Alone In The Sand Box
(First Published December 23, 2009)
That Warm Feeling
This goes way back, to my earliest childhood memories. I assume that everyone has origins like this, and they must vary quite a bit. They are one of those core values / feelings / memories that follow us all through life and create the foundation of who we are. They are more like memories and feelings that keep resurfacing, they are a constant throughout our entire life.
For me, it was being lost in the fog. Not so much being lost, but alone. This isn't a scary feeling like some sort of phobia or nightmare. It is more of a dreamlike state. A waking dream where all your senses come into play and everything is a mystery to be discovered.
Every time I have come across these situations in real life, I am thrown back to that constant feeling from the first time I experienced it.
The first time was probably during a blizzard in North Dakota around 1962. It was nighttime and you couldn't see more than 10 feet in front of you. I was all bundled up and walking back to my house in the dark. But I was so disoriented, I had to walk up to each house to see if I recognized the door, and then stumble to the next one, and the next, before finally finding my home. I knew it was there somewhere, and when I found it, there would be warm blankets and coco waiting for me.
Fast forward four years and we had just moved to southern California. It was in the spring, and there was still a bite in the air. I saw ocean fog for the first time that spring, as it drifted through the groves of Eucalyptus trees behind our house. As I walked through the forest, the aroma of the trees mixed with the coolness of the fog. Eventually the morning mist was countered by the warm rays of sunlight struggling to pierce the canopy of the trees and chase the fog away. It was surreal.
A decade later in College, my friends and I rented a beach house on the Oregon Coast for a weekend. One morning after a heavy night of college partying, we awoke to a dense fog bank hanging over the coast. I walked down to the beach and headed toward the surf. I could hear the crashing waves all around me like a roaring freight train, but the sand was still dry and I couldn't see more than 10 feet in any direction. After walking almost a half mile toward the ocean, it sounded as though a wave would materialize out of the mist and swallow me. I slowly retraced my footsteps in the sand back to the beach house.
I left college in 1982 and moved to Arizona. On my road trip from college student to adulthood, I stopped in the Redwood Forest of northern California to sleep in my car before heading toward San Francisco the next morning. During the night there was no moon and low laying clouds moved in through the trees to block out what little starlight there was. I awoke in the middle of the night to experience total and complete darkness for the first time in my life. That lonely night in the middle of nowhere, the forest enveloped me. (A more detailed account of this night can be found in my blog entitled Deep Woods.)
It has been a while since then and these images have become fewer and farther between but their memory has not diminished in my mind. They are those periods of wonder and reflection when you have to question the world around you and also question who you are.
The last one was in September 2009. I was at Burning Man in northern Nevada. Burning Man takes place on a huge dry lake bed 70 miles from the nearest town. When the wind picks up (which is often) it creates huge dust storms that the participants have to weather. It sounds worse than it is. The dust is like a fine powder and is hypo-allergenic, there are no spores or pollen in it. So everyone always has a handkerchief and goggles at the ready to ride out the 5 to 30 minutes of zero visibility.
I was caught in one of these storms as I roamed the far reaches of the playa, thousands of feet from any structure. The dust engulfed me and I put my bandanna over my face and lowered my goggles to wait it out. As I knelt down on the ground, ghostly images of fellow Burners came and went on the fringes of my sight. Riding bicycles, walking, laughing, dressed in bizarre costumes. They drifted in and out of my world in another waking dream, and then the dust dissipated and the world was normal again.
I sometimes feel that this is what my life is really all about. In our day to day lives, we are just waiting for something to happen. But once in a while, we get a glimpse of what it is like to pass to the other side.