Back to Anza Borrego to introduce others to barefoot wandering and writing
Two weekends in a row, camping at Anza Borrego Desert State Park—what a privilege—and this time with a group of intrepid hikers and writers who trekked barefoot with me up Palm Canyon, and with me enjoyed all the stream crossings where we did not have to worry about getting our shoes wet (unlike the many other booted hikers out last Saturday). It was a stellar late spring day in the desert, warm enough but still with a hint of the recent winter storm . . . a few rock puddles reminded us of the rainfall we missed by 24 hours.
Then, in the half-light of Sunday morning, we threaded our way up the sketchy Panoramic Overlook Trail, arriving at the top just in time to settle in and experience a Font’s Point sunrise. Plenty of desert morning silence, and then Katherine’s soprano solo filled the air and our souls with an old melody: “Children of the Heavenly Father.” I was transported to tear-land, a place I haven’t visited lately, but it was worth it. What a voice, setting, song, memory . . .
On top of the desert world as we were, it was fun to try out a “new” writing exercise using the idea of “opposites.” It worked, sort of, but had a major flaw: for a writing prompt meant to help us experience and appreciate the moment, it worked in the opposite fashion as well, introducing all sorts of non-desert thoughts into our shining morning. Duly noted, and next time I’ll adjust it.
This is what we did, so you can avoid making the same mistake: we all thought of word pairs that had opposite meanings: near/far, movement/stillness, light/shadow, etc. For some reason, I had Sesame Street on my mind, and I thought we should try the near/far pair first. So . . . we each made lists of near and far things that we could experience through our senses; then we made lists of near/far thoughts and feelings. Unfortunately, as we discovered and later discussed, our “far” thoughts and feelings were all the reasons we had escaped to the desert: worry, stress, deadlines . . . my “clever” writing exercise to help us notice and appreciate the desert had done just the opposite. Sigh.
But these resourceful writers made lemonade out of my lemony idea, and two of them agreed to share their jottings. My work follows. What I found interesting was that, when I went to actually write a poem/paragraph after composing the lists, I was able to ignore the thoughts/feelings and just went with what I saw, heard, and felt. Selective obtuseness at its best . . .
Scattered Thoughts—Near and Far
The shadows disappear into the rocky crags beyond
the rocks that glow with the rising sun,
dissipating drowsiness and sleep from my mind.
Professor Gavin’s feet and the sound of pens scratching the page
brings my focus back to the compact land of Concordia.
Thoughts of home are brought near with the wind,
my blur of memories as fuzzy as the distant palm trees.
I rest on the cold rock, content—
anticipating the breakfast I have yet to eat.
The sun. The reminder we’ve kept on. It sits so far away from us, but touches the valley at my feet. It grazes my face, dry lips and dry cheeks, its hand not warm and not cold. Thousands of bushes, cacti, and desert trees stand at early attention and face their great commander, our great God that’s kept their life, and my life, marching on, as shadows slowly fade into us, as light wins again.
Everything is dry. Dry wind, dry sun, dry bark on dry dirt. Dry lips on my face that speak few words as I face the rising sun imitating my position on the other side of this plane. I sit on this rock scraped jagged by eons of wind and–at least as I’ve been told–of water. Jagged edges I sit on, and if you could describe the pain in my feet and back, it’d be dry pain, open to the sun.
The desert is like sitting in an inside out sphere. The mountain and dry dirt go on for miles until they reach the sun or escape the sun. At my feet is the jagged rock upon which I sit that turns into rocks upon rocks that cascade down the mountains and spill onto the desert floor. It’s like time has frozen these rocks and the plants that try to pick them up. They are an army of desert cavalry, standing at ease, shadows, just blurs, leaning away from the sun.
Near and Far
Panoramic Overlook Trail
Anza Borrego Desert State Park
There are glints in the rock at my feet
matched by startling sparkles of houses
in the desert below. There are shadows
of creosote stretching for ever
in the first rays of sun rising way
to the east off Font’s Point while the tiniest
of hardy and hairy silver-leafed plants
cast miniature silhouette fountains
on the sparkly cold rock that is numbing
my bum to the tune of an urgent
morning dove just over there
just over here and I catch every note
echoed by sister birds also nearby
but below us.
Everything glistens below our rock roost
except for the sunburning mountains
piled high at our backs; we all bask
in the cold wash of wind
rushing from here to forever
or at least to our far-away neighbor—
a ridge just like this, but without us.