Dave’s post here caused me to reflect more self-consciously on what it is I do when I go out in the desert. Do I walk off pavement’s edge to get away from stresses or disappointments? Do I go out to have adventures? To think? Dave’s post is about seeking God in nature. Is that what I’m doing–looking for God out there, in the Great Not-Me? This passage from my novel, The Pictograph Murders, surfaced in response to introspection that Dave’s post provoked. I think it sums up well enough what I do some of the time I’m out in Nature.
The wash broadened into a fan of moist sand. The walls, too, widened to form a rounded chamber capped by an azure disc of sky. Just a few yards away lay a shallow plunge pool. Kit waded in and drank noisily. In the talus slope behind the pool, water clittered around three moss-framed, stone-keyed seeps. The wiry and crooked little streams stepped and ruffled down slope to empty into the pool.
Alex sighed. All that existed in the world were the seeps, tinkling like liquid chimes, and Alex, her sympathetic chords thrumming n response. Water in the desert €”sunlight’s perfect foil. Here were veins of it €”capillaries, really €”weaving their way singing Take, take, only enough and no more.
Out of faith that the seeps would be running, Alex had carried little water in, only one bottle mostly gone now and one empty. The seep on the far left dripped faster than the others. Each time it was different, which one seeped fastest. Choosing her steps to avoid damaging a garden of columbines, she climbed to the far seep.
She propped one bottle under the fastest dripping seep and set a second in the next. Compared to the faucet blasts of modern plumbing, these beads dropped ever so slowly. She guessed that if you depended on a place like this to sustain you, you planned your thirsts. You waited for the water to come to you; you couldn’t force it. If she wanted, she could count how many drops fell as they plunked like pearls down broken green strings of moss. All around her, echoes played of stone walls €”whispers reciting tonal charms.
Surely this was a deliberate place. Alex got the impression that it had shaped itself by some notion or choice, perhaps even by inspiration. Geologically, it could be considered a happenstance of nature. As some said, in any realm of the great kingdom of Seredipity, elements and natural forces happily and unexpectedly discovered each other in glorious cosmic accidents.
But there are no accidents, Alex thought. Things came to where they were or to where they met through choice. Choice shone as a facet of probability, and probability as a facet of €”what? Creation? And creation shone in long, illumined and illuminating rays, shafting and fanning from €”where? Some said they didn’t come from anywhere, they just were: beauty is its own excuse for being.
But as Alex gazed around the Water Temple, she thought that beauty is not its own excuse. Objects of the confluence of events that people respond to for their beauty seize upon the soul, provoking a desire that Alex thought of as a harbinger of Other. Alex was irresistibly attracted to Other, even though in her experiences, encounters with it required heaping dearly held beliefs upon a flame-licked altar. In return, the conflagration yielded generous pay-off. Eye-opening and song inspiring, Other enfolded the soul into a boundless, native economy, a multiplicity and replenishment leading to both satiety and desire simultaneously. No, she thought, there’s a good chance beauty directs the gaze to something beyond itself.
Alex had read or listened to words from others like herself who adored Nature and spoke of preserving it. Some pilgrims, stricken by visions that the earth and her skies conjure, seemed to try to make it a lover, a parent, a goddess. Alex suspected that at least a few who sought to defend Nature from the ravages of humankind in turn exploited it on other levels by forcing upon it imagery and intentions shaped wholly upon fixed self-images, sorrows, suffered, innocence lost. Then in such cases, and to varying degrees, perhaps it was themselves they were hastening to defend, salvage, or preserve.
But then €¦ maybe that was exactly right €”voices of the earth speaking loss and longing. Parts of the earth mourning over exploitation suffered, struggling to survive. Yes, Alex mused, it was possible: being of the earth, people shared its fate right down to the cellular level and all that trouble raised voice in these ways, crying out.
But as Alex crouched beside the seep, it seemed to her that the earth traded life and light across an eternity of being. If that was so, then perhaps Nature could take care of itself. Maybe beauty, the kind that shakes mortal understanding by the scruff of its neck, is inviolable. Through cataclysms of renewal, it will return and reclaim its ground.
€œMore to the point, what about me? € Alex asked. €œAm I capable of renewal like that? € She had made changes of course, but like she imagined it might be done, on a grand scale, elements a-swirl, crossing corridors in an Augenblick, taking on new names? No. Yes! €œNot just at this moment. €
She gazed around the chamber like a fledgling that sees the edge of the nest with an eye suddenly wide to the peril in its own wings. Below her, the plunge pool lay flat, its silvered surface bending back pale images of cliff and sky.
Water in the desert was both mirror and window. And the sky overhead was a blue-backed mirror by day, hemming in our consciousness and our image of the present, and an open glassless eternity at night filled with rippling and eddying times and events of light and fire €”the pyrotechnics of worlds without end. Water and sky, Alex thought €”our torment and our relief as they intimate that we are not self-sustaining, nor is the present an end unto itself or all that could ever be.