A Desert Evening

Author | Colin Slade

In this desert musing, Colin Slade ventures into the sublime and takes a deep dive into the worldly (and, perhaps, even otherworldly) experience of a night in the wilderness.

It’s quiet out in Geyser Pass.

As far as I can tell, I’m the only human for miles. I lean back into my camp chair, watching the last evening redness play out westward over Canyonlands and the more distant Henry’s. A pleasant tiredness sits behind my eyes after a full day spent exploring the northern La Sals and my fire-browned brats have settled nicely in the belly, washed down with a strong beer.

A rare eastern wind whistles past my ear, carrying the howls from a pack of coyotes, perhaps a quarter-mile away. Occasionally an elk bugle trumpets over them, adding layers to this wildland symphony. At my feet, the dying fire hums contributing as the baseline to the song.

Soon, the sunset fades to dark. The stars begin to slip back two’s and three’s at a time from their black seams, outshined by the waxing moon. I poke at the glowing coals, flameless now,  like a forge pulsing the hot viscera of some gutted fire beast splayed upon the sand before me. Each touch sends a banner of sparks skyward, seeking some lost kinship with the arrays of greater luminance above.

My eyes are drawn back down to the deepening coals.

I feel a touch of melancholy as I gaze into that blood beat, remembrances of friends I’ve made and who’ve moved away, ones I’ve moved away from, nights spent on winter lakes or desert mesas, seasons lived entirely outside that turned into years of time among forest and stream, mountain and red-rock, living within the aching song of loons and wolves and changing, both the seasons and myself, gently but nonetheless perceptibly. Other memories of melancholy surface that the wind strips away and carries forth as fading ghosts that briefly linger within others. Infatuated with adventure and their own whims.

I lay down by the paling coals, grateful for their final warmth. I’m high above the desert plateau and the temperature will drop into the teens tonight, but I’ll sleep well in my father’s down bag. It was old already when he received it over 35 years ago and is a gift I treasure each night while hunkered down - though now perhaps insulated by sentiment more so than feathers. Occasionally I’ll wonder of the obscure areas it’s been before I was born- the nights I’ll never know of when my father fell asleep looking upon the same stars that I do now.

Another elk bugle sounds. The haunting chords drift across the moonlight sparking elation in my throat and chills down my back. The fire beside me is a comfort, a connection to all fires in my memory, and to all fires of all memories and the beating bloodline of humans back to the very first.

It’s a long night, almost endless, cold and full of fitful dreams. Rustling in the trees closeby, shapes shifting and conversing indistinctly before passing on into the moon-shadowed forest.

I lay awake and staring upward. As the moon slips out of sight, the stars, as if overjoyed at its leaving, burn with greater vigor. They burn a frigid blue throughout the earliest morning. Snuggled within my sleeping bag I lay oriented such that Orion the Hunter stands a central figure above me during these brightest hours with belt and headdress and gleaming bow held at full draw, an implacable figure among a wash of falling stars, austere and resplendent in his garb of distant suns.

I lay there in muted awe, cold but unmoving, unable to look away from infinity. I had a sense of something out there, a frequency just beyond hearing, slipping away like breath reflected on snow. It wasn’t the breath of wind through leafless aspen, nor the skitter of lizard in the underbrush.  I lay there forever, alone and unmoving, listening into the silence of the world. 

Published May 29th, 2020

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