In the darkness of night, we had lain on the blanket, covering the desert sand that had begun to cool. The coyotes had been barking and howling at the crescent moon but then it stopped, the wind followed soon after, no longer brushing the dry leaves of desert plant life. Aryn fell asleep and then I was alone, staring at the scattered patches of tall grass and cactus. It was silent. My heart began to race and soon I could hear it, blood coursing in my ears set to the rhythm of my ever-increasing heart rate. My body and mind had never before experienced true silence. I was caught between panic and relaxation of a world without sound; the rhythm of the desert at night.
Before this day, I hadn't experienced the desert. I wasn't even sure that I'd like it, knowing that the wilderness of trees, brooks, hills and mountains was my preferred natural environment but I wanted to see it. I wanted to experience the dry heat and the hundreds of miles of sparsely inhabited land, a temporary isolation knowing that my stay wouldn't be long. It was like holding a firecracker and letting it go before it could explode in your hand.
Joshua Tree, California was an unexpected stay during the last week of our trip through the West Coast. We had wanted to see the desert but had figured we'd pass right through on our way to Las Vegas. I felt that I wanted to see more of it so we booked a room at a desert bungalow on the outer border of the Joshua Tree National Park.
That first day, we sat on the porch with the owner of the bungalow as well as another guest. We stared out into the desert. After some talk, we dipped into silence. A large-eared rabbit hopped throughout the front of the property. Mourning doves sitting on a power line cooed overhead and the wind blew intermittently as I inhaled and exhaled my breath. It was a peace I hardly knew. Meanwhile the outside world seemed to be falling apart with bombings, absurd statements from presidential candidates, shootings of American civilians and more. I felt then that I had no desire to return to the world from which I had come.
We stayed for two nights and although it was so very hot, I hardly remember what it felt like. Years ago, when I had gotten my first tattoo, I had wanted to get a piece that meant something to me. It was of a gecko. I later learned that it was a symbol of the desert, synonymous in some Native cultures with freedom. That's exactly how the environment of Joshua Tree and its surrounding region felt -- free.
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