Stargazing in Joshua Tree
Sometimes you just have to take a trip with your friends out to the desert after work. Well, actually, it’s your first time doing so and so you have no idea how traffic will be. You end up sitting through the traffic, taking a pit stop to get some food, driving a bit more, stopping by Denny’s for coffee and a sad plate of eggs and bacon because you feel bad buying just coffee, and then you drive the last leg of the night.
Five hours later (though it should have been three, max), you’re at the doorstep of Joshua Tree. You’re elated: you drive what feels like fast – even though it’s only 55 mph – because you’re the only one on the road, and the night makes speed feel relative. It’s almost eerie and extremely martian and out of this world seeing the trees and boulders awoken by your headlights. Everything else is black, or dimly silhouetted. You turn off the headlights because Why not? and it spooks you how wholly dark it gets – and how fast you are still moving.
You pull up onto campgrounds, tires crunching the sediment and ruining all the quiet. It’s 10:30pm and after realizing you don’t have everything you need to start a fire, you retire to your sleeping bag. You don’t remember the last time you heard this kind of quiet.
You and your friend and your friend’s cousin lay on your backs, splitting the sky into quadrants, calling out the stars that skim the sky. Quadrant one! So good. and I SAW THAT’s abound. Then you realize you all misunderstood which quadrant was where, so you clarify. And you go on gazing.
The sky is full. It is bright enough now, once your eyes have adjusted, to see more. To even climb rocks and survey the land from this height. The sky is held still by thousands of bright stars and you stare hard, trying to keep your eyes open long enough to commit this to memory. You think you do.
All through the night you open and close your eyes – who knows why – but every time it happens you stare hard again, before your eyes are weighed by more sleep.
You wake early and still no one can start the fire. You resign yourself to the sunrise and it is better: the light a soft brightness, making everything glow.
When the light gets too bright and your phone shows 6am you pack quickly and drive fast again. But even so you arrive 15 minutes late back in your office, clothes smelling like failed campfire. And three months later you finally get around to writing all this down. Because you did – you committed this to memory.