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Some Night

by Clyde San Juan

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Another set of high thin clouds silently proclaimed more of the frontal activity we had observed earlier, during the dinner hours. Stretching across the full moon, these thin veils of water became as electrified pieces of silver canvas, pierced here and there by pinpoints of starlite.

I peered over at my son Tyler, all balled up in his sleeping bag, laying beside me on the tarp. Fast asleep. Dreaming of tarantulas, rattlers and bats no doubt. His first tentless repose into a desert night. A venture out onto new ground past the threshold of a boyís world of dark closets and things that would for tonight go hop, hop, hop in the passing of a kangaroo ratís tail. With a smile I recalled times I have slept out "Under the Stars. . ."

Watching satellites slowly trace their orbits above Zion National Park. . . huddling under a tarp as rain pecked at myself and three buddies lying like sardines on the shores of the Carrizo Impact Area, Anza Borrego, CA. . . first night of a week long sierra trip, perched high on Taboose Pass. . . the wind howling relentlessly. . . I can remember bolting upright in my sleeping bag as huge splinters of granite sheared off from somewhere on the surrounding mountain walls and cascaded down into an abysmal dark. . . camping along the Verde River near Jerome, AZ with the sound of one lone nightbird calling, calling forlornly into the night. . . and as a kid, I can still recall to this day sleeping outside my parentsí old econoline van on the passenger bench seat and waking enveloped in the cold, wet fog of an early morning at Point Mugu, CA, many years ago.

Tylerís slow and steady breathing comforts me, "Heís doing all right."

I wonder if he will one day lie back and gaze at his own son, smile and, come back to this night. Itís moments like this that Iím sure any father would like to see branded in his sonís own vision of growth. For as all fathers were once little boys, this arena (heaped with the unknown) and these (enormous) acts of faith take place and strike that "knowing" ground between father and son. Bonding the two generations in the passing of a night.

Tyler stirs a little and sighs. How many volumes of dreamscape movie snippets are now racing around in his mind? I can only wonder. Heíll take this night into the far reaches of his soul. I know he will never fully communicate to me of this night (those unsaid things I myself recall of my own experiences). "IT". . . will be what. . . "IT" will be for him. I can only pray - something that will have built him up. Ultimately of course, it will be something only seen in full light between himself and his maker.

The clouds have passed and the moonís full brilliance reigns once again. I scan our silent camp. To the mud hills of the Fish Creek region of Anza Borrego Desert State Park we have come. For me, itís yet another return to this region of the desert, but in a different guise. No longer a lone backpacker, but leading a group of fathers and their sons on a three day, two night backpack trip. Surely as my son is lying next to me, each pair of father and son are also weaving their own binding tapestries between themselves, as they lay hunkered in their tents. Becoming sewn ever closer together by the threads of their experiences of this desert. As it began a day and a night before. . .

Hiking in the moonlight to our first camp in the North Fork of Fish Creek, our voices echoing amidst long sprouting shadows from looming canyon walls. . . awakening with the soft pastels of purple and pink and misty blue-grey heightening to golden ochres and rusty browns with the dawnís light. . . toughing it out in the warmth of the day on a cross country excursion to set camp on the northernmost edge of East Mesa. . . learning the real meaning of hydration and water conservation. . . and of course, being undeniably captivated by the desertís magical allure.

I replay in my mind, earlier, watching some of the boys standing transfixed in the haze of their own falling dust clouds, wondering about fossil horses beneath their feet while rubbing ancient scallop or spiral snail shells between their fingers. . . "What could they find next," they seemed to murmur to themselves as they eagerly moved on, eyes searching the ground.

And search they did. . . until the dusk of the second night descended and the flames of backpack stoves flickered on. Blue glowing beacons lighting the way to dinner. Like a sigh came the quiet submission to the destiny of this, the final night as the twitters of bats faded away and were replaced by the reverberation of tired yawns throughout the camp. Before burrowing ourselves into our sleeping bags we talk of possible rain, casting quizzical glances to the distant light in the southwest delineating East Mesa and the Arroyo Tapiado Area. Borrego Springs? Or something else, something unknown. Minds are apt to ponder in this manner as the so called logic of the adult crumbles to the onslaught of exhaustion and the dark.

At night, we are all once again as children.

I look over at my son and see an echo of myself.

Will some of these boys recall this night in their tents, waiting with nervous anticipation for the howl of a coyote? Will they remember that they finally fell asleep, long after their dad started snoring? Or will there be a dad or two, wide eyed because of the awakening of his innocent childlike self he thought he had set aside long ago? As experience goes, what happens tonight, most will not be spoken of the following day, maybe never in the ensuing passage of years.

But nonetheless, hand in hand, father and son will have made a wonderful passage together. A journey that will forever enrich their lives, edify their family and touch others upon their return home. These deeply bonded threads of experience, exposed tomorrow or on a tomorrow in the future between these fathers and sons and sons to come will shine silver like the moon. Expelling all fear, and bringing a smile to oneís face. . . like my own.

But right now, my eyelids are heavy. The need for sleep has finally taken its toll. This night shall have to continue on without my conscious self, on the other side of that curtain of dreams. In my admittedly fanciful childlike bent Iím sure as I drift off, a dreamlike panorama will begin to brew before me. The Arroyo Tapiado area will beckon its forlorn calls (or is that a wind?) with its gaping caves and sinks. East Mesa spreads out before it like a primed canvas waiting to be touched by a painterís brush. I can visualize the wide mesa the way maybe Giorgio de Chirico (de-keer-i-ko, a precursor to the surrealist painters), would have seen this moonlit night. I can see his deftly wielded paintbrush blocking out shadow and light boldly on this plain of crisp rock, micah and encrusted cryptogamic soil. Placing somewhere in the middle of this vast expanse a lone reclining statue of a weary sleeping traveler. Stark and foreboding. Charged with the anticipation of "something about to occur."

Obtrusively, but not without plan, the shadow of a coyote like figure creeps into the picture. Leaning back on its haunches, this fantastic creature shimmers and out of its mouth appears a bugle like instrument. The beginning of a howl breaks the still night air. In cascading crescendoes, that howl starts over and over again, as more bugles, one after another telescope out from the first, and climb up towards the heavens. The stars and the moon fiercely twinkle with each wave of the ever expanding howl. . . The artist stands back.

The de Chirico panorama.

I will fall asleep with the seed of this dream planted. Upon waking the next morning I will take Tyler up on a ridge so he can experience his first dawn. The cycle from dark to light complete. Unknown to known with the dawn. Weíll break camp and our group will make its way back to our transports. Piles of inert metal, plastic and rubber waiting for us in the North Fork of Fish Creek. In that inevitable silence that falls over the group as we stride closer journeyís end, that dreamseed will blossom into the idea for our next trip. Will it be a new journey into another night like this one? A trip next winter to the desert north of Yuma, AZ or to cooler, higher altitudes above the summer's heat?

I donít know how many more dreams and journeys my sons and l will take together. But, the shared excitement and binding experiences of these trips will surely cement our lives closer and closer together. Making my boys more mature in my eyes. And surely, in both of my sonsí eyes, I will look more like a kid again. . .

I just canít wait to get my boys on the trail to Big Pine Lakes and sleep on Lon Chaney seniorís cabin porch and talk to the marmots!

© 2002 by Clyde San Juan

About the Author

This is a reflection on the relationship between my older son and myself as distilled through the full moonlit lense of a desert night, set on the monumental stage, known as: "Sleeping Out Under the Stars." We've all had our first. . .sound familiar?


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