Posted on December 13, 2018
by Steve Janowick
I never knew of such a stillness before.
The kind of peace yielded by the precise convergence of beauty, vastness, silence, and solitude.
I awoke just as dawn’s light began to gently kiss the night sky. I wiped the sleep from my eyes and watched the moon and stars fade into the advancing horizon. I inhaled deeply and let the desert’s clean breath fill my lungs. I turned and saw this small, glistening stone at arms-length. It stood out from all the other rocks. Like it didn’t belong. It shined amongst the dust. It mesmerized me. I picked it up and clutched it to my chest. Rolling into a fetal ball, I pulled the sleeping bag snug under my chin and laid there for the next 45 minutes, praising whatever God was in that big sky above me for his sheer mastery and generosity.
My stomach was rumbling pretty good, and since I had roughed it the prior morning, I figured a proper breakfast would do me right-as well as some hot running water in a clean bathroom. So, I rolled up my pack, extinguished any loose embers, throttled up my bike and hit the road.
The sun’s rays were now cresting the mountains and I could feel the heat convection from the asphalt. My bones were still thawing from last night’s slumber-so it felt pretty good. After 20 minutes the winding path led me to a dusty, road-side diner. I was the first customer of the day, and after cleaning up a bit and taking care of some business, I enjoyed one of the best cups of coffee and heaping plates of cream chipped beef I’d ever had.
The Colorado Desert locals that trickled in were friendly and quite intrigued by the adventurous tales of my journey. For the first time in my life, I was going to really see my country. Experience her beauty-from sea to sea. Soak her in. Slowly behold her wonderment with all my senses sans technology, maps, and schedules. To them, I was a little off, but I knew I needed this.
With a full belly and a full tank of gas, I headed east and eventually the hills and peaks submitted to a barren, flat topography. The road halved my sight line and from both peripheries, all I saw was scorched, cracked earth marred with scattered, dead brush and a layer of hovering heat that was actually visible. It looked like a wasteland from a Mad Max movie but it was so beautiful. To my benign, suburban eyes, it was awe-inspiring.
I downshifted two gears and made a sharp right off the road and opened it up. All alone in my own private desert, I was going for it. My adrenaline redlining with my bike, until eventually it started coughing dust from the tailpipe and I had to slow it down. I made a looping turn to get back to the road and was startled at what I was seeing in the distance. Maybe mirages really do exist, because what I thought I was seeing was the most radiant, crystalline lake in the middle of the dry bed. As I got closer, I realized my eyes were not deceiving me. This really was a tiny oasis smack dab in my desert.
Of course, in my newfound spirit of adventure, my clothes were off within seconds and I spent the next hour wading and splashing. I couldn’t believe how…I couldn’t…I…
Sadly, this was as far as he got telling me his story before he shut his eyes and drifted off to sleep. I hadn’t seen my Uncle in decades and the cancer was eating him up pretty good by now. So, I drove the two hours north to pay one last visit and I figured what I just heard was the delusional ramblings of a fantasy he was sharing with his long-lost nephew.
On the way home, I was feeling heavy with emotion. His story resonated with me a little and it started me questioning my own life. Was I just living it, or truly experiencing it? Was I going to really witness the beauty or just dream and fantasize about it? Was I going to have regrets on my deathbed like my Uncle?
Two weeks later I received a small package from his hospice nurse. Inside was a tiny, radiant stone and a letter that simply read…
“Find your desert.”
I realized his story wasn’t a fantasy after all. And suddenly…
I had my answers.
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