The first thing that hits you when you are in the wilderness is the invading silence. It’s oppressive. It seeps into you and invades your core and fills it like spring water welling through a crack in the ground.The silence is everywhere. It lifts you up and carries you throughout the day and night.
The only thing you have to break the crystalline silence is your own thoughts. And sometimes they are not strong enough to overwhelm the emptiness of the desert and the world you have found yourself thrust in.
We are so used to our mechanistic world and our senses assaulted everyday by electronic demands. It is ordinary. We tune out this cacophony until the bleeps and whistles and buzzers that impinge upon our lives must become louder and more insistent with each passing decade. As we lose touch with nature we lose touch with ourselves and all our past and what remains of our future.
Thus the restorative act of camping. This resurrection of our innate humanness, our lost ability to meld ourselves with the natural world becomes found again when we go camping. And it’s not just camping. Watch someone as they sit next to a water fountain in a mall or at a park and they let the sound of water fill their minds. They don’t force that to happen. It happens naturally. It’s who we are. It’s what we lose when we give up so much of ourselves to the grinding demands of modernity.
I had already been in Caprock Canyon for a day or two when I walked out from the campsite about half a mile, found a spot on the canyon rim, and sat down to watch the sun sink below the rim of the earth. I watched darkness rise up from the canyon floor and pale fire light the bottoms of the clouds like reefs of blood. Wind in my ears. Rustle of mesquite. The soft sift of sand being carried along the desert floor by a dying wind. Birdsong dies out and the song of the stars begin their distant and mysterious electric fires overhead.
As the sun set and the night darkened I turned around and rising in the west was a full moon. The cold fire light illuminated the tops of trees, their naked limbs, the smokey shape of deer moving through the dense brush, and my pale arm draped across one bare knee. I was in the presence of something, some moment of poetic power and beauty, and it felt fundamental and atavistic. It both recharged something inside me and reawakened something. Formed new connections, I guess you could say.
Once this was over I went back to my tent and stood under the stars that bridged the full moon with the horizon. I drank some water, sat down in a chair, and let the world close down around me while I strummed arpeggios on my guitar.
As the full moon rose the coyotes gave voice with that terrible cry of loneliness only man hears. Night was full. Moon high. Desert awakened again with a new rhythm. The guitar lay quiet in my hands. I was tired and I was worn out. And I was happy.