Photo Credit Jay Kolsch
You are uninviting, treacherous and hostile but also hauntingly beautiful, mesmerizing, inescapable. I am possessed by enigma. Unable to resist long trips to see you. Deep inside your canyons I find myself in a lovesick spell, drawn towards each twist, turn, pour off and log jam with no concern for the danger that inevitably I will face. Your direct sun bakes the sand directly into the cracks of my dry skin as you envelop me. Exposed in your interminable horizon I am free. Squeezed between your narrow passages I want to know every inch of you. And yet I know I will never do more than scratch my feet across the surface of your cryptobiotic crust.
You warn me not to visit during summer—you wrongly assume the biting flies and monsoons will keep me away; along with the bitter cold winter storms and impassable wet dirt roads. I can’t quit you.
Running towards you and into myself on a long, narrow, winding route with no markers, I have fallen in love with a place. You etch yourself like rock art onto my soul, like the canyons your thorny brush has carved into my skin.
But the wilderness, the desert, doesn’t love you back.
When I wrote that line, or something like it in my first book, I meant it. And I actually started to believe it. Sitting alone near the Paria river I contemplate why I chose to invest my love, my precious time, on something incapable of loving me back in return. Unrequited. And yet, I always return with the same anticipation, reuniting with a lover I’ve longed for.
Because if you truly love something you go. You spend time with it. You listen to it. You learn from it. You share secrets with it. You look deep inside of it. You immerse yourself in it. You care for it. You expect nothing from it.
And above all, you protect it.
When I get past the noise in my own head, the discomfort bestowed upon me by being near you, I see clearly you love me in your own language. A tinaja filled with water when I need it most. Romantic barrel cactus blooms at my feet. Silky sandy beaches beneath golden sunlight and next to waves of….more golden sandy beaches. Shady coves and slot canyons to incite my imagination. Ribbons of mud in canyon bottoms to gleefully slide across. Sitting alone in silence with you I have companionship with full autonomy. Solitude.
Today, in the desert, sprinting across your sand dunes, finding solace in your deep dark recesses and feeling the warm zephyr winds across my face, I whispered “I love you,” between the narrow canyon walls. The words themselves utterly meaningless, but the way it felt, hand pressed against the striped rocks and warm sun flashing into my eyes, was everything. Alone with you, I relearn the meaning of love.