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Billy Mitchell – presentation for the 29 Palms Historical Society

Sept Mitchell fa13

On writing, sitting quietly and walking in the Joshua Tree National Park

Wednesday, August 7, 2013

Big Horn Sheep

Big Horn Sheep

The writing I have done over the last few months has been to and from the deepest part of my soul. It is writing that feeds me, guides me, and sometimes leaves me alone to find my own way. I want reassurance. I want confirmation and support from my soul. I can get it in the quietest places inside me, and I can get it when I write from that place. It’s often unpredictable, shouting to me or whispering, calling me out of my reverie, beseeching me to listen, or clamming up when I think I need answers the most. The mind wants answers and the soul won’t give it. There is no one answer. Don’t you just hate that. How easy it would be if I could package my life, make it neat and tidy and live it with instructions from a self-help book.

I’m not neat and tidy, never have been. That’s probably why I have taken to keeping the house so clean and organized. Muddle on the outside doesn’t work. Muddle on the inside promotes growth. That’s a good one. Of course, it’s not true. I have to sort through the muddle, comb it out, smooth it’s ruffled feathers and wait for the silence.

In two months of sitting quietly, I was anything but quiet. I heard music playing in my head, created stories of exotic places and interesting people from the textures in stone and wood surfaces around me. I designed a fashion line from the cactus and Joshua trees that lines the Boy Scout Trail in the park and I had to fight to keep myself from running to the computer to jot it all down. I didn’t move. The point was to sit and quiet my mind. It was difficult and there was something easy about sitting. It doesn’t have all the unpredictability of outside life. You just sit.

By the end of July, first week of August everything had changed. I could feel it. The sitting didn’t work anymore , but staying quiet does. I’m back in life in a different way. The time I spent alone was important. It shifted the emphasis from outside to inside and even now that I’m back engaging in activities, I’m not the same.

During the last couple of months, I spent a lot of time walking in the park and developed a profound love of this desert. People talk about it all the time, but it hasn’t been there for me, not until now. Walking trails that loop, curl and twist – one view is desolate and hostile and suddenly everything changes and there is lush overgrown vegetation, towering mountains of rocks, washes of pure sand, pine trees, another curve and vast views; a rocky climb, turn another corner and it looks as if I have come to the end of the world and will drop off with the next step. Then, it changes again. I would venture off a path and feel absolutely lost only to discover I was a few steps away from where I wanted to be.

Last Saturday, as I walked back to my car on the Boy Scout Trail, I was looking down, checking that I wasn’t going to step on a critter or in a hole. I had lost all focus on my surroundings for a few minutes until I felt and then heard a pounding in the earth. Two Big Horn Sheep galloped past me and danced up the side of the rocks next to me. Half way up the animals stopped. The bigger of the two looked straight at me. I could tell it was a buck. The smaller one pranced further up, stopping, looking, and finally moving on. The buck watched me as I watched him. I took pictures with my phone. I love looking at them, but it was in the moment, in the silent exchange that something happened. Some exchange happened.

Early mornings in the park – at 5:30, when I drive up and park, it’s often cool enough to walk. I try to get back to my car by 8:30 when the heat sets in. If I’ve misjudged and don’t make it back in time I feel the water being drained out of my body, the mind complains loudly, and my legs ache. Oh shut up all of you, I’ll scold, but that doesn’t work. So I watch the reactions and keep walking. Getting into my car is a relief and then it’s all forgotten, and I’m preoccupied with thoughts of breakfast.

Big Horn Sheep in Joshua Tree National Park

Yesterday while I was walking in Joshua Tree National Park I heard and felt a sound vibrate in the earth. Two Big Horn Sheep galloped right across the trail and climb the nearest rock formation. One of them stopped halfway up and watched me as the smaller one climber higher. I was able to get pictures with my cell phone. What a gift to be graced by these animals. Everyone knows they’re in the park, but they aren’t often close enough to photograph or even watch.IMG_2673222 IMG_2670222