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 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 to others we have spent in the National Parks. 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. The park has trails and hikes for all experience levels. 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. From the Joshua Tree’s (which aren’t actually trees) to the Cholla and Ocotillo cacti still in bloom, we were surrounded by a newness that elicited a childlike fascination. We were discovering!
This desert landscape includes not only the varietal agave and cactus plants but also a playground of rocks and granite boulders. The orientation of all the “hard stuff” appears as if it had been thrown into the air to fall where they now lay. It is a climber’s heaven.
After a few days in the park we took the show to BLM land for some boondocking and quality downtime. We drove up, picked an ideal spot and spread out for 3 days. Here 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 (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 my partner Matthew, 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. 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.
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. 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.