Sunday, January 26, 2014

I went to the desert.

I went to the desert because it had been too long since I'd slept in the cold air, under the stars. I went because I had nowhere else to go. I went because for the first time in a long while, I was alone.

Jesse left for Peru the day before, to be gone for six weeks. I don't mind these long absences, I tell myself. They sweeten the time we spend together, and give me the space I crave – the space to sit in my pajamas long into a Sunday morning, writing and puttering, or to walk outdoors at my own pace, learning the stories of the land.

And so I sit on a sun-warmed slab of sandstone on the far western edge of Colorado, where Utah's red rock canyons have seeped across the border. North, the Grand Valley is a tabletop wound through by the Colorado River; south, the mesas and cracked canyons of this country spread out like an intricate taproot, a living network of veins and capillaries. I sit at the nexus of five canyons, at the center of a wobbly star pressed into the earth. The sun slips lower and my pack remains where I dropped it; the thought of spending 13 hours of darkness out here is unnerving, and I hold out the possibility that maybe I'll hike back to my car.

At 4:30 p.m. on this mid-winter day, the circle of sun drops behind the canyon wall, and I put on another layer of clothing. I think of the people who wander the desert alone. I think of Jesse, who hikes under the moon until midnight. I tell myself that there's nothing to be afraid of, and yet the prospect of my thoughts stretching out across 13 hours of fireless night fills me with trepidation.

Every so often a plane passes overhead, and as I watch their tails of exhaust cross my lone slice of sky, I think of Jesse in one of them looking down on the earth and my heart nearly breaks.

The last stripe of light hugging the rim of canyon disappears. The croaking raven has flown away. The winter sunset is not a real sunset at all, just a gradual deepening of light from washed out blue to indigo to purple to black. In the darkness I read and wait for the moon to rise. The canyons are frosted and still. It's probably about 20 degrees.


In the morning, the sun turns the red rock wall behind me a burnished orange, then creeps down slowly, lighting the juniper branches and dead grasses until it's warmth finally reaches my camp. The glint of it off my cooking pot is a beautiful thing, and I am inexpressibly happy to be alive and in this place.

Last night, the moon lit up the entire canyon, and a great horned owl called again and again.

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