Desert Evening

Over the last week I was doing a training event in
New Mexico. Since I was not one of the primary players being trained, I got to
spend most of that time pulling security, which involves sitting in the turret
of a gun truck and watching the desert for hours on end. With temperatures
topping out in more than the usual number of digits, and sun that hot on me
pate, I felt a lot like a piece of meat in a broiler. In a strange way, though,
I enjoyed it. The desert is so huge. It is open and arid and inhospitable, and
that makes it beautiful. (It wasn’t designed with white people in mind, I can
tell you that.) There is something about the emptiness that encourages
emptiness of soul, or at least some emptying of the soul, which is a step in
the right direction.

The silence is good for me. The heat is good for me.
The discomfort is good for me. SPF-50 sunscreen is also good for me. My
Irish/German heritage is highly evidenced by the fact that after three weeks
out here I am only a half a shade darker than I was in rainy Washington.

The last night in the desert God put on a bit of a
show for us. The sky started clouding over around six, and then right about
sunset it started to get cool and windy. I could see the thunder storms raging
miles away around the mountains. The clouds seemed to be bigger than the
mountains themselves, and underneath the clouds were great gray sheets of rain.
And then, the wind changed direction, and started sweeping the storm clouds
away from the mountains to the north, driving them south across the desert. The
next thing I knew I was being pelted with raindrops the size of Chihuahuas, and
as thick as thieves. If you can imagine a crowd of soaking wet thieving Chihuahuas
freefalling on your head, you will get the idea.

The first thing to do, obviously, was save the gear.
So I jumped out, ran around to the cargo area on the back and grabbed out my
med bag and our three-day bags (nope, not waterproofed. I mean, this is the
desert, right?) Then I ripped the tarp out from behind the radios and bungee cords
from the back and quick as a flash rigged up a little cover over the turret. It
was large enough to cover the whole turret, tight enough so that it didn’t flap
in the gale force winds, and still allowed me to see out over the gun and
rotate the turret 360 degrees or more. And there I stood, a little damp and
chilly, but none the worse for wear. I turned the truck on, turned on the
heater (never thought I’d use that on this trip) and listened to the drumming
of the rain on a synthetic canvas roof.

Presently, the rain ceased. The cloud ceiling
stayed, but it wasn’t dropping more than the occasional sprinkle. The wind was
soft, now. Not just soft as in no longer ripping the hat off my head and trying
to snap bungee cords. It felt not simply gentle, but soft like a woman’s hand.
There was a tangible quality of softness, like velvet, or felt, or mullein
leaves, brushing across my face as if that was its sole reason for existence.
There is an intention in the wind, a purpose. It has meaning, and the meaning
of that wind was a caress. The sun was behind the clouds, but I could see the
rays of light stabbing through to the earth. “God’s Eyelashes,” I used to call
them when I was younger, because to the ten-year old me they looked like the
eyelashes of a half-closed eye. I don’t see the resemblance that much anymore,
but I still call them that, because I haven’t thought of a better name.

As the sun sank lower and lower behind the clouds
and the sky grew darker and darker, those rays of light slanted wider, and
their fingers reached closer to me. Someone rolled up on the dirt bike asking
if I wanted to be relieved, but I said no, I would prefer to stay and watch the

The sky at this point was almost completely clouded
over. It looked, for all the world, like a gray bowl overturned on top of the
earth. I imagine if you lived inside a snow globe and had really bad breath it
would look much the same. There were still storms carrying on in the distance
on all sides, except to the west, hanging down in gray, amorphous sheets like a
curtain from the edge of the cloud bowl. On the west side, though, just where the
sun was going to set, there was an opening. As the sun began to dip below the
edge of the bowl it was as if the whole world was transformed right before my
eyes. The underside of all the clouds nearest to the sun was shot through with
red. Pinks and lavenders stretched around the edges of the bowl, almost meeting
in the back, fading into the deep blue slate of the clouds. The rain storms
flushed and then glowed bright rose red. From twenty to fifty miles away I
could see them embraced by the light and shifting with the wind, like a slow,
graceful love dance. Behind me, on the eastern side there was a pair of
rainbows arching off the scrubby pastureland below the mountains to the
northeast, disappearing into the clouds, and then descending in parallel curve
to the ground to the southeast. Two rainbows, one inside the other, perfectly
parallel with each other, forming a double arch exactly over that point on the
eastern horizon where the sun would rise the next day.

The whole brilliant display lasted only three
minutes, and then faded to purple, and then deep, bluish black, and for the few
minutes I was trapped inside that glorious ceiling of cloud, I felt as if the
whole thing was for me; I felt very small, and very young, as if the clouds
were the arms of God, wrapping around me for a brief moment in a gesture of
love. Not simply love, but specifically affection, the humble, earthy, human
feeling of familiarity and comfortableness. Like when you are a little kid and
your Dad hugs you and says, “It’ll be okay.”

That is fatherhood. The love that I do not deserve,
and could not exist without.

1 Comment

  1. IT all was for you. I cannot express it but I know that you will understand what I refer to. It is like in the book, Gratefulness the Heart of Prayer. It was all one big gift of love and you were there to receive it and your words of expression are your prayer of gratitude. Thank you for sharing that gift with me. I could see it through your words just as if I had been there along with you.


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