Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Desert Day Dreams

Most times when I close my eyes I see things... Moving pictures of people and places, some real, and some imagined... And sometimes my eyes will be seeing one thing, but my mind is seeing something else entirely. There are some places that call out to the creative mind, like the sirens did to Odysseus and his crew, and your drawn by this irresistible force that lifts the soul and compels the imagination... One such place for me is the American southwest.

Before I ever visited the southwest I had this idea in my head that it was some ugly kind of barren inhospitable wasteland. I remember when all the Higgins sisters moved to Arizona, I would ask them, “why in the hell would you want to live in the desert?” But I soon discovered that the desert has a kind of majestic beauty all its own. There is a stretch of I-10 that runs from southern California through Arizona and New Mexico into Texas that is absolutely breathtaking. Yes, much of it is desert, filled with cacti and sage brush, but the great thing about it is that it's very sparsely populated in between the major metropolitan areas. You can drive for dozens of miles on some stretches and not see a single man made structure....

It is during such stretches of road that I look out onto the desert plane, and I see a war party of Apaches galloping across the desert, brandishing rifles and spears, with arms raised in the air shouting in triumph the cry of victory... Or I see a band of outlaws racing across the plane, pushing their horses to the limit, looking nervously over their shoulders for the posse of lawmen on their trail... It is easy for me to see such things... But doing 75 down the highway hauling a 24' trailer probably isn't the best time.

But what really gives the southwest it's beauty is the mountains, hills, and rock formations that punctuate the planes. And if you look out into the desert at sunset the landscape transforms into a collage of reds and browns as if it is at this moment that the desert truly comes alive, and you can't easily turn away because you become mesmerized with its beauty... I was working outside of Phoenix during one such sunset, and I felt compelled to write down what I saw. I sat for an hour watching the world transform and describing it on paper, because I felt that others might want to know what I knew in that moment.

...And before I know its happening I see myself leaning against an old wood fence built from logs and stripped of bark. The fence is part of the corral that Ive built with my own hands, and in this corral is the horses that me and my sons use to drive the herd across the desert. I lean against this fence, and look out at the sunset and the metamorphosis that it creates on the land. My eye are squinted, not because the sun is in them, but because I live in this land and that is just the way it is. My sons are finishing up with the days work and my wife stands on the porch of our home watching me watch the sunset... And we all love each other.

Back to reality...

I spent a lot of quality time with my cousin Jesse in California, and one place we visited was the famous Venice Beach. We spent the day walking down the beach, poking in and out of shops, and laughing at the weirdos. It was generally a fun time, but what made it amazing is what happened when the sun started to go down. We just walked out of some “Museum of Oddities” where we saw a three headed turtle, the chuppacabra, and a bunch of other weird stuff, when we heard the drums. We used our ears and followed the drumming to a group of people gathered together on this small hill on the beach. What we found was a drum circle. Perhaps 3 dozen people had coalesced around a circle of maybe 10 performers who were pounding away at a variety of different kinds of drums and instruments. As we stood there, more and more people were showing up, and this mixed feeling of joy and peace and wonderment crept over me. I mean, I know it sounds corny, but it was one of the most magical experiences of my life. People were playing and dancing and kissing and holding each other, and smoking pot and drinking and it was as if none of them had a care in the world. When I looked around I realized that the music was just bringing all these people together, because the cast of characters on that hill were from both ends of the spectrum. Locals, tourists, homeless, wealthy, black, white, native, Asian, men and women of all shapes and sizes were just having fun together, and most of them were complete strangers. And in the background was the pacific ocean looking beautiful under the setting sun which cast this golden light over the entire party...

...And when I looked across the circle I saw a man with a beat up six string. He sat cross legged in the sand strumming an old Johnny Cash tune that I couldn't place, with a Marlboro hanging from his lips. He had a thick beard, and on his head was an old mesh trucker hat that read “I yam what I yam”... And as he played he stared into a small fire that was built in the center of the circle. The light reflected off his eyes, and in them, between wafts of cigarette smoke, I could see a man who was searching for something. I could see a man who longed for something. What he was looking for I could only guess, and as I stood there and wondered, I realized that the song he was playing was “Highwayman”, and when it was over he flicked his Marlboro into the fire... When the smoke cleared, and the fire shone on is face, I discovered that the man I was watching, was me....


  1. Like always bro that was great. You have a serious gift man. Keep it up

  2. People have the same reaction when I tell them the dessert is my favorite environment to visit. They think, much as I used to, that there's nothing to it. It's just this dry, baron land without much going on. But, as yearly trips to Lake Powell in my teens taught me, that couldn't be further from the truth. There's something magical about the opportunity we have to look into a canyon or dry lake bed and piece together the natural forces that worked on it for millions of years to make it what it is today. It's a snapshot into history in progress that isn't available in many other places.

    Great piece, Mike. You have a true gift.