Ponce de León

By
Even at age seven, the desire to be immortal was a familiar and often reasonable wish.

Scrabbling up slippery-flat stones, I had not the desire but the aroma of immortality about me. I felt strong and undefeatable, Converse grinding the stones into muddied dust as Arendse and I made our way up the creek. We had spent the week awaiting the opportunity to follow the creek, crammed and trickling down the cleavage of the two hills that met to make the canyon, to see if it led us to some secret lake or cave. My family’s ranch sat upon 400 acres of Big Sur terrain, and so it had an atmosphere of infinity, warm as the stars but still alluringly unknown. It seemed to me that I could easily be the first human to set foot upon certain grass, the first to witness a certain breathtaking view from a certain untouched hill, and this prospect of power thrilled me.

It was mid-February and I had been granted a week free of school; with my neighbor and best friend, Arendse, in tow, I endured the serpentine wrath of Big Sur roads to reach the anti-climatic quiet of our ranch. Arendse was two years older and in some ways, very similar to the Newell ranch, for a vivacious fire seethed beneath her peaceful front, a mischievous glint lighthousing between strands of mousy bang. As soon as we arrived and disentangled ourselves from the car, she spent a good ten minutes memorizing the hills that surrounded the house. I patiently waited, knowing that such sensitivity as hers could detect even the wiliest whiff of adventure. Sure enough, she turned me and confidently announced: “I want to see what’s in the canyon.”

A bit deflated, I reminded her, “But it’s nothing but shadow and water, with one little path that goes on forever.”

Her voice was calm but her eyes impatient, like a spoon overflowing. “I know that. I wanna go up the creek.” Like soup, her eyes steamed and excitement dribbled down her chin: we glanced at the congregation of rain-clouds and marched inside, but I knew I would have no choice but to follow Arendse’s plan.
At last the weather was warm enough for the creek-hike to commence, and armed with nothing but Arendse’s homemade walking stick (a long and sturdy Redwood branch we found in the lawn), we began. The air was cool but spattered with dollops of light, breaking through in lattices as the Redwood branches supported heavenly domes above us. Misplaced ankles were spiked by icy licks of creek, but the frosty shock shot out sounding like nothing more than a jumpy laugh. We spoke little, for the sounds of the water rushing and branches snapping, birds ca-ca-ca-cawing, filled in the gaps with scrapes of vibrant crayon color. As the creek became more and more congested with the litter of the trees, our breath grew short, panty, our minds alert. A jittery skid backwards was a jolt to the heart as we burrowed into the canyon life. We little girls had never felt more independent. It was frightening but all at once liberating, and we tried to keep our minds positive though images of mountain lions threatened to pounce. The creek sloped up, into the depth of the two hills, and we grabbed at stones and ground our heels into mud, pushing towards some unknown focal point.
A grayish-blue glimmer at last diverted our gazes from the span of mud at hand. A while back, the creek had narrowed and flowed into the shadow of a cliff, and the hill surrounding it had steepened until we were forced to grab at the jutting edges of the craggy creek bank in order to keep from slipping back down. At that curious twinkle, both heads popped up; our jaws dropped open to see a small but steady stream of water spurting, like a faucet, right out of the wall of rock. We fumbled closer, hanging onto the crag, and inspected this natural spigot with awe. The water was crystal clear, and the surrounding rock was dry as our throats. The water simply shot from the center of the wall, with no visible motive or purpose other than to be a miracle. We came to the simple and inevitable conclusion that this was the fountain of youth. Drink from it, and become, as in Tuck Everlasting, forever immortal. This had been our goal all along.
We had no camera, were alone, and could document no proof of this magic fountain. The only proof would be our unending lives. Arendse was triumphant: it was she, afterall, who had detected the unperceivably faint spray from this waterfall, she who was the conquistdao. I watched as she eagerly lowered her head and sipped up some magic water.
Once satisfied, she scootched over so that I, too, could immortalize myself. I had to bend my head at an awkward angle and scrunch my neck underneath the natural valve, so that I found myself looking up, spigot and sky combined in a mystic series of parallel lines. I pursed my lips and, thinking only of the rareness of this discovery, swallowed a mouthful of supernatural water.
Arendse grinned. “You ready?”
I swallowed before responding, “Yeah. Yeah, let’s go.”
The water tasted normal: I was expecting maple syrup. It felt normal in my throat, and as we slowly made our way back down the hill, sliding on our butts, I felt normal, too. The immortal spigot eventually drifted from the forefront of my thoughts as we gained speed and began to roll hilariously down the muddy slope, laughing to shake the stones in the creek, pounding stains into our shorts.
We made it back to the ranch house, grubby and gabbing about our discovery, the spigot once again of utmost priority, until showers had steamed into warm moldy memory and we were off frolicking elsewhere, maybe up the creek again or in the yellowed hills or even just in the fiber of dreams. There were other mysteries to be found.
Years later, Arendse and I hiked back up the creek, older and quicker as we leapt over stones and crawled through fallen trees. We found the cliff face, but saw no magical faucet gushing from the stone. The spigot had trickled dry, its fatal streaks faded into crevices of granite. Our mouths hung dry and silent as we skidded back down the creek.
Had it still been there, I doubt much would’ve changed. Characters in a more interesting story might’ve considered the cons to living forever, but we had drunk it hurriedly, as if the magic in the water or our minds might quickly evaporate, leaving nothing but stone, but steely creek water that gives you the runs. Even now, I would drink it, letting that inkling of doubt tucked behind my ear detoxify any ill effects to immortality. If I actually didn’t want to live forever, after all my loved ones had died, then I’d reach into my hair and proved that this water was just silliness. At that moment, however, seven-years-old and hungry, I craved the immortal magic, and left it to glitter itself into a radiantly-combusted darkness, star into stone.
Despite the inevitable darkness of aging and its clogging of whatever river pumped immortality through the rock, I can say that I did drink the water. I am immortal until proven otherwise, though no one but Arendse and the Big Sur hills can second that. Though my world is skeptical, shaking its heavy head, I can look within my memories and know that I will life forever, like all that uncharted land. Arendse has long ago moved on; she shakes her head and laughs when we speak of the spout, but her reality cannot pierce my imaginings. She was the conquistador, and I the disciple who has yet to stop believing. By her own pragmatic reckoning, all we did was add one more mystery to the myriad of secrets that blow among the weeds of Big Sur. I can remember, as we hiked, hearing the rusty-raw scrape of those weeds, ironically thirsty and dying from the drought that never crossed our minds. While the rest of the world withers like those weeds and succumbs to time, my mind’s eternal youth will not only keep me fantasizing and alive, but also will, I’m sure, rejuvenate me with a sudden, silent outburst from the stone.





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heyhey7878 said...
Jan. 18, 2009 at 5:21 pm
this is really god!
 
sisi123 said...
Jan. 10, 2009 at 1:05 am
AMAZING!!!!
you write sooooo well!
 
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