On quiet adventures

I’ve come into Joshua Tree National Park from the Mojave side, and don’t actually see any Joshua trees at first. As I drive, I begin to wonder if the park has been perhaps ironically named. Like it’s actually the everything-but-Joshua-trees park.

Little road signs label the various sights. They have names like Fried Liver Wash. Did they call it that because it looks like a fried liver? Or because they ate fried liver there? I have so many questions.

Then I get to the Colorado Desert side and the Joshua trees explode everywhere. I let out a sigh of relief and park the car. I get out and take a picture. The sky is so blue it makes you regret every day you never stopped to look. It takes me a while to stop staring at the sky.

It’s so quiet my ears ring. It’s like being in an unlit cave. Your eyes search for light where there is none. My ears are searching for sounds and there are none. It doesn’t matter how quiet I get, there is nothing to hear.

I dig out my notebook. The scratching of my pen and the turn of the page are loud in the silence. I almost cry with relief.

What I take at first to be a vole and then a chipmunk but which turns out to be an antelope squirrel is the only wildlife other than birds that I see. Multitudes of ravens and kestrels wheel in the sky, while below the poor antelope squirrels dart around trying to hide from them.

I make up a story about an old woman sitting on a low fence looking at the trees. She’s remembering her first hike here forty years ago and the twists and turns of her life since. In the intervening years, she has had two children, now grown, and her husband has left her but she’s not too fussed about that. She is sturdy, never sick a day in her life, and she is planning on taking her granddaughter for a hike out here as soon as the girl can be trusted not to pick up any snakes.

Quite possibly it’s the old woman’s first time here, but not in the story I write for her. The truth doesn’t actually matter. I am satisfied with her biography. I wonder what I will be thinking when I come back in forty years.