The sun has crept its way up over the canyon walls, casting long spider-like shadows of juniper trees and sagebrush across the red sand. In a few minutes, it will reach our van and the dogs will start to stir and the fogged-up windows from a long night’s sleep will begin to glow in yellows and ambers. But for now, it is still. Still in the way only a desert can be still. Eventually we rise, untangling from blankets and emerging from the sliding door to begin the inevitable search for our bag of coffee grounds while wondering aloud if the eggs have frozen overnight. Our dogs weave through prickly pears and great rust-colored boulders, disappearing out of sight to roam. We pass pans and eggshells and lighters back and forth without so much as a murmur. We know this routine. It’s one of the few we have.
You see, it’s been five years since my husband, Keith, and I fell as deeply in love with the desert as we had with each other. In our younger years, we had both sought nature as a way to understand something outside of ourselves. When we first met, we bonded instantly over our love of the sea and the seemingly endless horizon seen from the bow of a sailboat. We exchanged favorite hiking trails and bouldering spots and swimming holes, making room for each other in our most cherished of places. But the desert was the first thing that was ours. We were just two kids from New England who moved out West on a whim and stumbled half-backwards into the most sacred place we would ever know.
To us, the desert was wild as wild was intended. Everything that survives there does so with great tenacity. There is no excess. Every living thing takes only what it needs to stay alive. And so, it was with this principle that Keith and I set out to minimize the excess in our own lives to go out and live among the prickly desert things.
We found there is unrivaled room for love to grow in space and in silence. In the vastness of canyons and rivers and cliffs, Keith and I reached out for each other like vines. We saw each other exactly as we were in each moment. Without the bustling of city streets, the constant murmur of televisions and the clutter of a life spent chasing the next big purchase, there was nothing to drown each other out.
From belay ledges high up on Entrada sandstone towers and only a rope between us, we developed an intimate understanding of fear—both in ourselves and in one another. Atop bobbing blue rafts between sets of gentle rapids in the currents of the Colorado River, we found contentment and peace in the details of each other’s faces. From the depths of slot canyons carved by wind, water and time, we grasped at the virtue of patience.
Each mile, each dirt road, each canyon, each pitch, each sunrise pulled us deeper into the realization of how small we were out there in this big adventure. And with that realization came an urgent sense of freedom. We should hike the mesas, climb the cracks, float the rivers, bike the trails, wander the desert washes, sleep in the dirt beneath the stars and love each other fiercely because we are beautifully and insignificantly impermanent. All we have for certain is each other and the day stretched out before us as the sun rises, casting long spider-like shadows of juniper trees and sagebrush across the red sand.