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Web Exclusive . Barry Lopez reads "The Trail."
April 30, 2010

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Transcript

BARRY LOPEZ: On a winter afternoon, along a trail in the Sierra Madre in the state of Mensajero, beneath an immense rampart of rising cumulonimbus cloud, a deeply imperfect man bent over to collect a small piece of black glass. He recognized its kind: obsidian, a thick sliver of it. When the molten interior of the Earth is thrown into the frigid sky and cools quickly, it becomes a stone like this. People say of its edges that no knife is sharper, and of its color that it is transparent, but bottomless, like the seas, so it cannot be rendered on paper or canvas.

The man turned the spalled flake over in the palm of one hand with the fingers of the other. He tested the edge with his thumb and held it up to the sun. He knew of no volcanoes in these mountains, but the trail was many centuries old, and people had carried red coral, abalone shells, and turquoise up and down it for generations. Someone dropped this, he thought, in the time when his grandfather was alive or in the year of his own birth, or a pilgrim might have dropped it, only days ago.

It glittered in his palm like sunlight in ice, and he wondered, as the heaving clouds encroached on the sun and the shard of glass darkened, what his obligations were. Should he give it back to the trail or pocket it for the single daughter he was traveling to see? In another age he would have not hesitated to take it to the girl. Now he felt he must put it back, even if later someone else might take it. He believed he had come upon a time in his life when everything, even the things of God, needed protection. When he met his daughter, he would tell her he had found a black tear in the dust of the narrow path and understood he must leave it be. And she would ask whose tear it was, and he would have to use his imagination, in the way his people once had done.

This story was originally published in ORION MAGAZINE.
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