I am in Phoenix this week working with Entertainment One, a large independant media company based in Canada.
The work is going well and these are fine people but what I was completely unprepared for was how emotional a return to the desert it was for me. I hadn't realize how much I missed this land.
I first started coming to Arizona about 17 years ago, supporting the work of cultural anthropologist Angeles Arrien. We would hold four workshops a year near Paulden, about two and half hours north of Phoenix, in the high desert. We spent thirty days a year on the land.
When I first arrived I felt I had landed on the moon! The landscape seemed so barren to me. As I became more comfortable I began to experience a powerful connection to the desert. That feeling only grew stronger with vision quest, spending three days and nights on the land alone.
With no distractions, the land held a hypnotic force, ever changing with the light and cloud variations of the day and in the night, under the moon and stars.
Some of the most exciting lightening storms I have ever witnessed arrived with the monsoons in August. Streak, sheet, and ball lightning provided a psychadelic light show unlike anything I have ever seen with the possible exception of the northern lights.
Spring brought a blanket of wildflowers. Fall and winter brought extremes-hot in the day, cold at night. In January your could even expect snow.
There are critters galore: eagles, hawks and vultures; wild pig, coyote and mountain lion; rattlesnakes and tarantula spiders. I once shared a room with three tarantulas. They were courteous enough roommates. It was the foot-long poison centipede that I was nervous about meeting.
I love the plant life too. Barrel cactus, buckhorn and teddy bear cholla, prickly pear and pipe cactus. Yucca, jojobba, and mesquite. Pinyon pine and juniper.
I wrote this poem to honor the spirits of this land and place:
What was it I came here to remember? I have been standing on this spot for three days and three nights, waiting.
The sun pounding me to my knees, the heat steaming me open. At night the moon shaking me until my teeth rattle.
I won’t quit though, won’t leave here without a vision.
What was it that I came here to remember? I have seen with my own eyes things I know are true.
Last night my grandfather came. He didn’t say anything just took my measure and was gone. He never ever quit on anything. Stubborn. Me too.
Maybe I came here to remember how vision comes when the foreground shimmers and fades.
Maybe that’s when you glimpse what hasn’t happened yet.
© Patrick O’Neill 2011. All rights reserved.