Hungry, fervent hyenas, eyeing the foil and fire, giggling with the steam and prospect of turkey. Side dishes begin to pop up around the table: sweet potato, mac and cheese, sausage vegetable medley, cornbread stuffing infused with mashed potatoes, cranberry sauce, green bean casserole, broccoli cheese, pumpkin pie. It’s all laid out to feast, and we’ve held our empty plates long enough, dammit. Fast and wide-eyed, we squeeze and bump our way to every dish and serving spoon—full plates and filling bellies.
by Sara Aranda, Senior Contributor
(this piece is printed in Volume 11, “Choss, Solos, and Reflection” Get your copy, or subscribe HERE) Banner photo: Mike Shaw
In a matter of minutes, fifteen people are gnawing and hovering the table scraps, dishes scraped, bits of food having rained the sand. The dogs bound and dart, sniffing, begging, excitedly barking, pecking their noses into the dark. This is pure gluttony in the desert—a celebration of community and enjoyment of what we’ve brought to share.
We laugh around the fire, let the flames rise and snake into the wind. We lick our chops and our plates and pass the Carlo Rossi, pinky in the handle and butt of the jug in the crooks of our elbows. People pray for beer, and it comes in droves, cracking like whips in the wind. A lad named Zach decides to streak through other camps with just a rack of gear and a rope draping his body. Like a Spartan ready for war, he bellows, “Who will join me?” before running off with only shadows chasing his heels.
Other camps stoke their fires and clap or shout in game and yip with stories I imagine are just as soul-wrenching as our own—every fire its own cosmic center of history, friendship, and love for the desert, her ancestral resonance, how the silence of hands that paint her walls still bleed as well as ours.
I sit back, enjoy the warmth. The stars are crisp. The moon, a late riser. Time passes and people slowly quiet, crawl into their heads, and we wander into a waking dream of merriment. Sleepy eyes zone into the fiery center of our own universe; even the pups lay down their heads. Drifting to our tents, we let the drunken blackness take over. Frost creeps up to our cheeks, our eyelids; saliva freezes to our blankets, and we dream of wiry bodies baked red from the earth, climbing, climbing, always climbing.
The sun is a clear disk rising over the chaos. Beer cans lie about the fire ring, most of them half-full and frozen. The pots and pans are as they were, left for the stars to lick leftovers with frost. The turkey lies stiff in its foil pan, an old carcass you’d find ravaged in the winter backwoods of Alaska. I quickly pick up all the trash I can and tidy our gluttonous wave of being. We are poor dirtbags again, aching and sore. Everyone slowly rises to peer, drearily, into their cooling coffee, the steam glancing their faces with warm fingers.
Muddy, one of the pups, prances around the bushes—it’s another beautiful day, he barks to everyone rising from synthetic burrows. He swings a glove he found with his mouth, shaking his head back and forth. Life is truly now, and we must all play. Though, as wise as he is, frost is everywhere, and we are slow to warm. The metal stoves, the plastic bowls and empty glass jugs, every leaf and shrub, the hardened soil, and the insides of our brains—such a crystalline frost, built slow and sure.
The Wingate walls light up, glow auburn, and we sit with the sun, trace the stories present in our gobies. My body is telling me to rest. Weeks of throwing limbs into these cracks, two years of dreaming myself here: the morning is sincere. I am different now, this Creeksgiving unlike the last; this time I am no longer the lone traveler heading east in search of home.
I contemplate this place. What happens to me up there, on those bluffs high above the desert cow pastures? The hike to any crag is steep, the climbs steeper. Accept me, I say before I take the sharp end, or any end. Let me breathe your indifference. But these walls are only echoes of mantras I beg of myself. My hands slot narrow cracks or twist inside wide, parallel lines, my feet just as contorted. I often drag the sides of my body up a corner or against the belly of a dark chimney. The black sheen and red-velvet casts of the stone, they come off unto me. Yet I am the one to discover new strength and wisdom there, new blankets of darkness that linger within every fissure and terrible hand jam. And it is this darkness, the one that lives inside my head, that changes me.
The smell of steaming breakfast burritos is strong. I am on the brink of being over the cold, but I find it necessary. My body forgets what it’s like to be at ease and wholly refreshed; I welcome the dialogue, as my flesh speaks in tenderness, moans in stiff joints when I stand. My scabs have given up on preventing scars. My hair is as wild as the cottonwood and flows as it pleases, into my eyes, my mouth, tickling my nose as snot drips as slow as the sun is rising—Hemingway wrote it best, and today truly is another beautiful day.
Sara Aranda somehow took a liking to writing at a young age, composing terrible stories about mermaids, love in the Wild West, and portals to alternate happy-land dimensions. She eventually pursued a degree in creative writing, with an emphasis in poetry, at the University of California Riverside, which is also where she discovered trail running, climbing, and ultimately the great wild world of everything outdoors. She also really likes peanut M&M’S and baby sloths. You can read about other adventures and musings at www.bivytales.com.
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