Organ Pipe Wilderness

Organ Pipe Wilderness, AZ

An Air Force Jet screams across the sky, tearing at the silence, followed by another, then another. In a few seconds they are gone. The desert stillness returns, but the strange feelings remain. There is something very real happening here. Have we stumbled into a sanctuary or a war zone?

This is border country. Along the trail-less route we find discarded jugs, empty bean cans, and occasionally a water cache—full bottles arranged in a circle, childlike drawings on the sides: rainbows, crosses, a yellow sun rising over a saguaro studded valley. We think we have stumbled into a main artery. They come up through the valleys where the creosote grows thick. We continue on, descending a rocky ravine down into a wash, then up the other side. The Bates Mountains loom ahead, casting their deep shadows across the land.

We stop at an old well. Dry. Creaking. There are old cabins, some still intact with sinks and kitchen cabinets, broken tiles, ripped linoleum.

In a place like this, we needn’t seek the present moment. Rather we are forced into it. Our instincts require us to be alert, aware of our surroundings. This is not a stroll through a city park. We feel the need to be cautious. Yes, we are on high alert, but is this all in our heads? This immigration has been going on for generations. These desert travelers want nothing to do with us. They simply wish to get back to their families safely. “Just put yourself in their shoes,” I tell myself. We fear what we do not understand. We are all visitors just passing through. Trying to get along with our lives. Trying to be happy.

My mind drifts back to the water cache. Happy rainbows, sunshines, hearts. But these travelers are real, not imagined. At any moment we may cross paths. What will I do? What will I say? Will they ask for food and water? I have little to offer. My head stirs, spins out, then collapses back in on itself, spiraling out into infinity until there is nothing left. We drift apart. My mind and me. One watching the other. Who is this maddening, over analyzing entity inside my head? Surely we cannot be related. But this disconnect is exactly what I needed. The reason I came. When we stop taking the thoughts so seriously they lose their power, trailing off into some kind of distant background noise. Now there is nothing but the sound of my footsteps. My steady beating heart.

The desert sparkles before me, beaming with light. The Earth passes no judgement. We are all just passing through. Struggling to live, destined to die.