Secrets of the Yucca (Joshua Tree; Days 25, 26)


Joshua Tree is a very special place.

I arrived there a few hours before sundown, instantly relaxed by its infinite sand and eerie piles of boulder and proud, welcoming yucca trees, and above all else, its remoteness, its gentle quiet, its pristine sensibility. I parked Rousseau in a gravel parking lot and took off tor the wilderness, wandering aimlessly for miles before making camp at a perfectly random heap of rock.

Joshua Tree is an experience, a psychedelic rendezvous with nature, and I found it apt, if not mildly prosaic, to heighten that experience with a hearty helping of natural psychedelic grasses. Salvia, my favored choice for its simple legality and its bookended window of wild hallucinations, began to take hold of my mind quickly after ingestion, and soon, Joshua Tree came alive around me. Resting on a low-lying boulder, I spoke to the trees, conversed with the mountains, watched the colors of the wind blow by; I befriended a particular yucca, far off to my left, and thanked the sun, who I felt to be the ringleader of it all, over my right shoulder. Acquaintances from my past materialized on the rocks around me, a boulder to my right changed shape upon my command, and further out, a mountain giant, or rather, a giant of a mountain, raced toward me until I ordered it to halt. And as the effects of the hallucinogenic wore down, I took to reading, and I was pleased to have Kurt Vonnegut transport to my side and narrate, in his own voice, the words on my page.

When deciding that rock was where I would pitch camp, I never really got around to pitching camp, and I chose instead to simply roll out my sleeping bag and lie on that rock underneath the stars, where I slept a glorious, uninhibited night.

I woke early and packed my things, then hiked back to Rousseau, waiting patiently, and from there we set off for the south end of Joshua Tree, through the park and, eventually, out west toward the Pacific Ocean, toward San Diego. But before getting there, something happened, something which I can't really explain, but something I will try to do very poorly nonetheless, with mixed metaphors abound, and something I can't even really attempt to do without a brief prologue of the existential life and times of Jay Austin.

Many people, I am told, lead perfectly happy lives free from nagging questions of what it all means and how to escape the trivial meaninglessness of an existence that will undoubtedly end and how to come to terms with the inevitable heat death of the universe. I am, unfortunately, not one of those people. No, though I am grateful to live a life colored by a particularly positive disposition, I have been haunted from a young age by existential and philosophical questions to which I have no answers. As an intuitive, feeling, judging introvert, per Carl Jung's personality types, I am perpetually in search of an answer, a single, coherent truth that will piece everything together, that will connect the entire universe and all its mysteries, despite the logical, rational realization that such a thing cannot possibly exist. And as a Highly Sensitive Person, I have a wider range of emotion than the average homo sapien, which makes those more pronounced attempts at grasping an answer gravely disheartening, capable of throwing my whole self into an existential funk that can last for weeks.

My road trip across America was never an attempt to find some nonexistent answer, to put an end to that existential funk, because I knew if I had set that to be my aim, I'd return disappointed, dream unrealized. And so I resolved to simply experience the continent, to see its beauty, to have fun and have adventure and let my being become what it may. I didn't expect a life-changing experience, and if it were to come, I expected it to be incremental, gradual, nearly imperceptible. Someone had written me during the early weeks of my trip wishing me a positively "life-shattering" journey, which was a nice way of putting it, but I knew not to expect the shatter, that those fabled moments of profound change and realization are nothing more than post-hoc myths.

And then came Joshua Tree.

Riding out of Joshua Tree that Wednesday morning, I wasn't thinking of anything in particular. I wasn't looking for anything in particular. It was a sunny day, about seventy degrees, riding forty miles per hour down unremarkable asphalt with pleasant but unremarkable scenery around it. Hey Marseilles played through my headphones, and the taste of almonds floated about my tongue while thoughts of no particular substance floated about my mind. The circumstances that morning were, by all means, notably unnotable.

Then, about twenty minutes into the drive, neurons began to fire wildly. I felt a lifting sensation in my cerebrum, every part of my brain lighting up at once, the indescribable ability to actually feel myself think. I felt as though I was pulling myself up over a wall, about to glimpse what was atop it, an experience I had felt many times before, but this time was different, this time, I had a hold of the wall's top ledges, this time I was hoisting and pulling and throwing myself onto it, this time I had actually arrived at the top. And it was glorious.

I cannot, and could not, ever accurately describe what happened then. In an instant, the universe was inside me, and I could feel every fiber of it, every particle of matter. Every single thing made sense, and nothing made sense, and I felt everything, and I felt nothing. In an instant, I felt every answer to every question I've ever had, and then, nodding in the ultimate realization, the answers vanished with the questions in tow, leaving me not with any practical answer whatsoever, but leaving me without the questions I had battled against for decades. I couldn't even remember what the questions were. All that was left was quiet, peace.

In that instant, my rational mind cynically doubted what was happening, chocking the experience up to a misfired synapse or a mistaken overdose of dopamine. But at the very next instant, another wave of truth hit me, and I began crying, torrents of tears running down my face, not sadness, not happiness, just awe. This is it. I was terrified, I was thankful, I was devoid of emotions and filled with every one of them. I was ready.

And so I waded into it, into the metaphysical ocean before me, and felt a peace and a truth I had never felt before, and it persisted, and the deeper in I waded the stronger it felt, and the harder I felt it, and I cried so hard I had to pull to the side of the road for practical fear of physically crashing at the actual moment of this actual moment. Waves of realization broke atop me. I realized that my wish for all the puzzle pieces of the universe to  click together into something that made sense hadn't happened in an instant; I had been putting the puzzle together for years, and it was only that morning that I realized what I was putting together, how close I was to being complete, and with each piece set into place, the next became exponentially easier, until with one final click, it was done. Complete. And complete was the right word for how I felt: my search, my quest, my life. What now? I recall asking myself, legitimately unable to conceptualize a continuing existence after that moment, unsure of what banalities would be left to occupy my time and thoughts.

A few minutes later, I started driving again, not knowing what else to do, and the feeling came with me, and for forty miles I basked in that glorious glow, that eternal truth, not parting ways with its most intimate form until reaching a gas station on the far stretches of the California Desert.

I was okay leaving it, because I knew it wasn't gone. As of this writing, it is still there, a gentle ocean in my sights, so close I can hear its cresting waves, smell its salts, recall the ecstasy of being in it. Still, I feel that zen and that peace. The questions haven't returned. I feel no stress, no anger, no frustration with the world or the people in it. I feel nothing but truth, truth and peace and love.

I have done my best to explain what happened to me in Joshua Tree, and my best is far from good enough. What happened was indescribable. I didn't see anything, I felt it; I didn't learn anything, I realized it. I emerged from Joshua Tree a different person, if only in my head, and I can quite honestly say that I would not trade that experience for any other in my life. I hesitate to call what I attained there nirvana, for fear of inferring some sort of spiritual superiority, or enlightment; if I was religious, perhaps I'd deem it a spiritual awakening. Transcendence, maybe. Really, I just as easily could have experienced an aneurism or a collapsed lobe. I don't know what to make of my experience, and truthfully, I don't particularly care what prompted it or even what it was. It happened, and from it, life got figured out.

Now, the rest is just for fun.


  1. I'm happy for you. Hold onto it.

  2. So one day I decided to go visit Joshua Tree. I'd never been before and was only familiar with the usual photographs of Joshua Tree tree. I arrived alone in Joshua Tree, the town, and stopped off in the only Cafe, where I was the only customer, and there was one computer in the corner. You could rent it for the half hour which is what I did and I immediately went to the Joshua Tree town website, to the classifieds, to look for work. There was one job. One job available. A quadriplegic was looking for a caregiver. I had never taken care of anybody. I called the number in the ad and a man answered. " I am responding to the ad that you put in the Joshua Tree town website for a caregiver?" "yes? have you had any experience?" I decided to fib. Actually I told the truth. "I helped my mother who was a nurse in the hospital by shaving old men and reading to some who couldn't see anymore." "Where are you now?" "I am at the cafe, the internet cafe in Joshua Tree. " He said " I will come and meet you there. I was surprised. Amazed in fact. I didn't think quadraplegics could drive. A few minutes later a van drove up and the engine turned off and after a couple of minutes the side door opened, a ramp came out and a 40 ish year old man in a motorized wheelchair came rolling out. He had very minimal movement in one arm and none in any of his fingers. but if he was able to lower his fish over the levers then he could not only navigate his chair but his van as well which had the same type of system. Long story short I took care of him for 4 months and in that time was free to explore the wilderness around Joshua Tree. You know what it was like. What it probably still is like. I have many funny sad endearing stories about the quad but I will save those til another day. Taking care of the quad in the desert ( that's what they call themselves, quads) was my Joshua Tree transformation. giulia


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