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Rock and Saltwater: My Experience with Reading Edward Abbey

“Standing there, gaping at this monstrous and inhuman spectacle of rock and cloud and sky and space, I feel a ridiculous greed and possessiveness come over me.  I want to know it all, possess it all, embrace the entire scene intimately, deeply, totally, as a man desires a beautiful woman. An insane wish? Perhaps not – at least there’s nothing else, no one human, to dispute possession with me.” 

-Abbey in Desert Solitaire


Reading these words, embracing this sentiment, I feel a sense of familiarity wash over me, a primal, subhuman desire taking root in the marrow of my bones as I recall each time I’ve lusted for some intimate piece of nature. When I first set foot in the ocean, in that tender bit of space where sand marries sea, my child feet tingle in anticipation of knowing saltwater and magic. Ignoring my mother’s wishes, I jump into what might become a foamy grave; the sea welcomes me with love and violence. In an instant almost to spontaneous to rationalize, my feet slip from beneath me as a blue-green, watery mass pummels me into a sandy floor hardened by molecular cohesion. Salt burns my nostrils and threatens to infiltrate my lungs; I inhale deeply and relent to this god-like ocean, my body tossing and turning as my spirit transcends flesh and dissolves into the water. I feel as though I am meeting my maker, waves humming a harmonic lullaby that assures me my life holds meaning from its relation to every natural object I touch, taste, see, smell, and hear. Before I can respond to this oceanic whisper, I feel two hands pulling me from the foam and salt and glory. My mother embraces me gently before reprimanding my carelessness. As she carries me from the water, I gaze towards the sea with watering eyes and a greedy heart. I feel some inherent need, some universal passion, to throw myself back into the water, a possessive desire to know Atlantis, mermaids, and sirens, to discover each bit of living mythology and claim it as my own. I scream in my mother’s arms, flailing around with an almost inhuman hatred. 


The next time I lust for nature I am older, old enough to understand the meaning of lust and put words to this insatiable desire to embrace the whole world. I find myself drawn to bits of rock and grass. While hiking through a dammed area in Colorado, an expanse of land altered by man but devoid of hiking trails, I am exhilarated by branches brushing the bare skin of my arms and legs. I tread through steams with shoeless feet, cool water weaving its way through my toes as my footsteps caress stone and algae. I long to speak to the language of the earth, to understand molecular thoughts. I feel an overwhelming love for the sky as its sunset hues of crimson and pastel wash over my body. I wish I could fly like the hawk above me, gracefully catching wind with feathered wings, gliding towards plush clouds, which look softer than skin, with the devout enthusiasm of a religious worshipper. I curse these feet which tie me to something so impossibly tangible, I denounce this small frame which binds me to an existence of touching rather than holding. I wonder why I don’t long for human flesh the same way I long for the sky, which seems more handsome to my possessive eyes. 


My most recent burst of passion arises from a love – no a need – for the desert’s lightning storms, for red rock and dust, for the Saguaro cacti and prickly pears that burst from sand in patterns of calculated chaos. I want to hold the whole desert, to consume it, thorns, heat, drought, and all. In Wickenburg I follow a meandering trail carved out by some extinct river, some artifact of space whose waters eroded rock with the intensity of the cosmos. In Sedona I climb onto a small perch of stone where I crawl into a hidden crevice of the world ignored by every tourist, excepting myself, and from this little cave I watch the sun paint varying colors of reds and oranges on nature’s walls. In one second the rocks appear salmon and the next rose, the once crimson hues taking on a gentler tone under the setting sun. I feel compelled to sleep here, under the rocks and stars who understand so much more, who have seen so much more, than my human mind and eyes ever will. My mom and sister laugh, unmoved by the ephemeral masterpiece of desert lighting. Hiking back to the car feels wrong, like an act of betrayal, loving the land only to leave hours later in a mechanical death machine which repels the smell of wildflowers and rejects the wind. I cry on the way home, silently, wondering whether the land will remember my footsteps, the rocks my touch. Johnny Cash comes on the radio, “Ring of Fire”. As the words wash over me, I write an epitaph for my desert love on the windshield. 


Chandler is a Junior at UT double majoring in Chinese and English while pursuing a Certificate in Global Management. She is serving as one of Her Campus Texas' Campus Correspondents this year, and adores live music, dogs, friends, and mindful living ♥
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