September 24, 2011

Driving in the Dark

Somehow I'd forgotten how dark the desert gets.

I mean, it gets dark.

Even in the Coachella Valley, whose light pollution can be seen from Joshua Tree and Anza-Borrego as a glow on the horizon, and even along a major freeway like the 10, it gets dark.

Is Los Angeles so well-lit?

Maybe it's the lack of traffic this far inland. But there are plenty of headlights, including my own, that don't seem to cut through the darkness at all.

Where are the street lights?

Where is the moon?

Turning the high beams on don't help, because there's nothing for them to reflect off of. They only create an even greater sense of the vast expanse that lies ahead, tiny red and orange interruptions in the darkness twinkling ahead like red and orange stars, in an artificial sky of airports, buildings, wind farms...

Driving to Palm Springs from LA last night, I left a half hour late with the sun already starting to set in the west as I drove east, the magic hour beams of light blinding me in the rear view mirrors. I watched the sun set behind me, driving into the darkness that advanced as I advanced towards it.

By the time I turned off the 10 to the 111 to take me into Palm Springs, I could not see anything. I'd done this drive innumerable times since first visiting Joshua Tree two years ago, but I didn't recognize anything. What was there to recognize? There was nothing to see.

During my first visit to the desert, in Death Valley, I refused to drive at night at all. Taking a long, scenic route from Vegas, as dusk approached I raced across the desert to get to the Panamint Springs Resort, where I'd stay for the night, before it was completely dark out.

I never liked the dark.

And once I arrived in Panamint Springs, I refused to leave until the sun came up.

I held onto this mentality when I first visited Joshua Tree, but I was forced to get over it when I dropped Edith off in Palm Springs a bit too late and had to drive back in the dark, pouring rain, up the dirt road of the Joshua Tree Highlands - which made me very nervous - to The Desert Lily.

Of course, during the course of my month-long stay in Joshua Tree, I looked back on my fear of driving in the dark with a chuckle, since I'd seemingly mastered driving the desert roads with my eyes practically closed.

What has happened to my eyes since moving to Los Angeles?

Funny enough, I feel just as disconnected from the desert - or, I suppose, connected to it - while living in LA as I did living in NYC. People call LA the desert but it is not: not in topography, geology, culture or climate. No one living in LA could claim to be a desert rat, unless, of course, they are a displaced desert rat.

Besides, LA is too bright to be the desert. There are too many clouds and too much smog reflecting the light below. There are too many cars, too many street lights.

How is it that I so hate the dark yet I so love the desert? Do I so insist on embracing my fears that I insist on a constant level of discomfort? Perhaps I hope the more time I spend in the desert, the better I'll be able to see.

Without the distraction of light, sparkly, shiny things, what might one see?

What lies there, in the darkness, undetected without light, without movement?

Do I even want to know?

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