept it to himself. When he’s idled the Chevy wagon into the garage and caught you standing there to the side. On Sunday morning, in the kitchen, his suit on underneath his apron. And so you don’t know. You lying there in bed. What was in his face lost in the silhouette of his head. Your bedspread and face in the light where it came around him from the hall. The little tent your other hand was holding up. The bed shaking. You trying to keep your face from blowing open. He must have known. He had to. It was crazy not to think he did. Why he kept standing there. To make sure you got to the end okay. To see if you had any questions afterward. If he knew you couldn’t stop. If he knew you didn’t know what was happening. If he knew how you wanted to hide what was happening but felt like you didn’t even have skin to hide inside of. If his face looked like he’d had it. Like it was something he expected. Or if he was just watching and wanted you to know it.
Yes. No. Yes.
You don’t know. You don’t know anything. You ask the questions a thousand times, and when you get to the end of them you’re where you always are, at the cold edge of a sudden cliff like Dead Horse Point, where the level ground with its red dirt and its warm calm sagebrush just suddenly drops away, thousands of feet down through open sky, where the air comes whistling and moaning up the vertical sandstone face of the cliff and plays in little circles all around you, where your father is the cliff, where the stark sudden vault of so much open space makes you stand there hot and cold together for how vast and still and bottomless it is, and the next step you take is where your father is waiting to answer everything.