Duet with a Desert Tree
Do you know I still remember you? We met in passing: you were one amongst the thousand flurried marvels of those days, I the rare pilgrim on your desert road. Only the dust and hills, the shrubs and sun witnessed the encounter. Maybe only they can tell who approached whom.
I rattled headlong towards you on a rented bike, road an improvisation of dirt, sand, patches of gravel. At the road’s crumbled edge, the desert began its thousand mile reach to the horizon. I half feared stepping off the road, for what soul could survive getting lost in such austere desolation? There was the whole sky and the bright desert plain. There was the road. There were soft mountains to the east and behind. A few dry, hardy shrubs. Somewhere high, high overhead, the sun cast its whitest light, chasing shadows down holes and under rocks. Sky and desert seemed bound in an infinite contest for vastness, the suspense of which had everything holding its breath. At the horizons where they collided, the edges shimmered.
I rode past the town’s last homesteads, past the graffitied bridge, past the first tree (later I would rest inside its wide willow skirt), past the second, past dry creek beds, dodging potholes all the while. You were waiting on the right, twenty feet off the road. The woman’s advice came to mind: If you get off your bike, leave it by the road. These trees drop needles that can puncture tires. I left the bike by the road and approached on foot.
The sun on the pale desert floor had me dazzled already, the biking had me breathless, and there you were—another life—not another character or stranger, not even a brother or sister soul—but a fellow life amidst all that dazzling bright nothingness.
For being kin to the plaza’s trees, with their straight trunks and full crowns, you seemed all the more extraordinary because you are everything they are not. Squat, crooked, bark burnt in some parts, bulging protuberances of ugly knots, you lean to the north under the weight of yourself and the wind. Your few branches are ungainly, your sparse foliage a comical topper to a ridiculous figure. Only your leaves are delicate and uniform.
How many centuries have you spent becoming you, before you came to be the dot on my map? How many moons have set over Valle de la Luna in your time?
Yours is another way of being. Your way is still, yet full of movement. In your infinite extremities you are constantly dancing, while below your trunk expands into space millimeter by millimeter, year by year. You do not hunt, but are always searching, unfurling downwards and about for moisture. To the ants filing through your crevices, you are all the universe they will ever need.
Stay awhile in my shade
calm yourself in my pauses
rest from wandering
feel my roots—
and I will show you everything
you have waited to remember
San Pedro de Atacama