By Rebecca Wildbear

Red-tailed hawks nested in a nearby canyon. Every once in a while, one circled above. A middle-aged man and I sat in the sagebrush. We had both been at camp for more than a week. I looked toward the snow-capped peaks that surrounded us, as he recounted a nightmare from the previous night.

“The smell is horrible,” he said, his eyes closed. I guided him back into the dream. “My nostrils are burning. The land has been poisoned. The sagebrush is on fire. Pronghorn lie on the ground dead. Everything is hurting.”

Not far from where we sat, Lithium Nevada plans to blow up the mountain and burn hundreds of tons of sulfur waste from oil refineries and a semi-tanker of diesel every day. My fingers touched the lithium rock in my pocket. How is this mineral worth so much devastation? A two square mile open pit, the sprawl of treatment ponds and tailing piles—I felt sick.

“What else do you see?” I asked.

“Meadowlarks trying to fly,” he said. “They keep falling.”

“What do you feel?” I asked.

“My body is shuddering” he said. “It’s a struggle to breathe.”

“And the meadowlarks?” I asked.

“They’re suffering too,” he said. “Everything is in agony.”

“Where does the dream take you?” I asked.

“Falling uncontrollably.”

“Stay with that,” I suggested.

“It wants to carry me up to the stars,” he said. “But I keep going down.”

“It’s pulling you down,” I reflected.

“I want to get away from this awful smell,” he said. “But I can’t.”

“Then what happens?” I asked.

There was a long pause. He began to shake and then cry. Tears welled in my eyes too and rolled down my cheeks as I witnessed him. Then I heard the flapping of raven’s wings above us and looked up.

“The grief,” he managed to say, “it’s too much.”

“Raven is here,” I whispered. “This land is with you.”

“It’s so dreadful,” he said, “what’s supposed to happen.”

Photo by Max Wilbert