What is the makeup of your most cherished memories?
Are they composed of snapshots; maybe a series of stills and flashes? Are they like a detailed movie scene you can play over and over? What about the memories of whole experiences where you can recall the sounds in the background, smells in the air and even feel the butterflies you felt in your stomach? Doozies.
A recent stop (on our trip of never ending stops) had me thinking about a unique kind of memory. One that I want to hold onto forever but fear will slip away. That is the memory of a feeling. Specifically in this case, the feeling of being free in the desert.
I could pair it with images, perhaps of the sun setting and the remarkable colorings in the evening desert sky. I could pair it with the experience of running with our dog, just going and going, running towards nothing, but knowing he was content. These are important in their own way but the standout memory of our time in Joshua Tree, California was the unmistakable first time feeling of freedom.
We stayed for a week, first on the north side of Joshua Tree National Park and then later, on BLM land to the south. The first few days were typical in the great way that most days are on our tour around the country. We woke up early, beat the national park crowds, and explored a world that was unique to us.
For mountain kids, the desert is foreign ground. A beautiful fact about this park is that you get to explore two deserts at once, the Mojave and the Colorado. We completed several short distance hikes and ended up taking our sweet time as we stopped for all the new and intriguing flora along the trails.
A fact and perhaps insight about me, is that I’ve always chosen cacti as my go to house plant; mostly because of their resistance to my forgetfulness. I’m used to seeing them as a centerpiece of my dinner table or on my desk with a hot glue gunned pasted flower on top which I bought from home-depot in belief that it was a real flower. Mind you this was in my life prior to my tiny trailer home/office and so obviously finding them in their natural home was an expansion of my earth view.
From the Joshua Tree’s, which aren’t trees at all, to the Cholla and Ocotillo cacti still in bloom, we were surrounded by a newness that elicited a childlike fascination. We were discovering! And I, of course, was simultaneously reminiscing about my cute turquoise clay cactus pot.
These desert landscapes includes not only the varietal agave and cactus plants but also an enigmatic display of rocks and granite boulders. The configuration/orientation of all the “hard stuff” appears to have once been thrown into the air to randomly fall where they may. I could get all geotechey from my civil engineering days but I’ll spare you. Whatever the cause the boulders are a climber’s haven, which we noticed over and over and felt a longing to be more than we are.
After a few days in the park we took the show to BLM land for some boondocking and to spend some quality time rather than money in the desert. BLM land is owned by all those who call the US home, a truth we had forgotten. We drove up, picked an ideal spot and stayed for 3 nights free simply because in a true and legal sense, we own it.
We were free from payment, nearby neighbors and wondering if the bathrooms would be clean or had hot water. For 3 days, we lived in a primal-esque solitude, taking showers outside from the water we could heat in a tea kettle. We took long walks with no end in sight. We had space. We set up a spot to work out that included our yoga mats, resistance bands and a few heavy rocks. We had a spot to read and sunbathe (yes even in the fall it’s that nice.) We took our time; in silence, as well as in the telling of stories we had not yet shared.
I got to watch Matthew, my love, become singular as he searched for new photographic perspectives, waiting patiently over the changing light in the sky. For 3 days in the desert we made a home and created a world that I might have only imagined except that it was real.
For 3 days, our time was measured by the light in the sky. Our vision stretched into the night, first by our solemn campfires and finally by the brazen stars in the sky, staking their rightful place in our view. I would certainly roll my eyes if I had only heard of this type of existence, but it was real and that is important.
It is this feeling, this memory that I want to hold and recall forever. I know it is rare. I know its value and I want to feel it always. Its synonymous with a life changing trip. You have this feeling that you learned a lesson, that you changed and now see things in a new light, but as time passes, little by little the feeling leaves you. Its like sand in an hour glass.
I don’t want to forget. Like a scene I can play over and over, I want to be reminded that I have a basal need for space and simplicity. I want to remember that it is not terribly hard to achieve if you commit to some time away.
As we age and become separated from the actual event of a memory, we all have our own unique way of bringing it back to life. We can sit still, be quiet, close our eyes and imagine what once was. I don’t have an image. I have a feeling that is loosely held in the neurons of my brain. As I write, I hope somehow I can possess the feeling once again or at least read this and remember how to find it.