Armchair Peregrinations


October 13, 1998

Sometimes I really understand why the ocean is such a magnet to me. It is the lure of the horizon, coming to the end of the road, stopping, getting out of the car and making your way to the edge of the continent and looking out over 180 degrees of empty sky. Expansive, free, limitless. I never feel surrounded, crowded in, closed off when I'm looking out over the ocean.

Being in the desert provides similar sensations of spaciousness and infinite vistas. In addition to the silence of the open spaces, there is the dry, clean air, the dried-out dirt crunching under your feet as you walk a trail, the essentialness of every plant and object existing in these harsh conditions, defying the odds for being there at all.

I'll never forget the first time I encountered truly arid lands during my travels. It was in the eastern high plains of Wyoming, heading toward the Rocky Mountains. It made me apprehensive, this open landscape, so used to being surrounded by woods, developments, and settled, urban areas was I. Now, sitting here, I can only attempt to imagine what it was like and look to my past journal entries to recapture the feelings and mood of being out West.

The desert turns remote towns into oases, safe and welcoming harbors in a dry land-sea. Van Horn, Texas appeared to me almost like a mirage out of the West Texas desert, traveling toward it those dozen years ago. I wrote on Nov. 17, 1987: "Have wanted to visit this far west Texas town, seemingly in the middle of nowhere. Actually, it is surrounded by mountain ranges and is itself situated at 4,000 feet elevation. The town is essentially a motel stop on I-10 with about a dozen lodgings for grateful travelers, glad to arrive as I was. After hundreds of miles of desert driving, the arid lands begin to seep in and color your perspective. After awhile, it seems as if there isn't anything else but this land. It's dry, spartan, open to the sky in every direction. That's what's so magical about the desert. It's a harsh and foreboding environment, yet enticing. It draws you in and surrounds you with expansive freedom...(11/18)Left Van Horn at sunrise with the great West Texas desert and arid Edwards Plateau ahead on the jourey east. Mesquite and sage plains rolled on endlessly in a kind of grandiloquent monotony."

The desert seems so far away now, and only a series of memories. To get there once again would be a huge undertaking, a major trip. I guess I'll have to content myself with trying to be there in my imagination and look forward to that day when I can once again put aside every concern but that of the moment, go deep down some backroad canyon in the desert, along a perennial creek or river, and lose myself in time. The desert will do that for you.


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