The following and all of the other episodes to come are snapshots of what goes on in my head, now and in the past. There are times none of this will make sense. There will be times when I might get lucky and the blog I post will be well constructed and will flow like a mountain stream to an awaiting lake below. Other times it will seem like the ramblings of a madman and you’ll ask yourself, “What the……?”
You should probably get used to the latter.
EPISODE ONE HUNDRED THIRTY FOUR: Desert Life…
Most of my life, I’d say 99.8% of it, I have lived in the fertile valley of middle Tennessee. There are lots of trees, grass, and rivers and lakes. It’s been a farming area for a few hundred years. Even if you go into the major cities of the state (Nashville, Knoxville, Memphis), all you have to do is drive just a few short miles from their ever-changing landscape, landscapes that are rising higher and higher, and be in the country.
I have spent my time walking around downtown Murfreesboro (the town I grew up) or Nashville and not feared the concrete, the glass, or the people. Well, usually.
Other than that, the few times I have been out of my living space, my comfort zone, has been on trips or vacations. Once to Indiana, a few times to Kentucky, and a short jaunt into North Carolina to go to the Biltmore in Asheville. And what differs from those place from my home isn’t much. It’s mostly the same thing in the way of landscape, natural and man-made. Sorry, guys.
And I have been to Florida a few times. It is differently different from what I’m used to the further South you go or the closer to the Gulf of Mexico you go. The trees turn from maple and elm and cedar to sand pine and Oak and Palm. And, of course, the ocean is much different. What struck me the most when I saw the Gulf for the first time was the vastness of it. It still gets me. It’s a nature-culture shock from someone that always has trees, telephone pole, or houses and buildings in the way. The vastness is so large that when I stand at the moment the water touches my feet, I almost have a fear that something will pull me out there. Not from the water but some invisible force that will grab me with invisible hands and just draw me into the emptiness. It doesn’t stop me from loving it, though. I might even let it take me if it ever tries it.
Not long ago, my wife and I spent a week on a cruise ship where we visited islands in the Caribbean. Plus days of that vastness of nothing except water in all directions for as far as you could see. It was beautiful and at moments, overwhelming. For someone who had never been that far from home, it was life-altering. I still dream about it. And I hope one day she and I will get to do it again.
But in the early nineties, I saved some money and borrowed the rest and went out west to visit some friends. I flew to Salt Lake City, Utah and spent a couple of days with my friend Laura. And it was awesome. Then I drove south to Provo to meet up with another friend of mine, the brother of an ex-girlfriend. Matt and his wife allowed me to stay a couple of days on the couch.
We also decided to take a road trip, just he and I, further south…into the desert.
We took the highway down to Moab. Matt and I parked at Arches National Park ( where the above picture was taken) and from there we drove down to Monticello. We turned left and after a long drive, we found ourselves into Cortez, Colorado. A little further and we ended up in Four Corners. I stood there in the spot where all four states come together. I looked around and saw the mesas and the desert scrub brush.
We let just as the sun started to sink behind those mesas. We stopped in front of the Arizona state limits sign. There a picture of me was taken as I hung from the bottom of it. Before we left, another car was coming toward us. We hadn’t seen another vehicle in the past hour. They parked in front of our car by about twenty feet. Out of it came a family of four. We smiled as we passed them, they were on their way to do what we had just done. I’m not sure if any of them hung from the sign but as I pasted their car, I was curious and looked at the license plate. It said Williamson County…….Tennessee. I yelled back to them that I was from Rutherford County (these two counties connect). They waved and smiled, though I’m not sure they heard me.
Small world, indeed.
OK. You’re wondering what the point is. I’m getting to it.
We pulled away as the light faded in the West. We found a nice two-lane road headed North and back into Utah we went. As I drove and the time ticked by, we were on that same road, the only light that could be seen was from our headlights of my rental and the stars above. And there were a lot of stars.
The car came over a ridge and we entered a large desert valley. And in the distance, I saw the town of Blanding. The lights felt like they were right there though it was still miles and miles away.
But I saw something even more amazing. It was so amazing, I had to pull over onto the soft shoulder and get out of the car. What I saw was something I had never seen before. To the west, it was clear. Stars twinkled and were plentiful. To the east, my right side, a thunderstorm was coming in. Lightning danced inside the clouds, illuminating the sky. The light show didn’t stop.
I had stepped into the scrub a few feet from the car, taking it all in. The thought of a rattlesnake didn’t even enter my mind until much later. Even though I stood there only about ten minutes, it felt like forever. Even to this day, I take that memory with me.
We finally left that spot and headed down the road, toward Provo.
So…why did I tell you all of that?
I didn’t spend much time in the desert. I most drove through it and only walked among the scrub brush and cactus for a couple of hours total.
But I was transformed. Those moments of driving and walking in it have come to me in my thoughts and dreams over and over. I imagine living there, hearing the coyotes in the distance and seeing that night sky with the uncountable stars with the path of the milky way crossing it. I think about the dry heat during the day and the cold nights when a fire is needed.
And what I believe after thinking about it so much is that I was pulled there. I felt at home there even though I had never been there before.
Is that possible?
Can someone be drawn to something without any prior experience with it before?
I think it is possible. There are people drawn to the sea in the same manner, people that never grew up with it in their lives. Maybe it’s built into us from our ancestors. Maybe there is a key component in our DNA that was in use with our forebearers that is so dominant, even with future generations find themselves in a different life and living, that when we are in close proximity of our past, it kicks in. Maybe it sparks something deep inside us and lets us know that whatever it is, it feels right.
I felt that in the desert.
I wish I had been by myself. I would have taken more time. I would have watched that thunderstorm and watched where it had gone. I would have laid down on the hood of the car and watched and dreamed.
It’s been about twenty-five years since that day happened. Twenty-five years of dreaming about those moments. Twenty-five years of wondering if I was near where some past relative might have put down roots and loved it so much, it got passed down to me.
Those desert dreams will be with me for the rest of my life.
And, hopefully, I can add to it, with more walks in the scrub brush and the cactus.
And maybe another late night thunderstorm with stars as a combo.
December 28th, 2018
I’ve decided to keep a blog about how I’m dealing with depression. I’m going to consider this a form of therapy. It might not help anybody else but it might help me.