The Memory of Beauty
If you don’t visit beauty often, you forget it. It was time to get out of the ugly. I hadn’t been hill-stomping for weeks.
At 0:Dark:30 my car headed for the hills through a mizzling rain. I turned into the trailhead parking lot and my headlights caught a sign that read, “Day Use Only. Sunrise to Sunset.” It was 6:04. The sun wouldn’t rise until 6:34. Beautiful.
Fuck ’em, I thought, as I pulled in and parked anyway.
Must cogitate over my crime now. What would I tell a ranger if confronted on the trail? How about, “Gosh, hasn’t the sun already risen behind the clouds?” Yeah, that’s it. Acting ignorant would be a beautiful excuse.
A light rain pelted on the brow of my hat as I slipped on my jacket and donned my daypack. At 6:08 I pushed through the fading gloom and made my way up the trail to beautiful Hidden Valley.
Hidden Valley is one of the most popular hikes in Joshua Tree National Park. That’s why it’s best to visit it at 6:08 in the morning, on a weekday, in the rain. I was the only soul out there, and had the beauty of the whole valley to myself.
A short climb took me over the rocky rim and into this granite-strewn wonder. At this point a loop trail takes over. And at the start of the loop is a sign, directing hikers to walk clockwise through the loop. I went the opposite way. When the world travels clockwise, I prefer widdershins. I believe it beautifies the human spirit to be contrasuggestible and contumacious in the face of officious rules.
Such beauty I encountered, walking widdershins! I had forgotten just how majestic these towering rocks could be. Tragically, I left my camera at home. But I already had plenty of photos from prior visits. This would have to be a day for absorbing beauty through the natural senses, without the fuss from including a glass lens.
One of my natural senses–my cognitive sense–became especially active. A beautiful inspiration struck me, and I reached for a different kind of recording device. A device I had made absolutely sure to bring along. It was a device for recording those reflections from the cognitive sense, that are too easily erased by time.
I reached for my pen.
And that’s when I realized I had forgotten to bring paper. Beautiful move, moron! Goddamn me!
The palm of my hand would have to serve as stationery. So I recorded my sensory experience, ink to hand.
The rare desert rain steeped the sage, cheesebush, and wormwood, releasing their stored-up aromas. Here was beauty for my osmic senses, I noted just below my thumb.
I paused to listen to the silence. It was there. A cottony vault of beautiful nothingness, for my otic senses. Then, one-by-one, delicate sounds crept through the cotton. The sough of my breath passing softly through my nares. The distant caw of a crow rattling off the rocks. And the susurration of thrumming engines from an airliner high aloft, above the clouds.
About halfway through the counter-clockwise circumambulation of this loop trail, my bladder sent me a tactile sensory message. There were no other hikers around, so I searched for a spot to perform an illegal act in private. Pissing outdoors may be against the law, but in the wilds it is primeval beauty for our nostalgic senses. It connects us with our ancient ancestors, who also pissed in the wilds. And in much the same way.
But then it occured to me that enough people have rained their uric acid upon the rocks of this popular trail. There was no urgent need for me to add more, so I decided to hold it in. For me, this was a beautiful beau geste. But I hope my ancestors weren’t disappointed.
No rangers stopped me before sunrise. The light rain felt refreshing on my face and skin. The boulder skyscrapers impressed again, with all their forgotten glory. And the trail remained untrammeled throughout the hike, because nobody else dared brave the wee hours and wetness of this morning.
That’s how beautiful this day was.
I drove home to the beautiful vibes of Duke Ellington on the radio. The light rain intensified to a downpour. Seemed the hour I chose to hike in this storm was beautiful timing. And now I had fresh in my mind that one thing all souls thirst for, as surely as the desert landscape thirsts for water from heaven.
I possessed the memory of beauty.