Thursday, July 19, 2001

In God's Country

In God's Country

"Desert Sky, dream beneath a desert sky
The rivers run but soon run dry
we need new dreams tonight
Desert rose, dreamed I saw a desert rose
Dress torn in ribbons and in bows
Like a siren she calls to me
Sleep comes like a drug in God's country
Sad eyes, crooked crosses in God's country"

The entire time I was riding in the car in the southwest I was kicking myself for not having a copy of "The Joshua Tree" in the car with us. I remember when the album came out, it instantly made me want to visit the southwest, songs like Red Hill Mining Town, In God's Country, Bullet in the Blue Sky... all of them had this ethereal quality that only U2 could bring to life in the southwest... as seen by Irish men in a bus on tour.

I love the pictures in the album art of them standing around the lone sad scragglyassed Joshua Tree... The one that has all four of them in the forefront always makes me smile. I have the cd at my desk, and the album insert is open to that centerfold picture. I wanted horribly to recreate the shot with my family. I know how incredibly silly that sounds, but I was there... why the hell not. Doug wouldn't stop the car as we drove from Kingman to Phoenix (after our almost running out of gas in one of the most desolate stretches of highway, I can understand his desire to just get to where we were going). So I don't have that picture to show you for real. Here's what one can do though, with photoshop and a sick imagination. It isn't perfect, I just whipped it out.

One of the funniest things that happened on the trip was when Geoffrey was talking to Amy in the kitchen just prior to when we were leaving to go to the Grand Canyon. She asked him where he was going on his trip that day. He replied "To the DESERT!!!" with great enthusiasm. Amy answered "honey, you are already IN the desert!" So he corrected her... "No, we're going to the SUPER desert!" Amy laughed and said, "well I don't know where that is, but you have a good time." (we were in Scottsdale, so, yes, we were in the desert... but to Geoff it wasn't the SUPER desert. It was just a town. He was looking for "Tactus" and desolation... not Super Target stores and Applebees. Boy after my own heart).

The Super Desert, as we began to call it, started for us north of Phoenix... The Sprinkled with National and State Parks, soaring rock monuments... it is the super desert. Scottsdale's just the regular "normal" desert where cactus is lawn ornamentation for the masses. We spent a lot of time hiking in the Super Desert... the Canyons (Grand and Bryce) and Capitol Reef were simply some of the most astounding places I've ever laid my eyes on. One night in Kodachrome state park in Utah I sat and cried a bit looking at the moon on the rock walls of our little basin.

Capitol Reef area looks like it is God's sandbox. Seems to me that millions of years ago, he took a pail, made some sand castles, and then got called away to work on or worry over something else, leaving these castles alone, where slowly they've deteriorated, sand separating softly from the sides of the peaks, slithering down to the base leaving dramatic angles, ledges, peaks and slopes for us to see.

Sounds like a sappy inspirational poem. Funny thing is, as I'm imagining this being God's sandbox, just south and west of the Capitol Reef area is a place called the Devil's Rock Garden, which is rugged, scary and the land looks almost violent from what I saw in pictures (we missed the turn off, so I don't know if it is as demonic as the early settlers make it out to be). So good and evil, God and the devil, sit side by side even in geology.

I went out to get something from the car the first night we were in Torrey, Utah, and there was an older woman sitting on her deck chair outside her room. I said hi to her and she called me over to look at the moon with her. So, I went over, being the abnormally friendly person I am. I leaned against the post beside her and we both looked at the moon quietly. After what seemed to be a minute, perhaps less, I'm not sure, she turned her head and smiled at me, "have you ever seen a moon like that?"

There wasn't anything spectacular about the moon itself. I've seen some amazing moons. Red, orange, glowing moons. Moons coming up over the horizon in fall in New England are sometimes freakishly huge, and they look as if they are going to envelope the land. Those moons have been astounding.

This moon was indeed pretty. Bright, clear, unblocked by clouds, smog or any other celestial obstacle. Its brightness flooded out the light from all the nearby stars. And it shed light down onto huge red cliffs and wide stretches of green between them. I told her the moon was nice, but what it shined on was what made it look spectacular, extra special than it was by itself. She agreed, the whole package, not just the moon, was worth writing home about.

I told her that I'd seen some beautiful landscapes that week, seen my children soak up views they'd never seen, hiked until my legs crampped, and this moon was my reward. I told her I thought that God lived here and she smiled a great bright smile. I marveled about how small humans are when they talk about the Presence of God, how sometimes it is so painfully obvious to see Him, but othertimes He doesn't show himself to us unless we look really hard. Her eyes were kind of filled with tears, and I don't know if she was Mormon, or something else, but she told me she so strongly agreed, and even though she lives in Utah she often times misses noticing what He is showing her.

"I sound like a religious freak but I'm not," she said. "I needed to hear you say that."

"Thanks for asking me to look at the moon with you," I patted her on the shoulder and went back to my family in my hotel room and watched Monty Python on BBC America.

What I just wrote will seem trite and sappy to some, even to me. I'm not a religious zealot. I believe, and I am not afraid to share belief with others. I worry about offending people, but hey, it was a good moment. One that as a reader you can take or leave. My experience is what it was. And it was one of the nicest exchanges I've had with a stranger in a long time.

I'll remember her when I see the next big fat full heavy moon slipping across the sky. I was in God's country for a while. I'm glad He took the time to let me know He knew I was there.

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