Off the highway, past the Shell,
You’ll find those freight train tracks.
You’re off to someplace, past yourself,
To find what you can never get back.
To find what you’ve tried to lose,
To find your soul intact.
You’re riding free west of Tucson,
On those railway tracks.
In a place without roadless areas, I may know where I am at all times but I find I do not know where I’m going. I stand at the intersection of Main Street and Independence and do not know which road to take. The one cuts through the center of town and the other exits to the beltway, which circles town, dependent on its center. Where the roads lead leave me lost. Lost and running out of time.
I go past the outskirts of town that encircle the beltway, towards where there are no roads, for there I am on my own road, which is formed as I go forward, and then left behind, with no signs to show where I’ve gone. Left on my own, not led by any road, I may not know where I am at any one time, but I know where I’m going.
Not running after time, I do not run out of time, but walk into a world where neither it nor I play a part. As I walk into a part of the world outside the comic absurdity and tragic suffering of the human play, something returns to me like water from the shore returning gently to the sea. What was on the surface of the shore recedes until there is nothing but the ocean and its depths without measure. The guise that had acted as a protective shell is not cleaved violently open but gradually unveiled, for what had needed protection for so long now must be revealed as slowly as it took to become concealed.
The aliveness we feel and the beauty we perceive in wilderness is valuable not only in itself, on its own when we are in wild places, but also because it changes the way we see things after we leave. Instead of feeling oppressed by the ugliness so often present in civilization, we now look for the splendor. We know what is always present in wilderness is not altogether absent away from wild places. We are alive now to the first hint of beauty. We find the splendor in unlikely places. We find it in the lone juniper growing in harsh soil by the side of interstate I-17, we find it in the prickly pear cactus pushing through the cracks of some Tempe sidewalk, we find it in the woman dancing alone, eyes closed, at closing time in a Prescott bar.
On the drive up from Phoenix, she took pictures of the clouds as they lost their pink light the color of her hair. Her love went into her shots, refusing to die down with the sun, setting below the mountains to the west. She held on to the light as it faded, found within a light that would remain until that outer light returned, a strength no sunset could weaken. She zoomed in on her subject and came closer to herself. Panning out, she found perspective. She looked through her lens out the window, now east towards what was rising, now west towards what was setting.
As the light slipped away and the night overcame the day, she grasped the beauty of the in-between, day giving reign to night, night becoming day. And when is night not becoming day? When is day not growing into night? Beauty does not reside only in those few moments shortly before the sun rises, but in all moments when something is rising. In all moments, for something is always rising, coming into being, becoming. As the sun went down, the moon was coming up. In a day or two it would be full.