Fresh from the most satisfying sleep of all three nights, I woke slowly, studying a bizarre collection of dream sequences. Both President Bush and Obama showed up in separate scenes, the former as a master carpenter, of all things. Another scene included the cast and crew from the most recent TV show I was working on, mixed with mentors of mine from the entrepreneurial world, all set in a Roman scene of playful debauchery.
Waking from this surreal collection of visions was mildly perplexing, until the gravity of the moment really began to sink in. This was the final morning. I’d made it through. And, as I gazed at the Western mountains filling with light, I savored the moment. There was no need to rush. Reverence was the order of the day.
I let myself look around in all directions for a while before emerging from my sleeping bag. I shook my body a little, got the blood flowing and set to packing. I was not five seconds into it when I became surprised at how mindfully I was putting things back in their compartments. Each of the other days, I had scampered out of that spot with anxious delight, knowing I would be coming back. Today, there was only going forward.
Once everything was neatly stowed and prepared for the walk, I said my final prayers. Standing in the deepening silence, at the center of my bowl-shaped home, my prayers were one word- “thank you;” over and over and over. Strung between clangs of the bells and bows of my head to every direction, all I could say was “thank you.” It was a rich and poignant moment steeping in the power of gratitude, and it inspired me to simply wait for the right moment to leave. In the waiting, the listening deepened into and an appreciation of the vast silence. It stretched into every direction I had bowed to; it echoed inside me, filling me with such gratitude for being alive; and, it filled my heart to overflowing, such that it started racing wildly.
I could suddenly hear my heart beating so loud I thought someone was suddenly running down on me from behind. I reflexively turned and met the near emptiness of the sloping hill of reddish-brown rocks there. I turned back around and breathed a few more times, settling my heart and re-awakening my connection with the silence. I rang the bell once more and then, when the last traces of that were inaudible, right on cue, the silence was broken. High overhead, the familiar honks and cackles I’d heard the previous days were making their way North. I looked up and beheld the two Ravens again. I watched them with delight; floating mostly, staying close, drifting apart and calling each other back to closeness.
Deeply moved by their magical return, I bowed, thanking them, thanking the spot and thanking myself for the willingness to wait. That little act had made the most subtle and powerful difference. I smiled and then hoisted the pack onto my back. Stumbling over the rugged terrain, I walked along ringing the bells, giving nothing but thanks.
When I returned to camp 45 minutes later, I could feel how intensely heightened my senses were and how weak my body felt. Approaching my car, invisible, billowy tendrils of diesel fuel and cigarette smoke almost knocked me over. They were mere wisps swirling amidst the parking lot, but they were pungent and potent near-knock-outs, the likes of which I hadn’t smelled in days. Leaning against my car for support, I set down my backpack and followed the gaze of several campers off to my left. They were marveling at a rare sight in the sky, in the form of two modern birds; one was the ominous, shadow-black span of a Stealth fighter, and the other was the fighter’s ‘food-source,’ a large white plane that had just finished re-fueling the big black jet. In light of the journey with my mother and all the threads connected with the ‘womb;’ in light of my experience with finding new nourishment in the fast; and, in light of the two ravens I had seen three times over the last few days, this modern pair of birds was a surreal and most perfect welcome back to ‘the other reality.’
And, as I said, I was weak. I moved gingerly to sit in the sanctity of the driver’s seat, taking notes on anything I could remember from the previous three days. I was able to set up a page for each day, yet I could hardly hold the pen. I scribbled a few lines then paused to grab a sip of water. Having not had any food or water in 84 hours, I was
clearly out of practice. My hands shook and half of what I intended to take in dribbled down the front of my sweatshirt. I paused. I breathed. I closed my eyes and waited.
Some minutes later, I took another sip, successfully, and resumed my writing. I alternated writing with sips of water and then, quickly discovering how ravenous I was, dove into a bag of raw cashews and the organic turkey jerky I had bought at Whole Foods prior to the trip. What a full, rich tapestry of tastes and physical sensations! To be salivating, chewing and swallowing occurred to me the most radical and dynamic of experiences, all of which were so satisfying. I began playfully savoring it to such a degree that I started humming out loud. I chewed and hummed with such gratitude I nearly fell over with laughter into the passenger seat. Everything in that moment was so yummy.
And the rest of the day became even yummier. As I drove out of camp, I said good-bye and gave thanks for all I’d experienced there. I followed the road ¼ mile North to dine over at The Furnace Creek Café and it was heaven! At 200 feet below sea level! I filled myself to the brim on eggs, hash browns and sausage, enjoying most the fact that I was the last one in the place. To have the space for my nervous system to acclimate and adjust while eating was better than anything on the menu. Of course, I wasn’t really alone. I did have my iPhone, so I was, shamelessly, devouring my breakfast AND Facebook.
Fortunately, for the remainder of the day, I was out of range so there were no calls, e-mails or statuses to post. I hadn’t given any exact thought to what I would do after I ate so, sitting in a wicker chair outside the restaurant, I closed my eyes and let go. I imagined I could do anything and go anywhere and it took several minutes to hear the clear answer as to what would feel good. I heard the words “just drive,” and that was all I needed.
I headed south through the middle of the Valley, cruising along at 40 mph, just taking in the sun-filled expanse of rock, space and light. I meandered for a while then followed an incredible, recently created loop-road called “Artist Drive,” where the mountains revealed stunning, pastel tones that seemed absolutely otherworldly. Coming back to the main road through the Valley, I pulled over and then I checked the map for where I might sleep that night. Then I checked the time. Then, I floored it.
It was mid-afternoon and on the map I saw a natural hot springs in a small town just beyond the Southern edge of the park, one my wife and I had reveled in once. I raced south to get there before sunset and the pools were divine for body and soul; a delicious, tall-reed-protecting, white-sulfur-mud surrounding, all-to-myself kind of paradise. The sunset right after was an intergalactic sheath of swirling magentas, pinks and slate gray-blues. The night drive through the desert after that was much as it had been careening south through Death Valley- an envelope that just kept opening, my car seemingly hungry for more speed, more roads, more space and more freedom.
And then, when I hit the town of Baker, everything slowed to a crawl.