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Night in the Desert.

Feeling horribly contained by urban life here, I drove out of the city not really knowing where I was going and pulled my truck to the side of the road by a small shrine about fifty miles into the desert.  I pulled out my sleeping bag and found a spot where the rocks were a little less sharp and laid it out there.

I was told by Tucson people that I would be left alone if I did this, and I would have no trouble with the police.  This ended up being about as true as it can possibly be for me: during the course of the night I had to deal with police officers only three times.  I will give them credit, though, that unlike Eastern police officers they seemed to have something more important to do than harass me, so they figured out that I was doing no harm and just left me there.  But the general rule that it is very hard to escape the grip of civilization applies.  In truth this gets me a little depressed.  I’m sure I could have carefully researched a place to get away from civilization, but that would have depressed me only more.

My first choice of pull-off location was driving down someone’s driveway on private property, where my truck would be completely hidden, but the driveway had a large number of fresh vehicle tracks in the sand and I did not want to risk an encounter with a landowner in the middle of the night with a beat-up truck that could almost pass for Mexican in border country.  Hiding the truck seemed unwise for the same reason: I figured it’d be better just to advertise that I was there and presume no one would bother with me.  Anyway, my last visit from the cops was around nine p.m. and so I got a little peace after that.  I had to deal with the cop-talk, of course, which always makes me want to contemptuously speak the truth: when I said I just wanted to sleep in the desert, I got the question: “And do what?”  And eat pecans, I wanted to say.  I had a bottle of lemonade and a bag of pecans with me.

It was a terrible night for stars as there was a bright moon that stuck around all night.  I suppose I’ll have to plan more effectively to get some stargazing in.  But I did have an impressive dream, worth the trip: I dreamt, without being aware that it was a dream, that a coyote came up to me and lay down on top of me, snuggling so close to my face that I couldn’t see him or move very well.  He was quite affectionate and intended to be my pet.  Then I heard the cry of a coyote in the distance, and then another in response, and another, and another.  These other coyotes were hunting us: and both I and my new friend quivered in terror to hear their voices, that they were so close and surrounding us.

The dream is a good specimen of the coniunctio oppositorum in an archetype: here the coyote appears in both his kind and malevolent forms.  This pattern may be the key to any mature understanding of God.  Sullivan has a piece today about David Attenborough (a childhood hero of mine) and his uncertain relationship with religion; the conflict is put thus by Eric MacDonald:

[T]here could certainly be a god that was consistent with evolution, but that god would be, without a doubt, either evil and cruel, or powerless. And neither type of god would be religiously meaningful. This was Darwin’s problem. He realised, over the years, more and more, that the theory he had discovered was simply inconsistent with the goodness of god, and duck and dive as they please, no one has suggested how to make evolution consistent with a god’s goodness.

For “evolution” of course read “nature, as it actually is.”  Reason may have some trouble reconciling these things, the horror and the joy of our existence, but our dreams do not: and if you start thinking of Abraham and Isaac, Jacob and the angel, Joseph in the well, Job, the Crucifixion, and many more such stories, they too contain the horror every bit as much as the joy.

The shrine was notable in that its front was lined with iron bars, to suggest a prison.  This is absolutely the feeling I get being in a city, and as soon as I saw the shrine I knew I was going to be sleeping there.  Here too is the conjoining of opposites.

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  1. […] – had felt that there was nowhere to go.  I had been lonely every day and alone not once.  My one attempt to spend time out in the desert had resulted in precisely the kind of police attention my second […]