Matt W Cook

writer.former fundamentalist.christianly fellow

Tag: outdoors

Into the Thar

I took a drive into the Thar.  The sun was hot and dry and beautiful.  Sand stretched around as far as our eyesight would carry us.  We stopped the car and got out in a place without any memorable landmark.  We walked around and looked at the nearly nothing that surrounded us.

Tree in the Thar

My son was two or three.  He was enthralled by the endlessness of it.  A place without walls or horns or people.  A place where you could run without watching and fear no accident.  No ditch to fall into.  No traffic to be wary of.  Endless surface just begging to be played with.

We crouched own on the ground together and looked at the sand.  It seemed like any other sand at any beach or children’s play pit.  We picked it up in our hands and let it slip through our fingers.  Eliot was able to see fear in a handful of dust.  We saw beauty in a handful of sand.

TharDespite its playful novelty, the desert was an obviously hard place.  Everything alive had to fight to keep living.  Every dry and thorny bush.  Every skittering lizard and scorpion.  And every tree. You wouldn’t think there would be trees in the desert–and deeper into the Thar there wouldn’t even be these grasses, let alone trees.  But here there were a few daredevil khejri and neems that had managed to beat the odds to stand alone in vast fields of sand and sparse grasses.

Night fell and we were still out in the open desert.  We wandered as the stars burned against the night sky.  There were no clouds or city lights to hide them.  I had seen stars before–I had been raised on constant trips into the Canadian wilderness.  But even the vibrant stars over Temagami could not compare to the lights above the stark emptiness of Thar.

We looked up at a menagerie of flame and void.  The Milky Way scattered itself across the scene.  One Pakistani folk tale says that the Milky Way is made by the spirits of dead youth who spend eternity scattering grains of salt across the sky.  I believed it that night.

We stayed for a long time, walking, praying.  The void of desert and sky brought out something within us we all had forgotten.  A certain mysticism that all religions try to stumble toward and none really manage to grasp.  A sense of the immensity, beauty, and absurdity of existence.  An understanding of the cosmic power of love.  A yearning to fly into the waiting arms of the universe herself.

Here Goes Nothing

First off, it was chilly.  It’s hard to do anything in the water while it’s chilly.

The whole group of us paddled to the jumping rocks anyway, even though I made it clear I wasn’t going to jump.  The lowest rocks were seventeen feet above the water and I don’t do heights so well.  But it’s always fun to watch my brothers leap off the rocks.  I usually don’t like being a spectator, but when it comes to flinging my body off a cliff I’m content to be the armchair athlete.

My son, it turns out, is not nearly as content.

His jaw hung open when he saw my brothers flying through the air.  He turned to me.

“I want to do it,” he said.

“You’re only seven,” I told him, as if he didn’t know.

“I’ll wear a life jacket.”

I was about to forbid him.  I really was, I promise.  But that most interesting of all adverbs gave me pause.

Why?

Why tell this young dare devil no?

Why tell him to act his age?

Why refuse his desire to push himself beyond his limits and seek the special place where the magic happens?

Because the magic always happens on the edge, or just over it.  It always happens in those places that we fear to go.  Out of the zone of comfort and familiarity.

“Sure, Joe.  Go for it.”

Five minutes later he was at the top of the cliff, inching to the edge and shaking all over in fear and excitement.

“I don’t know,” he said.

“You can do it,” I called.  “It’ll be fun.”

He put his toes on the edge and gazed down.

“Here goes nothing,” he called.  And he pushed himself off.

He hung in mid air for a moment.  His arms were outstretched and waving.  His feet floated in the air beneath him.  His face wore the look of joy and terror and life.

He was where the magic happens.

Here goes nothing.