June 19, 2009

The Last of My Kind?

Today I drove all the way down to Cottonwood Springs, the southernmost entrance of Joshua Tree National Park, which was the first time I'd actually been to the park since arriving in the area Monday night. In February, Edith and I had only made it as far as the Red Ocotillo Patch, so knowing that there was a stretch of road that we hadn't covered, I wanted to go back.

Besides, I like that part of the park - where the Mojave Desert transitions into the Colorado Desert - a little better than the rocky northern part, with granite upheavals from centuries of shifting earth movements. (That also happens to be where all the Joshua trees are.) On the Colorado end, there are more wide open spaces and interesting variations in plant life.

There's also a dry river bed called the Pinto Basin where an early culture of hunters and gatherers called the Pintos lived. I stopped by the roadside educational exhibit about the Pintos and just sat in my car, reading the board about how different they were than the cultures that followed them, and how they and their traditions are now extinct. I've always thought of myself as a dying species - as the last known survivor of a vanished society. People study me but they never really understand.

After a few moments, I headed back north, but by the time I reached the Cholla Garden, I was experiencing a full-blown breakdown. I don't know whether it was exhaustion from my Cottonwood hike (which I aborted less than halfway through) or the Fleetwood Mac song "Sara" playing on the car stereo, but I just lost it. Sobbing from behind my sunglasses, I didn't know whether to keep driving, to pull over, or to veer into oncoming traffic. So I decided not to decide. Which, thanks to inertia, meant I just kept driving.

It has started to hit me during this trip: I don't miss New York City. I miss its familiarity, but I have no desire to go back. And the longer I'm here, the more I wonder whether this is the place for me, either. Being on vacation in Joshua Tree is different than living here, and as I talk to locals and entertain their curiosities about where I'm from and what I'm doing here, I still feel so alone, so out of place, so ... lost. Relaxation has not come. Relief from physical pain alludes me. And now my thoughts are turning on themselves.

So what does that mean? Do I stay here for a while, treating it as a vacation, and then find another place outside of New York to camp out for a while? How do I find a place that will be my home? What does home even mean? Will I be happy living anywhere? I just not like living?

After all, this crisis I'm in all started with a trip to Death Valley, and since then I've been to the Salton Sea - a place even deader than Death Valley - twice and am going back tomorrow. For what?

I often feel like I'm dead already, a lost soul stuck between a life it can't give up and a death it doesn't understand, or is too scared to accept. I probably live more than the average person, but when I go on an adventure, it's as though I'm pinching myself, convincing myself that I really am awake and alive.

Maybe if I found some of my fellow tribesmen, I would know where to go, how to be, who to love. I guess I have to keep looking...

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