Our friend JD is one of the most thoughtful gift-givers we know. When he gave Crystal The Principles of Uncertainty by Maira Kalman, he said that she would understand him better after she read it, as if Kalman's consciousness was an extension of his own.
Crystal sat by the fire in front of our humble abode in the desert reading this book, occasionally chuckling, sometimes reading out loud, to me, to the desert air. Even though we had gone to the desert in part to find solitude, it made sense to bring our friends along, in books, in music, in the little bits and baubles that become living artifacts because of what they mean to the people who find them. John Donne says that no man is an island, that every man is a piece of the continent, a part of the main, and we didn't leave to flee from community; in fact we left with the hopes that when we returned, we could give more of ourselves to it.
The first night we arrived in Joshua Tree, it was late, and everything was dark. Sylvia, our host, greeted us when we arrived at her little homestead, a flat sprawling lot of desert sand with scattered debris and an occasional shrub. We couldn't see anything, but the incredible darkness brought forth the light of a million stars that city brights drown out. We looked up, surprised again and again at how the celestial light could pierce through the darkness, and how this was as God intended--total darkness with marvelous light, not lukewarm versions of one and the other.
We heard our shoes crunching against the sand as we made our way to our desert studio, a small barn loft with just enough space: a sitting area, a kitchenette, and a loft for sleeping. I tried to memorize the path from the studio to the outhouse. The little path lights, which projected spiky, leaf-like projections onto the sand, and the petrified branches that were meant to pave a walking way, were sorry second thoughts, haphazard efforts at softening the spell of darkness. It's okay, I thought to myself, I came here to wander anyway.
On the road, without expectations, it's easy to find a home wherever you go--wherever you are welcome, wherever you are willing to sojourn for awhile. We were not restless, but we were ready to rest, with all the days that 2013 had piled onto our backs, with all the joyful frenzy of city life that wears you down but pulls you in deeper with all its sounds and people and man-made spaces.
We made tea and a scrappy dinner. Crystal went outside and lit the fire pit by our front porch, and a slight desert wind skimmed the fire, sending it crackling into the air.
Our minds were where we were, not where we could be, or where we were not. The silence made every sound louder and crisper. We did not feel the need to talk loudly, or talk at all, comfortable with being together in silence, alone with our thoughts, but not lonely.
Earlier that week, we had asked each of our friends to make us playlists for the road, where we would spend a majority of our trip. We needed two thousand miles worth of songs, and we thought, what a way to have our friends here with us, how much more could we know our friends through the sounds they loved, the songs they had swallowed into their souls (how we depend on other people's consciousness to bring forth our own, how we understand the world through sights and sounds imparted to us as gifts!).
The first night was sweet and silent, but there were sounds all around us, echoes of the songs we had heard earlier that day, echoes of the words we had read and wrote, fuzzy whispers of the friends and family who we loved and left, for a little while at least. In stillness we sat, in darkness we slumbered.
And we sweetly anticipated the morning light, which illuminates what darkness had hidden.
"Artists are the voice boxes for colonies of intricately related interdependent creatures, living and dead. No one but Wordsworth could have written Wordsworth's poems, the genius and the primary effort were his, but they only came into being because of webs co collective feeling, labor, memory, and perception that surrounded and permeated him."
-Janna Malamud Smith, an absorbing errand