This morning I went for a hike out on the ranch scouting my next location for a photo shoot. I started out at a particular dry creek bed. Parked the truck, walked down a shallow slope and stood a moment taking in the world around me. This was where Drew first taught me how to shoot a gun. Back when I was so terrified of them that my hands would shake just to hold one. I have only been back here twice since he died… always I can feel the absence so strongly here. This time was no different.
I stood looking out at the steep slope where old cans and barrels still lay in the dirt – full of bullet holes and rust. It’s an empty place to go to now… with nothing left but these small aluminum reminders of a past life, now decaying slowly in into the earth. It all looked smaller now – the way childhood places look to you when you visit them for the first time as an adult. Only I wasn’t a child when I was here… it was only a few years ago when we last came here together and shot a few rounds. But how strange it all looks now. As if the life is gone out of it. Despite the creek bed being full of winding mesquite trees and dusty green cacti and a hint of the first rush of wildflowers of spring. To see it with my eyes… there is no life in it.
I look down at my feet and notice a few bones, vertebrae of a deer or a hog likely. I have a thing for animal skulls, so my mind is immediately on the search for a skull to collect. I find none… but the thought of one “out there” somewhere ends up getting me wandering.
I follow the creek bed about a half a mile or so – somewhat still looking for a location for my photo shoot… but mostly not. By now the clouds are clearing and the harsh sun coming out – so my chances of getting the light right for the photography are blown anyway. I really do need to start getting up earlier for this stuff, when the low morning cloud cover offers the perfect light. I wander… Enjoying the cool breeze on my skin, enjoying the birds singing all around me, and the crunch my boots make in the residual dead leaves from winter. For a little while at least, I am lost and enjoying it. Enjoying being alone and the feeling that no one knows where I am. Why is that such an appealing feeling? The freedom of it, I suppose.
I find a few more bones… a shoulder blade, likely from a hog, a large femur from a cow long ago passed. No skulls. I find an old dead tree that looks like a cross, and pull my phone out to snap a picture and note its location. It might be something worth capturing in different light. Then I make my way back through the creek bed to my place or origin… listening along the way to a recording on my phone of an artist friend talking about life. He is saying how each day is a new day, a chance to make a new choice, to be reborn. It’s comforting… even as sad as I am today, still this idea is comforting. To even live somewhere where I have the opportunity to choose so much in my life, is really quite remarkable.
I am back at the beginning of my trek before I know it… and as I’m crossing the creek bed to return to the truck, there, right at my feet… is a skull. Wild hog, in very good condition. It is laying only 4 or 5 feet from those first bones I saw, yet somehow I missed it? There all along. I smile, and I think about this all for a while. They say that which we may spend our lives looking for, our peace, our happiness, acceptance, love… we need not search it out, for it is always right where we were to begin with. Sometimes maybe we just need to look a bit closer to find it. But maybe at times we do just need to go on a search outside ourselves in order to return back to our hearts with new eyes. I know it has helped me to do so since he died. It’s far too treacherous a landscape to stay inside myself for too long.
As I returned, and looked around at this place that felt so alone before, it felt different… transformed somehow by my journey outward. I could see it with new eyes that were able to notice all the life around me – the birds, the wildflowers, the insects. Amazing how I hadn’t been able to see any of that before… only the loss, only the memories which I can no longer recreate there with him. And now I was seeing everything else. I suppose sometimes we need a good venture outward in order to see ourselves and our loss differently.