Big Bend, Texas – December 2008Warmth of the desert. Even in the middle of December the sun smiles sweetly on the desert. Driving through the mountains that curtain the north of Big Bend, the passes offered glimpses of yellow grasses spotted with green junipers on a brown background of ancient rock. Giant mountains that towered over an ancient seabed shed their softer sedimentary layers down to the harder gray rock that caps the tops today. Over time erosion sculpts the monoliths into mesas and buttes with smooth folds and skirts along their edges.
As we drove south the yellow grasses and mountain sides peppered with green dots of junipers give way to alternating layers of yellow, gray, brown and rust rock and sediments. Bare patches on the flat basin reveal black deposits that were once the tops of those ancient mountains. The road pavement lay upon pieces of rock that the mountains shed over thousands of years. A road through time. I was overheating in my sweatpants and long-sleeved shirt. Decades of living in the cold north have ingrained in me a habit of wearing layers of warm clothing in winter months. Funny how exposure to an environment can imprint a subconscious behavior even in the presence of opposing elements. Here in the desert temperatures nearing those of my summers quickly drove me out of my usual winter attire and into less clothing.
Now as the sun disappeared over the ridge in the west hues of pink, lavender and rose mingled with the blue-black clouds. A glowing fire sandwiched in two clouds on the western horizon was the farewell signature of the sun. Motivated to try and capture the show, I pulled out the camera and imprinted a half-dozen fleeting moments into digital records on a memory card. Much later, treading carefully over the rocks to my tent with the aid of a headlamp lighting the ground before me like a third eye, I glanced up to see millions of shiny twinkling dots in the black sky.
Over the last ten years living in or near cities, this once-familiar sight now elicits a sense of awe and a reminder of our place in relationship to the vast universe we orbit in. Like little specks of dust on a turning tennis ball, we are usually too absorbed in our own daily smallness to be aware of the larger picture. Here we are reminded how small we really are yet connected to something larger than we will ever really know. Here in the desert night sky, I was a speck on a big rotating ball on its infinite cycle of circling the giant fireball we call the ‘sun’. I zipped my down sleeping bag only half-way for the night; it was too warm. But it was closed all the way hours later in the darkness as a cold wind shook the tent. A northwestern front blew in clouds and temperatures dropped 20 degrees as daylight spread over the Chisos Mountains to the east. Reluctantly I pulled on warm layers after crawling out of the down bag, adding a few more while drinking warm coffee to ward off the chill of the northern wind. Temperatures reached a low and stabilized before climbing as blue skies chased the cloud cover south and into Mexico. Sitting in the desert with a full coffee cup in my hands, I felt as though I was Home. With Reality lurking on the edges, I wanted to soak all of this in and not let go. And for an instant, I was transported back through decades and thousands of miles to doing the same for many years under a canopy of trees in the woods of Maine. And then to a hilltop overlooking a valley watching the fog roll across the mountain tops from the Pacific Coast. I know the feeling of being Home. And this time it is here.
Labels: Big Bend, Texas