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The Sun Sets on the Desert

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One of the earliest destination goals of The Delusional Grandeur Tour was the Southwest. I’d never been there properly (Las Vegas most certainly does not count; it is its own animal), and I’d always wanted to see the desert. I’m not even sure why a kid from upstate New York felt a pull to see such a foreign landscape, but the heart wants what it wants, and the desert called to me like the ocean often does. I was powerless to its seductive trance. There was also something I was seeking… perhaps it was the sun. At the end of a northeastern winter, there’s not much that anyone wants more than the sun.

My last evening in Tucson began with a sunset: the perfect finale to a few days of desert fun and exploration. The fabled sunsets of Arizona had only been the stuff of dreams or nature programs on PBS. Like the saguaro and the desert itself, the idea of such beauty existed on some abstract level – I believed in it, I’d see photographs and video, but you never really trust a place until you visit it yourself.

As with other beautiful things, there are dangers lurking here – mostly in the way things have to adapt in order to survive. Take the barrel cactus. Inside it is a supply of water that can see it through months without rain. Such delectable nourishment would be devoured, and the plant destroyed, if it did not carry an arsenal of sharp spines, ready to impale the parched tongue of any creature foolish enough to attempt an assault. I wandered among such plants with due reverence and respect. The desert has a way of eliciting humility.

There is a roughness here. It is a harsh land, and requires extreme survival techniques. As civilization advances, I feel we could all use a lesson in that. The world grows dimmer. Nothing gets easier. Even the hottest sun of noon is but a memory in the cold stroke of midnight.

That’s the other thing about the desert: it is a world of extremes. For better and worse, I can relate to that. I suppose I came here to reconcile such extremes. To find a balance. At the very least, to find a pocket of beauty as a balm upon a restless but tired soul.

To that end, it was a smashing success. I saw beauty everywhere. I found a balance and a peace that could only partially be attributed to the luxury of being on a vacation. I knew it wouldn’t last, but I also knew that wouldn’t matter. I will carry a bit of it with me forever forward – in a stunning sunset, or a lusciously tart limequat, or a small potted cactus I’ll put in the sunniest window of the house. Our memories are our most precious commodity. The older I get, the more I seem to misplace them, and the only way to add new ones is to experience something out of the ordinary. Not all extremes are bad.

I turn things over in my mind. The mountains in the distance, ablaze with the day’s dying light, ease things into explanation. It is so quiet on this night. A far cry from my first two nights, when wind and rain made for a volatile soundscape. Yet even that imbued me with a sense of peace. There’s a certain sort of slumber that one can only achieve in the midst of a stormy evening.

On my last night here, the sun lowers itself in the sky, slowly at first, and then in an instant descent as it nears the horizon. It’s always over too soon. The wait and the anticipation is wonderfully drawn-out, and it will always be my favorite part, then the event itself seems to fly by so quickly. That’s the way of all vacations, and it’s certainly the way of my time in the desert.

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