A brief and open letter of admiration.
It was years ago in January when my heart was captured. I had never been west of Texas prior to meeting the Mojave. The closest thing I had experienced to a desert was the dry, scrubby brush country of the Texas/Mexico border. Mojave was the first to enchant me. She whispered my name as we crossed the mountain pass and entered her expanse and I found myself instantly entangled in her grasp. Her rugged beauty was unmatched. I wanted to explore it all. I wanted to feel every grain of sand and pick up every rock. The mountains stood tall and majestic and welcomed me with their shadows. Our visit was too brief and when we left, I left the first piece of my heart behind in the dust. Since my first encounter, I have gone back west to visit the various deserts multiple times. I have experienced them, from north to south, in all their shapes and forms. When the turn of the year comes around, I begin to feel the call once more to run into the vast wilderness, as I am tethered to it, until it becomes a shout I can no longer ignore and I finally give in to her embrace.
The desert is otherworldly. Her sky is boundless and the land seems to stretch infinitely to the horizon in an attempt to accommodate it. The jagged peaks of the mountains and rock formations cast mighty Martian shadows as the sun begins to recline, instantly transporting you to some unspecified place nestled in a distant solar system, somewhere at the end of the universe. I’ve attempted unsuccessfully to chase the sunset into her depths as the pastel clouds close in, leaving me feeling diminutive. I’ve set off alone and on foot towards the beckoning void, settling into every silent step on my soft path under a weight of innumerable stars while coyotes sing and dance around me and my flashlight remains off and in my pocket. The desert night brings me closer than I’ve ever been to the galaxies and constellations above and I’ve spent a few nights laid flat on my back in the dying warmth staring into space as it draws me up and in.
Her sands hold the elixir of life to me. I’ve fallen to my knees and buried my hands in it, savoring every texture and temperature change, from warm at the surface to gradually cooler underneath. A feeling of rejuvenation and bliss always comes to me as my fingers run through each granule. I love to dance in it and I don’t mind the way it seasons my hair and clings to me. I have experienced the harsh winds blowing it into my face and against my skin, like tiny, sharp prickles, despite the scarf wrapped around my head, taking up residence in my nose and ears for days. I would live that moment a hundred times over though to once more see the solid landscape transform into a liquid as streams of sand turned into waves and crashed over dunes, leaving me standing motionless in the center of it all.
The sun is something that cannot be ignored. Sometimes it is inescapable. The rays are bright and when shade is impossible to find, pressing on becomes a test of not only physical strength, but mental as well. It can drive a person to mild insanity and you’ll find yourself desperately envying bugs who are able to dig into the crust and hide from the blinding light. In the warmer months, the days are hot. I’ve cooked a pot of dinner on the hood of my van by leaving it out all day. I’ve lounged all afternoon under a makeshift canopy in triple digit heat as there is nothing to do but remain still and wait for the evening like the creatures do. Cold water becomes liquid gold and is preciously shared and carefully sipped. The ground becomes a fresh lava field and the heatwaves bring shimmering mirages. I always come out of the furnace feeling refined and somehow craving the experience all over again.
I find myself filled with Sehnsucht at the thought of the desert. It is often consuming. Her arms hold comfort for me. I escape to her to be reborn on her lonely roads. They go nowhere, yet lead exactly where I need to be. The sunrises bring serenity; the sunsets bring bittersweetness. She holds a box filled with many visceral feelings I have no words to describe. She is the intersection between reality and things beyond my grasp. Maybe some would find it silly that I feel this way about a place, but it is something that sits firmly within my core and it is an important part of me. Every time I leave, I find myself whispering to her that I will be back. And I will be back, time and time again.