Archive for the ‘White Sands National Monument’ Category

White Sands Pilgrimage

September 16, 2008

There is something about the concept and experience of pilgrimage that has drawn many spiritual and religoius traditions to it. They’ve become points-of-center (if you will; or even– polycentered if something can have many centers, if we play with the term) for various traditions and even personally-enacted vision quests.  Not being part of a particular religious tradition, I never thought about pilgrimage until I saw images of White Sands, New Mexico a few years ago.

The whiteness of the sand and idea of a landscape filled with such an unusual color in a desert was intriguing enough for me that I told myself I would see White Sands someday.

This past spring 2008, I finally made my way out to New Mexico.  It was a new state (and state-of-mind) for me.  I often “save the best for last,” so I saw other towns, in the north and center of the state, before heading down to White Sands.  My photo-log of the journey reflects my rising excitement.  I captured images of bushes and grasses along the highway leading into WS that hint at what will soon happen to the landscape.  There were patches of off-white sand around the grasses and I was already enamored.  It felt like those moments when you fall in love with someone before you even fully see them; you just sense a gesture of their’s or see a part of their being out of the corner of your eye and you know you will love this person.  And when you actually see them, you realize that your instincts are accurate.

When I finally drove into the myriad hills and curves, valleys, and wind-ripples of WS, I was in awe.  The whiteness was astounding.  Off-white had given into ultimate whiteness. I had strange conceptual moments as I hiked the hills– I often forgot that I was not in fact walking in snow but sand (and that it was hot out).  I took my shoes off to place myself into the landscape and become a part of it to complete my journey.  One of my favorite photographs is of my feet on the sand.

I traveled alone, making sure to follow safety tips posted at the beginning of the 3-5 hour hiking trail.  I knew that I had to work with the desert, respect her rules and nature, accept my vulnerability inside her body, and appreciate her strength and power over mine.  As a result, I fell into a cognitive task that I had never really dealt with, even in meditation.  I had to make sure that I followed the markers along the trail, always looking for the next one, keeping it in sight so that I would not get lost in the whiteness for good.  A few times, I snuck off the path to take photos of motions in her body that I couldn’t resist.  But always told myself, an inveterate day-dreamer, to stay focused.

White Sands can be likened to the Sirens or similar creatures in drawing you in and offering infinite chances in getting lost in her exquisite, soft, whiteness.  I went to her twice; once while the sun was setting and the reds, golds, and blues above her darkening white made me wonder if I should just sleep in my rental car– so that I could sleep with White Sands for the night.  I caught the moon looking on all of this and I didn’t want to leave the park.  The second trip was the next day and the main hike.

I saw a few lone travelers along the way.  We were all in our own heads and in the desert’s mind.  We passed each other quietly without really seeing or looking at each other.  Personal pilgrimages.  When I finished the hike and looked for white lizards that others have seen darting here and there, I didn’t feel accomplishment.  This wasn’t an agenda, something on my “to do” list.  I felt like She had become a part of me and I of Her and I was becoming more complete, more myself along my overall life journey.

Leaving Her was very difficult.  If I could become a grain of sand in Her immensity, I would.  If you ever go to White Sands: stand where there are no other people around.  Hold your breath and hear the most intense, loud silence.  Get the sense of how the world sounds like without us; how it can still do its music and motions without humans.  How it is playing while we’re chattering and roaring our way over everything.

Your own breath is so loud, that you can miss hearing Her.

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