Midnight Blue Desert
There is a place I have come to know, where the sun shines hot in summertime and the winds are bitterly cold in winter. A place where dust devils silently whisper across vast plains of sagebrush and arid alkali sands. It is a place where birds of prey wing their way across intense blue skies and wary jackrabbits skip along amongst Greasewood and Juniper. This is the place on Earth that I love above all others. It is the place that my heart has always called home.
Far out across the trackless reaches of a waterless valley, a great C shaped wall of rock rises from the bleached earth to cast it's shadow across the northern frontier of the great basin. Sagebrush lizards skitter between the clumps and Scorpions hide beneath sun baked rocks. Here and there can be found the shed skins of snakes. Over all hangs the monumental presence of the giant rock. Here Glenn and I camped out with our guitars and lots of beer.
With the smell of sage floating to us from the darkness of the desert night, we sat at an old wooden table, hollering our musical aspirations at the twinkling stars. Nothing existed in our universe except us, two drunken young men alone in the desert.
Miles away across the Fort rock valley we could see the lights of the tiny village, scarcely distinguishable from the incredible profusion of starlight in the sky above. We sat near the inside extremity of the massive stone horse shoe, next to a pillar of volcanic tuff about twenty or so feet tall. Scorpions crawled freely about our feet but we paid them no heed and they returned the favor. It was one of those times that only two people who love the desert can appreciate. The time, the place, the night, the guitar, the beer.
Repeatedly we broke the stillness with Bob Dylan's soul searching, Elvis' hard rocking blues and anything else we could think of. Glenn even attempted a halting rendition of "MacArthur park." Once I paused for a second on the instrument and Glenn blew a massive beer fart out onto the wind. I followed it up with a hoarse rendition of "Blue moon of Kentucky." Somewhere in the night a bird of prey let out an answering screetch. We were happy. Lonely but happy. I still mourned my lost love but was already in the process of giving my heart to the next. Glenn was troubled by no such weighty considerations. He was happy and free in his beloved desert.
A year before I had been with a woman I loved, here in this very spot. With the desert stars shining through the windows of my van we had ardently found each other in the lonesome darkness of the American west. Later, as her sleeping head lay on my chest I watched with fascination the crystalline beauty of the galactic plane stretching across the sky.
The rock looms over the arid wastelands like some giant, magic, sentinel, the hollow core of an ancient volcano. It not only creates the mood of the land, it sets the mood of those who visit it.
On one visit I met a man who had seen his prime in the sixties. He had long hair and a leather cowboy hat. His patient wife followed dutifully behind him like she had probably done for many years. He cast drug glazed eyes upon the massive monolith as though he were in a waking dream.
"There is power in this place." he said. "It is a good spot to go on a vision quest."
I could only assume that he meant the native American ritual of seeking a spiritual vision. He hiked up into the sunset reddened rocks and I soon forgot the most forgettable encounter. About an hour later I heard a strange and mournful sound that caused me to stop what I was doing and look up into the twilight shadows of the cliff. On a high ledge the man sat cross legged while playing a soft and eerie melody on a flute. Here, surrounded by Fort Rock's austere serenity, he had found peace with himself and his world.
"I hope you find your vision." I whispered. "So many of us never do." The sound of the flute drifted in and out of range of my hearing along with the rising wind. The sunset seemed to explode in a kaleidoscopic profusion of incredible color as though it were being coaxed forth by the flute players melancholy refrain. There most certainly is power here, I thought. The power is in the human mind, our uniquely human ability to appreciate the magnificence of such a beautiful setting, as well as in the enigmatic sets of associations that we call "Symbolism." The power to let our conciousness roam to encompass a weird and wonderful universe of endless surprises and delights.
The wind was swiftly reaching cyclonic proportions in time with the musician's magic notes. Odd funnel-like clouds formed over the distant hills. "Power." I mused again. Music and wind. Dust and stone. I scooped up a handful of silky sand and let it trickle through my fingers. Each tiny quartz grain shone scintillant in the redness of the waning sun. A billion possibilities, a billion ideas, lost or yet to come, a billion dreams forgotten or still to be realized. That, I realized, is the source of true power. The human machinery of creative imagery, a massive reservoire of incredible creativity. Because we know how to dream, no possibility is beyond our grasp. I looked up at the lonely figure on the cliff with his instrument. In his special way he understood the power and used it in his own unique fashion. So obviously different in our philosophies, this flute player and I shared a common bond. Our need to find a way to come to grips with the might of reality, so coldly indifferent to human dreams and endeavours.
In the night Glenn and I climbed into my van to cruise the dirt road that led through the desert toward the village of Fort Rock. With the vehicle in first gear we crept along at about walking speed with the doors open. Each of us gripped a beer and stood on the running boards. The experience was exhilarating. About once in three or four minutes I would reach in and lightly touch my steering wheel to keep the van on the road while ahead of us jackrabbits and kangaroo mice hopped away in the headlights. Occasionally some great bird of prey would flap dismally across the road at the limit of the headlight range. The desert at night was just as enchanting as it was in daytime.
Back at the rock we shut the engine down and listened to the strange cries of wild creatures in the distant darkness. It would only be a matter of minutes before we added our own noises once again to the dark void.
The stark loneliness of the sagebrush prairie after nightfall is no place to start thinking of matters of the heart, what you have lost, what you have hoped to win. The quiet star studded vastness can become like an eerie and wistful orchestra playing melodies of lost hopes and broken dreams in the sounds of silence. It is a profound silence that can rip the soul out of a weak man and scatter it across the
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