Sunday, January 09, 2011

Big Bend ~ December 29 ~ Driving and Packing

What with an entire day spent sick in bed and miserable, this trip has been a bit of a disappointment, but still, not completely so. Today I was well enough to drive from one end of the park to another, reading all the exhibit plaques along the way, stopping at all the overlooks. When I start home tomorrow, I’ll go up through part of the park and drive the leg from Panther Junction up to Persimmon Gap, picking up the only leg I’ve missed so far.

Today I felt again a sense of the spirit, the energy of this place. In a swamp, so very many things are alive and teaming that there seems to be a life-force that’s an aggregate of the multitude, that all the interconnected lives breathe an eerie spirit that stirs the murky waters and the Spanish moss. Here the many lives are thin and dry and brittle, and the essence that stirs in the wind whistling over the rock and sand is the breath of the land itself. Here, where the earth has heaved and gasped and bared its bones, its essence seems to pervade one as though it were resonating from the rock itself. One vast entity, not a myriad, a singular minimal power binding the elements together under the thinnest film of animal and vegetable.

Maybe the best part of this trip has been that for once it hasn’t been too cold to go out and enjoy the stars. Just now I packed up everything I didn’t need for the morning and didn’t mind leaving in the car over night, and I sent and loaded it in the trunk. I glanced up and was instantly captivated.

In sneakers without socks and wearing my nightshirt under my jacket and knowing I should really go up to bed to get an early start tomorrow, I found myself instead wandering away from the lights, into the darkness of a gravel sideroad. The desert grasses rustled around me with the wind, with water from hidden sprinklers misting the putting green, with Javelina, who knows? And me, sleepy and still sick, I only wished I could wander farther, leave the human lights altogether, and see only brilliance of the stars.

The stars! How could I have lived so long without picking out Cephus and Scorpio and the Pleiades and Cassiopeia, along with Orion, who moves me to tears whenever I catch a glimpse of him dimly in the city lights. And how do I not know more of them? How have I forgotten? And how long has it been since I actually saw the faint gossamer trace of the Milky Way? Why do I live so far away from where I can see them all? The only thing that’s ever made me want to go honest-to-goodness, middle-of-nowhere, no-shower-no-toilet camping is the idea of a perfect darkness on earth around me so I could see and know the millions of lights above.

My eyes have been turned down to this surface world, and that isn’t a bad thing, but I was touched, moved, almost broken by longing in those brief minutes I spent looking at the stars. I remember I used to do it all the time, when I lived out in the country. I forgot, fortunately, how much I miss it. Tomorrow, back to civilization. Tonight, soon, to bed. But the moment of this trip will be the starlight of tonight.

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