We drove through Goblin Valley while I thought about running away. All those great legends. Ed Abbey’s buddies kept their promise and dumped his body in the desert after he died, somewhere no one would ever find it. Half a century before, Everett Ruess disappeared into the Escalante wilderness leaving only the etching Nemo. Nov. 1934. behind. In this land where people can still disappear, I feel perfectly insignificant. Utah is a wilderness that I never knew existed. Once I thought this canyon country desolate, but on this trip I see the desert crowded with life. Plants grow everywhere, so many more than I realized. Swathes of dry grass rise from the dusty red soil. I’d like to come back as a plant, I think. Or peacefully fade into the wilderness of whatever lies beyond this world. Nemo. No one.
Rock formations twisting and crouching like distant gargoyles appear and vanish in flashes as our car streaks down the highway. I sit quietly in the passenger seat unable to find the words to explain how this landscape makes me feel. I don’t know what to do about death now that I no longer believe in any kind of conscious resurrection. Or, at least I don’t think I do.
In February, I stood at the front of a church during my grandfather’s funeral and proclaimed that when Christ comes again the dead will be raised imperishable. By July, after my other grandfather chose to end both his life and his struggle with cancer, I believed death had released everything he was back into the world to be reborn. I envisioned ashes scattered like seeds and just for a moment, I felt something like resurrection. Now it is November, and I no longer know what to believe. What is it about this place that stirs up these memories?
It’s romantic, disappearing into the desert. The landscape is all layers and depth, rich in texture and light. It’s sculpture—natural bridges, hollows, domes, cliffs, sandstone washes. I sit with my back against a boulder, huddled out of the wind as the sun drops and shadows ripple across the sweep of stone. Miles away, the snowcapped Henry Mountains catch the last shafts of daylight. The light fades quickly with the approach of sunset, and a chill settles into my core.
The depth of the landscape before me is huge, barely comprehensible to my eye. Distant mountains dictate the eastern horizon. Gray badlands rise and fall in front of them. Cliffs of red and brown stone rise to the north, and the ground below where I sit is sliced by a canyon, filleted on either side with layers of stone like a gash on a fingertip that reveals many layers of skin. I can’t tell if a river or blood runs down lost in shadow. A large, black crow wheels above the canyon, calling into the distance.