Solitude. The need to walk into desolation and for a few days, just listen to nothing. No chatter, no flashing pictures pulsating from the tiny world we keep in our pockets, no validation from social media “likes”, no ambitions of creating a “better” future for ourselves. Just silence.
Creepy, maddening, terrifying silence. I mean the kind that you hear the blood pulsing in your ears and the howl of the wind becomes your friend and enemy all at once. The kind where you talk to yourself out loud in order to stay off the demons. The kind that any person who wants to advance beyond their current self should demand of themselves at least a couple of times a year.
I was in the Arizona desert, chasing javelina and mule deer deep in the backcountry with my bow in hand. Braving the heat on what was a solo hunt, self-induced vision quest.
I sat in the desert with a stick in my hand, poking at an anthill. They didn’t seem to mind much, whatever I destroyed they appeared to fix without complaint, or at least that’s what I would have liked to believe. From time to time my binoculars made their way up to my eyes in what was a forced show of focus. I knew the mule deer wouldn’t be moving in the heat of mid-day, but I had to put on a show, to prove to myself that I wasn’t in need of constant entertainment. To prove that I could just sit, with a stick in my hand and enjoy the present moment.
The heat waves made the glassing even more of a ridiculous endeavor, my effective glassing range couldn’t be more than a few hundred yards. Still…
The day wore on as did my expectations of seeing movement. Out here there is a god of movement. That god is a fireball in the sky that dictates how and when a creature gets to expend its energy, usually occurring when his shift is over.
While out here, I was under the command of this same god. I sat in the midday heat under its control. Sit and wait it out was the only option. Camp was a few miles away as well as the only liquid to be found for more miles than I cared to admit.
I swished my remaining water in my Nalgene, trying to calculate the portions I would divy out from now until I could find some more.
It wasn’t looking like I was going to have a chugging contest with myself anytime soon.
With little else to do my mind wandered back to the previous four uneventful days of sitting in the broken Arizona desert. Little was happening around me and I suppose that is the exact reason I was here. For nothing.
It usually took at least a day to release the neurotic thoughts of work. The constant jockeying for my brain’s attention to fix problems that weren’t really there, just something I create to occupy my time and validate my existence. Typically I can beat this out of my system by a brutal hike in, release it with the city sweat that pours out of my body.
This trip however it had proved to be a lengthier process. After four days in however, I was really there, enjoying the moment and caring about little else.
The sun was about forty-five minutes from getting some shuteye so I mustered myself up and slowly straightened my spine. I remember begging for younger days when being sore was something that my father complained about, not me.
I started off slow, taking four steps and pausing to scan the scrub bushes that fought for their existence in this arid environment. They really had to have wanted to be here to put up with this brutal attack from the sun day in and day out, or perhaps they just didn’t know any better. There is no “grass is greener” syndrome if you don’t know the grass is different elsewhere.
There has to be something alive out here beside bushes. All the sign I had found so far was proof of it.
The miles dragged on and with it my focus. Water, dehydrated food and a sleeping bag was my incentive to to keep the feet churning.
The hill where my temporary home existed was within a stone’s throw. A final push of my creaky bones and I would be sipping on hot water that had also been on the defensive from the sun all day.
That’s when they appeared.
The movements came slow at first. Almost like a chess game, dark figures advanced, moved laterally and retreated.
Then with a cry from a single javelina came the chaos. They split in every cardinal direction, some came dangerously close to toppling me over like a bowling pin.
All but one. He stood his ground. This was his territory and whoever this bipod was, he wasn’t going to intimidate him.
I nocked an arrow all the while looking straight into his eyes, praying he wouldn’t move.
As I drew back he stood defiant, holding his ground. The arrow released and that sought after and distinct “thud” put a smile on my face. With a squeal he was off.
He tore up the ground and made a death run in the direction of my tent.
I sat down in the encroaching dark, allowing him to have solitude during the last moments of his life. Perhaps he would want to be with his tribe during his last breaths or perhaps he would want to leave this world how he came into it, alone. Or perhaps I was attaching human traits on this animal because I’d been sitting in the desert for the last four days with little else to think about.
I let the solitude fade out of my system and bid it a welcome goodbye, if just for a little while. I powered up my sat phone and heard the warm voice on the other end.
“You got one? So you’re coming home?” She said in way that could only come from someone who understands you.
A smile crept on my face, knowing that my self-enforced isolation had come to an end.
“I’m coming home.” I said.
With that melted away the need, at least temporarily, to walk alone and I was ready to go rejoin my tribe.
// Fred Bohm