Run in the desert under a starry sky

I’m sitting on my couch listening to R do his howling cry of bedtime loneliness interspersed with plunking on the alligator xylophone.  It’s 9:32pm.  He’s normally in bed an hour earlier but we are coming off of a travel weekend which included strange sleep schedules and a long nap on the car ride home—on top of the time change today.  So salute me from afar with that solemn knowing that comes from having been a parent on such a night.  

—Which brings me to my first question.  Have you ever sprinted through the desert at night?  I tried it again last night and I have to say I recommend it.  Something about running in the near-complete darkness, with the crunch of gravel underfoot, dodging cacti and brush and moths playing chicken with my headlamp.  Last night the stars were brilliant but the moon wasn’t up yet so my headlamp light was almost insufficient.   It reminded me of a night almost seven years ago.  

I was visiting the San Rafael Swell in Southern Utah with some family.  There were four of us in total, all free and childless.  We decided to hike to the top of a slot canon and descend through the canyon, which required a series of rappels and we got a late start.  So in the midday sun we carefully naviaged the steep slope of scree into the slot.  This particular slot was not very slender, probably seven feet across at the narrowest.  It was April and at the base of each rappel was a pool containing the remnants of early spring rain or late winter snowmelt.  The pools were murky and cold—actually frigid.  We wore neoprene tops over our bathing suits.  Most of the pools were shallow enough that we could wade across in knee to waist high water.  MOST.  One was not. 

We repelled down onto the sandstone shelf that formed a bank around the dark pothole.  Across the pool, in the one spot where the canyon walls opened to the next drop, was a four-foot, steep but rounded wall of rock.   We studied it for a minute.  I volunteered to swim across first and see if there was any submerged rock to stand on to help climb out of the pool and onto the sandstone—there was not.  So one of my male companions (the tallest in our group) made the swim to see if he could reach the bottom of the pothole.  He could not!  

He and I were treading water on the far end of the pool trying to figure out how to not be stuck in this wet pothole for the night until someone *might* find us the next day.  He pressed his fingers into a small crack in the sandstone and wedged himself tightly to the rock wall.  Once he was secure, I climbed up him—literally pushed myself up until my knees were on his shoulders, then my feet, then I put my fingers into the tiny crack and pulled myself up onto stone wall.  We made it!  Once on the wall we were able to pull the next person up out of the murky pool.

This last full-body immersion in the freezing water, coupled with the dropping sun was the most terrifying thing.  By the last rappel we had all begun to shake uncontrollably.  The last rappel was the biggest and into yet another pool of cold water.  By the time we were all on the ground safely, the light of dusk was almost gone.  My sister and I stripped off our wet suit tops and ran down the rugged desert trail in only our swimsuits and Chacos.  We were ecstatic and we were FROZEN!  I remember feeling light and fast and so free! 

That’s what I thought of last night as I sprinted through the desert.  The motion of my body, the crunch of loose rocks underfoot, the sky littered with stars on the moonless night.  It filled me with giddy delight. 

This is my point.  Find the giddy delight.  Stretch yourself, push yourself, expose yourself to the elements, scare yourself.  And then find the giddy delight.  

Mary Oliver wrote: 

“I don’t know exactly what a prayer is.

I do know how to pay attention, how to fall down

into the grass, how to kneel down in the grass,

how to be idle and blessed, how to stroll through the fields,

which is what I have been doing all day.

Tell me, what else should I have done?

Doesn’t everything die at last, and too soon?

Tell me, what is it you plan to do

with your one wild and precious life?”

The Summer Day by Mary Oliver, excerpt

I plan to run in the desert under a starry sky.