The desert keeps her secrets.
I am back, pre-dawn, scrambling up a hot jumble of granite boulders. Burning my hands, then knees, all to investigate scat, what appears to be a busted lamp someone discarded, a broken mano, a dead ground squirrel.
At 8am, it is already 98 degrees with high humidity, but I come here for the silence and solitude, like they can somehow relieve the heat. At least I will enjoy the quiet. A few minutes pass in this surreal repose until a hiker comes my way. Shit. There is still noise from the road, the distant hum of highways.
The hiker warns me that there is an old guy and some younger women having sex down below the boulders, in the parking lot. We give each other a knowing nod of what’s going on.
This sanctuary, it seems, keeps secrets. The heat drives out most people, but oh…there are the solitude seekers who come in all forms, some to praise the miserable indifference of a July morning among baked rock, and others to find a place to hide their lives from view.
Whatever the situation, I am disturbed, and angry, and ultimately sad. Why here? Why this morning of all mornings? The hiker assured me that he phoned the police and took photos of the guy’s license plate. None of this will change much, but I appreciate his concern.
“Men come and go, cities rise and fall, whole civilizations appear and disappear – the earth remains, slightly modified. The earth remains, and the heartbreaking beauty where there are no hearts to break….I sometimes choose to think, no doubt perversely, that man is a dream, thought an illusion, and only rock is real. Rock and sun.”
I pray his sentiment was right when he also longed for man to be an illusion and rock, and I would add all other forms of life, to be the only thing that is real.
The only thing that lasts.
The desert keeps her secrets. But after the rain it is easier to understand her – hedgehogs burst their tiny strawberry blooms. A gray fox meanders the wash where dragonflies dance above muddy tinajas.
Nothing is subtle after the rain.
I follow the delicate tracks of javelinas while fighting off mosquitoes that make a feast of this convenient, warm-blooded host. Scanning the ground, I find a bit of rabbit fur caught in cholla spines. I imagine some plump coyote, lounging somewhere nearby, smiling his sanguine smile with full belly.
Making my way to a clear patch among the cholla, I wait for the welcomed sort of morning traffic: a troop of chatty Gambel’s quail scatter from beneath an ironwood. A mockingbird sings his patchwork morning song. Behind a small clump of brittlebush, two long ears rise. I wonder if it was his friend who became coyote’s supper. Carefully, the rabbit emerges, sniffing the air.
I have a fondness for rabbits. Their fear is understandable and relatable. Our vulnerability to life is sometimes less palpable, but nonetheless just as real.
Coyote deserves our understanding, too. Feed or be someone’s food…eventually. Too often we want to align with rabbit, all of our fears protecting us from responsibility. Sometimes we want to align with coyote, never allowing gentleness to expose us to the inevitable.
The truth is that both coyote and rabbit embody life, all that life entails, all that is necessary.
The sun burns my neck and distorts my view of the world. Or maybe this is exactly how it should appear. Rabbit makes his way back to his den, belly full from the morning’s good measure of work.
As I reach the parking lot, there is no trace of the man or his Mercedes, or the young woman. The distant traffic continues to hum.