The sheltered silence of a mountain wood is like down earmuffs compared to the megaphonic freeways and sirens and reverberations of San Diego.
Since leaving the city I have been steadily drinking coffee from my travel mug, and I stop to give a little back. I pull into an ascendant rest area in the tangled thicket of Cuyamaca Rancho State Park, and discover a small, clear creek that would have gone unnoticed had I not stopped. Its soothing babble and rush of higher elevation runoff can best be described by the color green, which is exactly how I feel, suddenly part of the natural world again for the first time in months. I even take it upon myself to remove a corn chip bag that has snagged on a rock, center stream. Ah, the real smells, those of fallen leaves drying in the early afternoon sun, mixing with the moist February earth that is still percolating from an overnight winter rain, almost musky and unmistakable, fresh and renewing.
Cuyamaca Rancho straddles California Highway 79 five miles north of Interstate 8, and forty-five minutes east of downtown San Diego . . . it is my first break on the road to Joshua Tree. The sky here is no longer the hazy, charcoal blue of the city, but a deeper, liquid blue contrasting the flat greens and brushed tans of the desert high country. Hawks circle high above the ramparts, riding the thermals upward for no other reason than because they can. I have arrived at an elevation of pines, and I can smell their distinctive sap in the brisk, dry air.
Here in the high arid woods the Earth accepts sound, receives it, welcomes it, turns it into shadows and scents, colors and stillness.
I piss on a wonderful rotting log, dislodging a large and what appears to be quite deadly spider. The crawler is amiable, because he forgives me, the stranger, for pissing on him, I can tell. Spiders are symbolic of destiny, good luck descending from heaven. They can also catch unwary travelers in their sticky webs. As I zip up I reflect and learn something from all this, all this pissing on spiders’ heads.
Here in the high arid woods the Earth accepts sound, receives it, welcomes it, turns it into shadows and scents, colors and stillness. The feng shui of the chaparral is almost indescribable . . . the placement of a fallen tree that becomes a log, that becomes mulch, and then compost that becomes me. A ladybug lands and crawls up my leg as I write this. I’m sure she must know the woodpecker I hear drilling above me, and I would not doubt she is cordial with the tall meadow grasses that rise between the stands of trees, dreaming in the shade of the toppled pines, between the creek and the hills.
My motivation was to escape for a brief while the pollution, concrete, and standards of the city. I expected at least a transient encounter with Mother Nature, not uncommon among those who are prone to a love of wild places. My intention was to spend two days exploring the vast wilderness that is Joshua Tree National Park in Southern California. Its sheer size begs a week minimum to thoroughly fathom it, but the park’s proximity to my San Diego home made it economically available, and I would rather see it for two days than none at all.
It was to be my first desert backpacking experience, and my first visit to Joshua Tree. From what I had heard about the place (both desert and National Park) I was prepared to be moved, transformed by a place I had never been, a lack of civilization, an altogether different kind of nature. I left ready to get the proverbial hell away from it all, but by the time I returned it seemed I had only gotten closer to it. By the time I returned, I felt as though I had become transparent, vanished from the physical realm, invisible, yet with substance . . . like a ghost.
This is the first in a series of eight excerpts from the chapbook “Spread Out Across the Lowering Sky” published last year by Sun Wolf Press and available for sale here for the first time.
Each edition is comb-bound and of very high quality. This is a limited edition; written, edited, designed, printed and constructed by R.L. Buss and Sun Wolf Press.
There are 20 copies now available from a first edition print run of 25. Each one will be signed and numbered by the author beginning with number 1. The edition is illustrated, and the book’s themes of journey, discovery, human awakening and acceptance as Buss travels from San Diego to Joshua Tree National Park for the first time are rendered in the author’s wholly original voice.
If you decide to invest your hard earned money in this title you would be supporting both an independent writer and an independent publisher when you buy just one book. At the low price of $15, which includes domestic U.S. shipping right to your front door, you would be investing in the future of American Letters.
Please connect stating your interest, or return to read more excerpts in the near future.