Monday, April 14, 2014

J: Journey

"Did we pass it?" Mom asks.

"I don't think so." I answer. "It should be coming up on the right."

We zoom past sprawling clumps of stone and sand, tall pale growths of cacti and ocotillo. Other cars on the road are a whole ten minutes apart. Everything looks the same. Everything looks different. At last we see it. A single sign --no bigger than a foot across -- and a dirt road.

How old was I the first time we came? Nine? Ten? Older than eight. Younger than eleven.

I hadn't been very excited when my dad had told me that we would be exploring the desert. To me deserts were the dry hot place we traveled through without air conditioning to reach our relatives houses. It was the bear wasteland I stared at for hours with my nose pressed against the car window, wondering if we were there yet. I hadn't expected to find so many wild flowers to pick. I hadn't expected to see so many road runners and alligator lizards. I hadn't expected to run back out of the car once we returned to it because we saw we had specks of mica on our shoes from the temporary river bed that ran through the canyon. I hadn't expected to collect clumps of the shiny rock, pretending we thought it was real gold. I hadn't expected to remember the day so vividly sixteen years later.

We almost hadn't made it today. Because the traditional pineapple upside down cake breakfast had taken a long time to make. Because we had shuffled around, arguing over seats and trying to confirm who was able to make it around their work schedules. Because our family has grown in the last sixteen years and because it has shrunk. We had left so late that we hadn't had time to stop at the sod house for a pick nick or at the top of the canyon to enjoy the view.

Only four of us step out of the car once it is parked. Me, my mom, and my two youngest brothers. I turn around. My mom snaps a picture of me.

Normally I would be annoyed. I am annoyed but today I understand why she insists on taking so many. Today I understand the temptation to stop time and keep a moment forever. My parents began this tradition to trace the footsteps of a wise man who lived and died two thousand years ago but as we head toward the cluster of palms in the center of the canyon all I can think of is retracing my own footsteps.

Those are the rocks my brother had jumped on when he was four, declaring to us all that he was Jumping Jeriah Tyler. This is the stretch of earth where we had battled each other with squirt guns. Here is the place my other brother had run unexpectedly into the teacher he had a crush on, miles and miles away from where either of us lived. Here is the riverbed where we had gathered the bits of mica. It is dried out today, the sand covered in salt, with only a few sludgy bits of muddy sand. My mom and I step around them as my brothers rush ahead.

There are no flowers to pick today. It's been too long since the last rain. Our feet press against the earth, driving into the soft, salt covered sand. The white crystals look almost like snow. Then we step up out of the riverbed, onto gravely crumbles of stone specked with minerals that sparkle in the sun. My skirt brushes against the desert shrubs, all different textures of the same colors. Pale green sage and tall gold-brown ocotillo.

At last we reach the cluster of palms. They are different than I remember them. Thinner. More spread out. Some of their trunks are charred black and chocolate brown, caressed but not consumed by a passing wild fire a handful of years ago. Wind scurries through their thick, heavy leaves, sounding like a rumble of thunder.

Here our pilgrimage ends. A two hour drive. A fifteen minute walk. Sixteen years of memories. Here the stones stand still. Here the ground scurries and shifts with life. The canyon is never the same when I return to it. I am never the same.


  1. Wow. Beautifully written! Would you believe I've never even seen a desert in person? I grew up on the east side of the U.S. and have only flown directly to cities I'm visiting when I go out west.

    1. It's definitely something worth seeing if you ever get the chance :) I've never been to the east coast. Or on a plane.