There’s something special about the desert. I’ve thought before I’m someone who needs to be enveloped by tall creatures, branched and looming, with deep greens and deeper groans, throwing shade everywhere and confusing late afternoon with dusk. I associate the forest and its dark depths to home. The comfort, the solitude, the isolation.
I remember camping trips around Mount Hood. The smell of our tent trailer. The distance between our bed and mom and dad’s, which spanned the kitchen table with its hideaway and stiff cushions, and the creaky front door. The sound of morning rain against the canvas. The way the wind could ferociously whip against the walls to remind us our inside can’t always be different from the out.
I remember hikes in the Gorge, or even behind our house. Trudging around our neighborhood’s wetlands, learning distance and freedom in the confines of tree canopies. The forest floor in my jumbled memory forever damp and endless and just terrifying enough. Soft skin you could peel back nearly anywhere to see another world.
But it’s never quiet there, amid the dark green. Trees and their inhabitants and foraging visitors chatter perpetually. Branches creak. Leaves rustle. Critters munch and tweet and knock on wood doorways with the conviction of a sheriff’s deputy.
There's a quiet to the desert I never have to wake up and wonder at. The howling coyotes are neither shy nor rambling—they cry, you know exactly what’s going on, then it’s back to a cavernous silence. Voices travel through space without distortion. Sound becomes lithe, expansive, almost arrogant in the openness here. It can't do that in the trees.
I don’t lie in bed in the desert with my mind hyperactive, running the show, picking up and analyzing and twisting every micro-movement outside the van, just audible enough to engage, just quiet enough to remain mysterious. Something’s either making noise or lying dormant in the desert, and you can generally know, even in the murky waters of semi-consciousness, exactly what that something is and why it’s making that definable noise. And you can let it go. And you can move on.
There were countless times Yoav and I camped around Hood’s national forest over the past month. Come bedtime and all-enveloped darkness, and little but flimsy metal keeping the next serial killer away from our slumbering bodies, I generally couldn’t let go of being alert. I clung to my ability to pick up and decipher (I never really got it right, what the sounds actually were) every mini-peep. I couldn’t sleep for a solid eight, or seven, or six.
It wasn’t because I wasn’t tired; we were generally exhausted out there, connecting the spines of ridges and endless single track hidden beneath the blankets. It was never because the bed’s too small for us both to sleep outstretched, or otherwise normal. (Yoav has to bend his knees, or we’ll sleep at a diagonal. I can just barely stretch out, but only when my feet are uncomfortably flexed and my head’s up against the wall as if to hold it up, which I discovered feels very unnatural. So I just bend my knees, too. It’s the sacrifice we chose for a larger kitchen/living room/parlor and a storage space for my bike and two crash pads). We’re used to the size now, have had plenty of comfortable snoozes in it since figuring out our positioning.
It isn’t because I’m too hot or too cold. Or I ate something weird. Or the book I'm reading was freaking me out, upsetting my stomach somehow, as all Murakami's books tend to.
I can only really say what it is now, now that I’ve been studying my sleep, and the silence.
It's the forest. All that green. All that life, all the time.
Perhaps I am ready to call the desert home.