We did just about everything wrong – leaving late (it takes a force of nature to detach the man from a Godfather marathon) and taking the most wrong, scenic route possible – but we managed to get to Joshua Tree National Park in time to see a couple of coyotes out and about. Oh, and those trees. The Joshua ones.
And then night fell. Blam and kablooey. (If this was a comic book, I mean.) We were on the edge of the Mojave Desert. It’s how night falls. Hard and clear and cold.
We headed a few miles west to Pioneertown’s Pappy & Harriet’s, the cool little joint that musicians love to play. We were meeting our friend for a little food, a little beer, a little music. After dinner, I stepped outside to spend a few minutes with a cigarette and the jewels of the winter’s night sky, bright and perfect and silent.
And then the door opened and people poured out. Visiting from LA, where light pollution obscures just about everything upward, they were appropriately impressed by the sky. I think. At least they said, ‘Oh, look!’ One man even spent the entire time everyone else was good-bye-ing saying, ‘That’s Orion. I think that’s Orion. Isn’t that Orion? That’s Orion.’
And then they left. And I thought: shit. That was unmagical.
I couldn’t do without magic, without feeling I was witnessing some secret wonderfulness. I grew up on those moments, dreamed those moments, when there was only my imagination and the world and we had to figure it out on our own. Oh hell. I’m almost 55. Except for Mary Poppins, there wasn’t any vocabulary- words or visual – to dip into and paint a wonderland with, so whatever I created, I really claimed as my own. I kept it close and private, not as a way of protecting it or myself, but for easy access.
Years later, I’m glad for all the Harry Pottery-Lord of the Rings- CGI wizardry . I’m glad the world has seen what magic can look like. I’m glad there’s material to help spark imaginations. The magic I conjured and loved so much, though, wasn’t … fictional. It wasn’t escapism or invention or fantasy. It was the magic that’s really here. There. And I put it to use when I traveled.
I liked traveling alone and being by myself, in general, so I could be in silence. I didn’t just cherish it; I was greedy for the stuff. In silence was when magic revealed itself. Nighttime and snowfall were the easiest, when the world settled down, too, but – those moments in a day! Walking up a worn staircase, catching the glitter of sidewalks on a scorching bright summer day. The clinking and faint clatter of a neighbor’s dishes.
I don’t have that alone time now. Life and partnership and family deserve minor sacrifices and compromises and private, silent time is one of the first things to go.
The night out at Joshua Tree, though, reminded me the magical didn’t disappear. I just made the mistake of trying to share it. We’re talkers, people are. We like to announce our observations. I don’t know why. To get confirmation? To help someone see? If someone’s not paying attention, that’s kind of their problem.
I think this year, I’ll give silence another shot. That’s Orion, isn’t it?