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My desert solitary

Roger Marolt

It was an opportunity every writer dreams of. No, it was not cashing the advance check from a sure-fire best-seller. Even better, it was a trip to the desert for quiet time and inspiration.I arrived with my family on Friday evening. I set the tent up in a small tamarisk clearing next to the roiling waters of the mighty Colorado. The canyon walls soared high above. It was perfect! My plan was to wake early to sit peacefully alone on the beach and steal a couple of hours before the others woke. With this thought as ballast, my head made a soft landing on a balled-up jacket, and I fell fast asleep.Predictably, if not wholly unexpectedly, my alarm sounds at 5:47 the following morning. The tone is synchronized with the disconsonant whining of my dog, which, apparently, only I can hear. Grumbling silently about the cold, I wrestle out of the cozy sleeping bag. After a series of contortions, I am able to reach my toes well enough with one hand to finagle my socks onto the ends of bent, but stiff legs. There’s no flexibility left to tie my shoes, so I let they become slippers for the time being.Falling more than stepping out of the tent into the brisk pre-dawn campground dust, I stumble to the stove and put on water for coffee. While it heats, I crumble newspaper to start a fire. Only Friday’s Aspen Times is available in this semiwilderness. I hold a match to my own words of the day before hoping they are good to ignite another fire. The kindling takes and soon the flames are popping and crackling me back to a primitive sort of comfort.I pour the now boiling water over a host of dark instant coffee crystals and plant myself next to the fire. I’m too comfortable to move and too hypnotized by the flames to care about writing. After a few minutes, the caffeine takes hold, and I feel this opportunity slipping away. I pick up a camp chair, my notepad, the cup of coffee, grab the dog by her leash and make my way towards the riverbank. I set up only a few feet from camp, instantly realizing how much I miss the fire. I gaze across the river as the sailors’ warning presently begins to paint the cliffs there with hot, reddish alarm. I write:Before the rosy sunrise stained these sandstone walls, I wonder what color they were. My memory is of no use. I look at the heavy flakes below that have crashed down throughout the years. Their freshly exposed edges are giving away no clues. The sun has stained them so deeply too, that the only thing I know for sure is that both have been around since before anyone could have known …The dog nudges me, and I remember that she has been waiting patiently to be fed. I get up and set my pad down. I fill one bowl with food and the other with fresh, cold water. She eats, pesters me to throw a ball a half-dozen times, and, as is her habit, heads off to doze afterward. Back at inspiration point, my fingers are too cold to work a pen. I grab hold of my mug to warm them. A sip of coffee catches me off guard with its heat, and my tongue is blistered. I mix in a curse with an expulsion of the brew. The mood is lost, and I am resolved to be content in starting breakfast.Later we drive to Arches National Park to join the spring break throngs for a hike to Landscape Arch. We are as excited as any and take nearly as many pictures as most. We watch a film in the visitors center and finger through gimcrack at the gift shop. Writing doesn’t cross my mind again until we drive across a bridge on our way back. I notice that the deep, brown waters of the morning have taken on a reddish hue with the sun directly overhead. The cliffs look lower and more washed out. While the family takes to a shop on Main Street, I take out my pad and write:But, the red on the cliffs is heavy. The sun strains, yet can hold it no longer as it rises high to scout where next to deposit its lading. The remains slip to the valley floor were the turbulent waters pull it in and carry it to the sea, whence the sun will meet it once again, to take it back in a concentrated display, some dusk …The dog spots the family coming out of the store. Alternately they’re sporting two new caps, a Moab T-shirt, and exploring the various blades of a shiny jackknife. We pile into the car to look for a park to run around in.The remainder of the day is spent at camp making another fire, gathering wood for it, cooking dinner over it, avoiding smoke from it, and telling ghost stories around it. If the senses recognize the beauty surrounding us, we are so busy enjoying each other that their notice barely registers.After everyone is asleep, I think about the wonderful time that I have been given this day with my family. They are not a distraction. The anticipation of stealing moments of solitude to put words on paper seems misplaced. Now, I reach for my headlamp and notepad. In my dim corner of the tent I write:In the day’s final moments, the sun pulls what red is left to the surface of the river. The cliffs over my shoulder work desperately to soak it up, and succeed for a time. But, the sun is a good master to all color. Effortlessly it rolls over the horizon. The reds and oranges make a parade in following, so dazzling that we often miss the others trailing along. Then I understand that the color is not in the rock. In another moment the world is black. Roger Marolt is learning that the color is not in what is written, but is in what is written about. He’s trying to capture it at roger@maroltllp.com


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