Its our last full day in Joshua Tree. Played the Joshua Tree Saloon yesterday. Cool, laid back joint with great fish tacos. The lady who booked me, Leslie, played a fantastic song about "Cat Nip" on my guitar. Our old friend Danny from the Coffee Cellar (pre-kid) days came. It was good to see him. I self rate the performance as average. Caught some friendly faces, but too much distance from the audience, and too much sun, made it all very hard to read. I closed out with "Return of the Grievous Angel," in honor of Gram Parsons, the tentative reason for my pilgrimage here.
After I finished, a leathery man came up and said, "I really needed to hear that last song, thank you." I liked something about his vibe. We retired to a rare shady spot to talk over a smoke. He asked my name a few times. He told me he had been "blown up" in Afghanistan and his head was a little scrambled. He was a Marine. He had seen the world, and didn't regret his service. He had seen polar bears in the wild at the north pole while doing "stuff". I pressed, "stuff" was all I got. He was living in a F350 van in the park, that he had converted into a camper, complete with solar charging for all his stuff. He had stayed longer than the 14 days park rules call for, but he helped out on some search and rescue, payed for his campsite, and stayed out of trouble, so the rangers let it slide. He was a passionate rock climber. He showed me the patchwork of scars that made up his hands. He was leaving Monday, same as me. He was going to see his kids in Orange County, sleep on a bed and take a shower. He was heading to spend the summer in Yosemite or Yellowstone. He struck me as hurt, but mending. He spoke softly. His name was Jim.
I was taught from a very young age to speak in hushed tones while in nature. I come from a land of trees and thick woods that I grew up hunting, fishing, camping and playing in. This is the first time I have spent any amount of time outdoors in the desert. We drove down several dirt roads through Joshua Tree park, marveling at the beauty of the lonely expanses. You really get a sense of the magnitude of geological time, and the impermanence of everything to do with humans. We stopped to examine the rocks and vegetation. I climbed up on a rock high above the cacti and Joshua trees. Against my upbringing, I wanted to shout out into the roaring silence, just once, to see how long it took for the echo to bring my voice back to me. I let out a shout, but the wind snatched it up and never brought it back. Laying in bed I wondered if Jim came out here to be quiet, or to let the wind carry away his screams.