In the point of rest at the center of our being we encounter a world where all things are at rest in the same way.Dag Hammarskhold
My last post was published from the Painted Desert, where I sat at a wooden table with my lap top. I had gone into town the preceding day to recharge the battery in the library after a cold night had completely drained it. The internet signal came from my phone, which sat next to me on the table. It all seemed very strange, the silence of the cliffs that surrounded me, the rustic cabin in the desert, and this juxtaposition of technology.
It’s a situation that’s never quite comfortable for me, as if the laptop and phone are detracting from what brings me to the desert year after year. For most of my adult life, the only equipment I carried that could be remotely considered “technology” was my brother’s old Boy Scout compass. Should I ever have gotten lost or found myself in danger, there was simply no way to call for help. Cell phones did not exist, and even after they did, there was no point in carrying one on the trail, for it would never have found a signal in the remote areas where I have always loved to hike.
But camping in the desert for me isn’t exactly like my backpacking trips. We sleep on cots instead of on the ground. We cook over a small wood stove. We have a cooler for our perishable food, which gives us the luxury of salads and fresh fruit. We even sip wine with dinner and play cards with friends in the evening. A cell phone tower rises nearby, providing a dependable signal for phone calls and internet.
I go there twice a year to visit my friend Jan, whose family bought property and built a rustic cabin in the 1980’s. By rustic I mean no running water, no electricity, and a hole in the ground for a toilet. I’ve been going there in the spring and fall most years of the last fourteen, though Jan extended the invitation long before that first visit.
I grew up in western Washington and had always equated beauty with tall evergreen trees and mountain peaks. From my bedroom window in Tacoma I looked southeast to a view of Mt. Rainier. When my family went camping we usually pitched our tent by a river or lake so that my father could fish. There was always water in abundance. I thought deserts were dry, brown, and boring.
It wasn’t until I moved to Wyoming that I came to know and love these dry places on the earth that turned out to be anything but boring. Though the state is criss-crossed by mountain ranges, in between these mountains are basins that are essentially dry, a high desert landscape. I came to love the smell of sage after a rain shower, the way the landscape would bloom with spring flowers, the stillness and austerity, a world stripped bare but not barren.
Mostly what I love about the desert is the way it has changed me. When I visit Jan at the cabin we typically awaken in the morning and prepare breakfast, then go for our daily walk before the Arizona sun has made its journey midway across the sky. When that happens there is little to be done about it but to retreat to whatever coolness can be found and pick up a good book. My rhythms become the rhythms of a parched land. I find a stillness within me that is as pure, as wondrous as sitting on a cushion in meditation. The world around me is my still point. Even the laptop and phone become part of that calm center.
So it was on that evening, when our friends had joined us for cards, that Jan picked up her own phone and read my blog out loud to the small assemblage seated around the wooden table. I had never before heard my writing spoken out load by anyone other than myself. It was a reminder of just how much I love writing about the beautiful places I have visited. It was also a reminder of how much I love seeing the faces of friends, gathered in that quiet space of soft candlelight, of stillness. . .gathered in the desert.