“At once the Spirit sent him out into the wilderness, and he was in the wilderness forty days, being tempted by Satan. He was with the wild animals, and angels attended him.”
— Mark 1:12
“Weird scenes inside the gold mine.
Ride the highway west, baby.
Ride the snake, ride the snake
To the lake, the ancient lake.”
— Jim Morrison
When I was a kid my family had a ranch near Las Vegas. My grandfather bought the place in the 1930s when Vegas was a small town of 5,000 people. The living quarters were bare-bones: A screened-in, stone building with a bunch of beds, a big picnic table, and a linoleum-floored kitchen with deer antlers on the wall where we hung our cowboy hats. When getting dressed we had to check our shoes for scorpions, as they occasionally made their way into the house. Black widows, tarantulas and rattlesnakes were also plentiful on the ranch. Daytime temperatures in the summer frequently hit 110 degrees. And I loved every second there.
To this day I vividly remember filling my canteen, putting on my boots and cowboy hat, and heading out to “go exploring.” The smell of rock and dust warmed by the sun, the distant murmur of cicadas, the row of sandstone cliffs in the distance, towering over the desert floor. And the near silence. The soft sound of wind across the arid landscape. The blue sky and baking sun. A timeless and etherial landscape.
For me the desert is a magical place, where my spirit is most at peace. (And I’m not referring to taking peyote and talking to my spirit animal. That’s a story for another time.) I need to wander the hot solitude. Feel its dry wind on my face. Catch a glimpse of the eternal mysteries of the universe. It feeds my soul, and I need to go out into the desert every few months… To get back in touch.
I understand why so many metaphorical journeys in literature, music, and art have been set in the desert. From Jesus to the Lizard King, the mixture of stark beauty, solitude, and challenging conditions is the perfect environment for transformational experiences. It’s both internal and external. And the thing is, I believe we all have our metaphorical desert. It’s different for each of us, but we need to get back in touch with it every so often, or we’re adrift. We need to put aside our cell phones and email, and leave behind the frantic pace of our everyday lives. We need to reconnect with the eternal wilderness. We need to go out into the desert. Meet you in Joshua Tree?