The Deep Desert of Summer: Summer Chronicles 2020 #4

by on July 13, 2020 · 0 comments

in Under the Perfect Sun

By Jim Miller

Silence lives inside the heat.  That’s the feeling you get when you drive to the desert and park your car by the side of the road to hike in the morning.  You need to keep track of the time so you don’t hike so far that it hits 100 degrees before you return.  Even if you don’t get lost, that kind of heat for too long is what makes the desert dangerous in the summer.  So, you’re careful but you still go, out toward the hills on a warm morning.

The nice thing is that the further you get from the road, the more distant the sound of the occasional passing car or truck, although this time of year there aren’t many.  Then there is nothing but the hum of insects and your feet on the rock and sand.

Step, step, step.  One foot after the other in your own particular rhythm.

As you walk you go deep inside yourself even as you lose yourself in the vastness of blue sky and the bright sun flaring off the mountainside in the distance.  The inside is outside, and the outside is inside.  And while the wildflowers are long gone, the barrel cacti and ocotillo remain still along with the beavertail and chollas.  Those and the stark poetry of rock.

Then suddenly in the near distance, you see him, a lone coyote roaming the desert floor.  He is skinny, almost bony, you notice as he stops briefly and gives you a glance before trotting on warily in search of a meal.  There is something almost mystical about seeing him, the trickster in the middle of nowhere but at the heart of everything.

What does he have to teach you?

Musing on this, your walking continues, step after step.  Sweat streaming over your face, trickling down your back as you go.  What’s that movement in the distance?  A roadrunner darting across the path and disappearing into creosote after giving you a moment of wonder.

It’s always good to drink before you get thirsty, so you stop and gulp a good portion of your canteen’s store.  It hasn’t been that long, but your fingers are already feeling a little thick.  It’ll be fine, you say to yourself, and keep moving toward the point somewhere ahead where you will turn around.  There are big jack rabbits racing from boulder to boulder up ahead, bounding so joyfully it makes you smile.

You have 15 minutes until you need to start back, so you keep hiking, step after step, meditatively taking in the quiet in between the sound of your feet.  Around a bend in the trail you see a boulder big enough to create some shade, and you head for it, stop, drink more water, feel the sweat on your skin and your heart beating in your chest.

Breathing is happening, deep and solid.  The water is just about half gone.

On the way back, the heat rises, and it makes your head swim a little, not unpleasantly.  Your mind wanders to a childhood memory, a smell like that of the hot desert floor.  There are more rabbits running and you laugh and say, “Go!”

Just about then you start thinking about the drive back, where you might stop in the mountains to eat the lunch you’ve packed—you are no longer there on the path–when for some reason you leave your reverie and look down just as you are about to step on the head of a rattlesnake, lounging in a patch of shade by a bush on the edge of the trail.

Heart in your throat, you stop your foot an inch from the snake who never rises nor rattles.  One slow step and a jump backwards, and you are finding a long way around the danger.

If you had gotten bitten out there, alone, you could have died.

Back on the path, you are all focus—step after step.  Heart still pounding in your chest.  Never forget, you tell yourself, to remember where you are and keep yourself present in the deep desert of summer or anywhere else.

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