Rio Grande at Santa Elena Canyon - US to the left, Mexico to the right

The Big Bend Country is one of my favorite places to visit but few have the disposition and fortitude to call it home. I’m not one of those few. The Chihuahua desert at night is the quietest place I have ever been. And after the moon sets at night, the darkest as well. Even a brief experience here can be illuminating, even transforming.

The first morning at Wildhorse Station I rose at about 4:30, made some coffee and decided to wander out a few steps beyond the porch with a chair and take in the sky show. With all of the lights out in the cabin, I could not even see the porch rail from the door. So, after using a flashlight to move my chair out in the open, I settled in. In less than a minute I realized how noisy and bright my life is. There are sounds that are so woven into the fabric of daily existence that I don’t even notice them. The hum of a/c units and pool motors, traffic in the distance, yard maintenance equipment. When it’s gone, when the birds are still roosting, when the moon is beyond the horizon, it’s very quiet and it’s very dark. All senses become heightened and it’s a bit unsettling. Who am I kidding, I was completely unnerved for a while.

I thought of how primitive people and even modern rural people, especially before the era of rural electrification and modern roads, took this experience for granted. It’s difficult to describe but I sense that it’s the difference between participating in nature and viewing it as a spectator. Viewing nature is uplifting and often awe-inspiring but actively participating in nature has a profound effect on the human spirit. Within an hour of my active participation (just by sitting in that chair in darkness and silence, watching the starry sky and the occasional meteor flash by) I came to understand how humans developed the narratives that ultimately became religions and various spiritual traditions.

In modern, urban/suburban and even most rural areas in the U.S. we have utterly displaced this connection with nature with our technology. And it seems to be more so with each technological advance. Now, I like my modern existence and fully embrace technology and the creature comforts that it brings, but everything has a price. And the price that modern life demands may very well be the ability to connect with nature in a way that is necessary for the well-being of the human spirit.

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