The Prescott College orientation is a three-week backpacking trip in the Arizona wilderness.
We have just finished a ten-day trek through Grand Canyon,
Now we are in the Superstition Range of the Tonto National Forest,
Outside of the Phoenix-Tempe-Mesa-Scottsdale metropolis.
It is the first morning of solo.
Two days to be
Alone with yourself,
Alone with the desert.
I go to a spot on the western hillside where I will feel the first rays of the sun.
It was a cold night; the water is frozen in the Nalgene.
I sit and listen to the bee-like buzzing of the hummingbird,
Hear the spirited call of the cactus wren.
Perhaps it rasps with expectation, watching the sun come down the hill,
Closer to this spot.
Or maybe the bird is above,
Already feeling the sun’s warmth from the branches of a juniper.
Good to be a bird, able to fly up and meet the rising sun.
I close my eyes
As the sun comes up from the east, over the hill.
I feel its warmth, feel my toes as they thaw out,
Touch the leaves and the sticks around me, the rocks.
In my mind’s eye, I see the shrubs and trees I know to be close by:
The tall alligator juniper behind me, the beargrass in the sun to my left,
The smooth red manzanita in the shade to my right.
I see too without opening my eyes the cloudless blue sky,
The rocky wash between the prickly pear cacti and the cat claw and the velvet mesquites,
And the small flat area, just big enough to lay down the pad and sleeping bag,
Where I bedded down last night.
More birds chirp and sing now; the sun is up and over the hill.
I don’t know the names of the birds,
But my ignorance does not detract from the loveliness of their songs.
I hear bees buzzing around me,
Feel the first fly of the day land on my left foot,
Perhaps attracted by the scent of unwashed flesh, two weeks now.
I feel the slightest of winds, hear a plane flying overhead.
I open my eyes
And pick up the book I had been reading.
The truth of the words within feel as natural
As the sun that warms me this morning,
Have all the clarity of the deep blue desert sky.
I bring the book close to my face and smell its pages,
Like a librarian who in the early morning when no one is watching
Opens her favorite books at random,
Breathes in the sweet pure fragrances of the pages she loves so well
And then puts each book back in the stacks,
As if the books are lovers,
And maybe they are.
I close my eyes again.
The sun is warm now.
I take off all my clothes and sit on a rock,
Feeling my bare ass contact the cold hard granite surface.
Another airplane flies overhead
But does not disturb the stillness or my solitude.
The plane is distant, far away;
It can only be heard for a fleeting moment, and then it is gone.
The desert is here.
I can see it, hear it, smell it, feel it.
I open my eyes.