"We need the possibility of escape…"


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It’s quiet here at work this morning though I find myself busy anyway – tying up loose ends, finalizing a report, sending emails for meetings in the new year… I’ve got a calendar with bookings until the end of April and a series of presentations to get ready for when I return from California. As much as I can drag my feet, work soothes me in its requirement for my attention. An occupying force of sorts, it helps crowd out the chatter that might otherwise rule me.

I’m finding myself a bit melancholy at the close of this year – tired, I think, of the holidays – and looking forward to my actual holiday in the desert which I leave for Friday. This would be *real* time off: without family and gift-buying and potlucks to make dishes for…. Just me and Aaron carried by ribbons of concrete into the sandy wash stretching from the four corners all the way through Mexico. Death Valley, the Mojave… Places I’ve not been before.

Every time I engage with the US desertlands I am reflective of Edward Abbey’s work, his love of the desert, his Monkeywrench Gang created to protect it. The heroism, the hardship, the sharp draw of arid land into the lungs and eyes. Unlike the rainforest offer of hemmed-in protection, the desert throws itself open to extremes – wide open spaces ending in slot canyons, parched floors alveolated by geothermal bubbling, valleys excavated by ancient oceans. As though you stand within the rise and fall of each past and present geological period – with the freedom to move between them. The escape from time and civilization is offered to us here, and as Abbey wrote in Desert Solitaire: “We need the possibility of escape as surely as we need hope.” And there it is, stretching out before us endlessly – a sand sea upon which to float our dreams of dismantling the grey towers which dominate, to sink the wrenches with which we have loosened the machinery, to untie the tethers which hold back our fantasies from realization.

Less floridly, Abbey writes these words:

Strolling on, it seems to me that the strangeness and wonder of existence are emphasized here, in the desert, by the comparative sparsity of the flora and fauna: life not crowded upon life as in other places but scattered abroad in spareness and simplicity, with a generous gift of space for each herb and bush and tree, each stem of grass, so that the living organism stands out bold and brave and vivid against the lifeless sand and barren rock. The extreme clarity of the desert light is equaled by the extreme individuation of desert life-forms. Love flowers best in openness and freedom.

Another few days, and I will be out of this tower of glass and into one of the most precious of the wildspaces left in North America. A brief journey, but one needed to remind myself of what is most important to my heart.. and probably a much better way to quell the chatter than working more hours.

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