Sunday, January 19, 2014

The Moon Shining Over Me

Seems so strange that an innocuous gesture could spin a life in such a direction. One of the only times I ever remember my parents posing as a family was on a trip to the Grand Canyon when I was perhaps 8 or 9 years old. While I carried remnants of that trip with me my whole life, there were pivotal moments that in the end steered a course. 

My mother at some time in the trip had gone to the visitors center and bought a little plastic box of polished rocks. One of things I remember fondly about my childhood was that my mother was gift giver and when times where difficult she seemed to be able to distract from the moment by an impromptu gesture of delight. 

Inside this little plastic box were dozens of beautiful little worlds of color, lines and patterns and what seemed so significant to me was that they were real. I could hold them in my hands know that they came from somewhere out there just as beautiful, just as real and I wanted to know everything about them. I studied them, read about them and knew the names for all of them. Tigers eye and Apache tears, yellow jasper and polished agates, rose quartz and turquoise. It sparked a curiosity and lifelong love affair with rocks, rock formations and hiking. I didn't know until after my mother had passed as I going through her things, that she too collected rocks as a child. 

While my mother couldn't change the world for me she instilled a sense of hope in me that the world I needed was in fact out there and my life eventually would be anything I was willing to make of it.

In the weeks before I prepared for my trip to Death Valley, I was plagued with apprehension and fear. I couldn't put a finger on it but I trusted my intuition and took extra precautions.  I had my SUV throughly checked out and it turned out my battery was bad but that wasn't it. Let friends and family know exactly where I was going and when I'd be home (something I don't always do) but that wasn't it either. I'd be camping in a place I'd never been to before so I read everything I could about the wild life, weather and travel conditions. I could't alleviate this sense of foreboding and I almost cancelled the trip but it all seemed to me to be like quitting and I just couldn't do it. If I got into trouble, I'd just better figure out how to get out of it and I drove off into the desert. 

I promised myself I'd slow down on the road. In those long stretches of desert highway with no one to be seen for miles I tend to take advantage of the freedom and drive, briskly.  As I've often noted, the same group of cars can travel long distances together on these trips.  I found myself in the company of a guy driving a silver Audi and I noticed him because he'd passed me a few times. I'd pass him getting gas then he'd catch up and pass me again as I'd kept my promise to drive sanely. 

Miles passed of desert highway and I'd long been tired of the radio and music so I tuned into the highway hum and watched the landscapes drift by.  Flashing lights in the way distance caught my eye out in this middle of nowhere. I crept up on the scene cautiously noting several Highway Patrol and an ambulance. The men were all standing off on the side of the road talking and off to the side of them was the totaled silver Audi, a very obvious multiple roll-over several yards into the desert scrub bushes. I can only guess what happened to the driver. 

I heard myself exhale. That could have been me. As relieved as I was, I had also wondered if it wasn't just one more sign that I needed to stop this trip. I continued.  I finally made it into Furnace Creek with a sigh of relief. I headed into the gas station to fill up and then go find my campsite.  I left my door ajar slightly and washed my windshield and used the restroom. The tank was full and I secured my gas cap and as I started to get in I noticed the inside of my SUV was swarming with bees. 

I never even saw them as I initiated my fueling. I don't know where they came from but I couldn't even  get in my car let alone drive it.  I just stood there perplexed, staring at my car. Ironically, I was right in the middle of the book  "The Secret Life Of Bees"  and a book I had with me since I always read a bit at night before I sleep.  So I opened all the doors and said, "I love you all but get, I'm not going home"   It took over 30 minutes to get the last one out. 

Campsite secured, I couldn't wait to finally just get into the landscape and I headed for 20 mule team canyon and just melted. Beautiful canyon of color and shapes.  Every imaginable hue in striations and textures. Late afternoon light bouncing off the canyon walls and delightful sound of silence.  Peace. 

I got up the next morning to catch the sunrise at Mesquite Dunes area. The suns first rays of warm light delicately lit the tops of each dune like perfectly singed tops of a meringue. Delicately perfect in every way and wave. Sand ripples and crisp dune ridges, flowing artistic interpretations on an endless canvas.  I wandered and studied and loved every moment in the dunes. Cool morning air and for the most part the place to myself. I sat atop one of the highest dunes I could find to just survey  the moment and grasp where I was. I realized that all previous apprehensions and mental nick-picking had ceased. I'd not even given the outside world a thought since I'd been out in the dunes.  That world fell away.  As I sat there, I realized how effortlessly it was to simply turn that static off and vowed to do so more.  Living in the moment meant life was being savored instead of cautiously anticipated. 

Death Valley was beyond my expectations. Unimaginably expansive and vast yet striking in its beauty and diversity. I stayed 2 days longer than I had planned and headed home, dirty, exhausted and completely  fulfilled.  I'd like to return after a storm to catch water in the salt basins.  I explored every inch I could from sun up to sun down given the time constraints. 

My last night in camp I settled in and lay in the back of my SUV with my lamp fashioned from an inverted headlamp and gallon of water to read "The Secret Life Of Bees".  A story about a young woman trying to find her way in the world in the absence of her mother.  

I fell asleep and had a dream about my mother. Ironically, every night that I had been in camp I'd dreamt about my mom only to wake and not remember our conversations.  This night, this dream she had wanted me to come into my room and show me that she had left something for me on my bed.  

She had brought me a gift, as she had always done, when the world seemed overwhelming.  Hundreds of miles away from home, to sit on a sand dune in the middle of the desert in the glow of an amazing sunrise and learn to let it all go.

“In the photograph by my bed my mother is perpetually smiling on me. I guess I have forgiven us both, although sometimes in the night my dreams will take me back to the sadness, and I have to wake up and forgive us again.”
 ― Sue Monk Kidd, The Secret Life of Bees