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Alex Free

Alex Free

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from the city I live in now



My adolescence was full of mysticism and of signs, of synchronicity and impressions like the watery shade of clouds hanging over moments. I was guided by a deep certainty at that age that I should or should not be where I was, do what I was doing, be with who I was with. I felt strongly that I was more than a bystander in my existence, that I was someone who could hear the minute cues from the planet, its objects, its people, and lead one of those rare lives that is lived correctly.

So much of my time at that age was spent out in the desert, out on my own or with friends. We, I, would drive over the county lines into nameless districts, passing fields, their foreheads furrowed with irrigation rows and smelling of water, their bodies strung with piping and insect-like stands of sprinklers.

These districts were the shoulders of the Owyhees: desert black rock canyons flushed with yellowed cheatgrass and bluish sage. We’d spend hours out there not knowing we were lost, not knowing we were thirsty or hungry or for how long we’d been away. We’d lose track of the hours and come back dazed and dehydrated and hungry, remembering the mandates of living as if we’d been beyond living before.

At the time I had the distinct impression that I could keep wandering the desert canyons forever, and at the moment I left my body behind I would not notice. Once, I found a rocky depression that I bodily fit into perfectly. And in sure reference to the religious tradition I’d been raised in, I said, ‘from here has been cut my soul.’

It had been harder to hear these small sounds as I’ve grown older.

From the city I live in now, I have little occasion to spend hours out in the hills, my arms and shoulders bare to the sun, dipping in and out of the shade of canyon walls. There is too much else to do and experience that I had no access to before. There is a lack of the same solitude, and of the closeness that comes from sharing it.

But recently I had the chance to reflect again on where I’d come from, and where I would return to, and the ways in which I never leave.

My momma came down to visit me for a road trip through the deserts of southern California and Nevada. My momma, who raised me around gardens and taught me the names of different alliums, dogwoods, pines, irises, olive trees and ones that flower, and planted my childhood with columbine and bleeding hearts and chrysanthemum and rhododendron.

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We drove through the poppies, blooming from the season’s rains, through the arid heart of Death Valley. I told her the same fears that I’d listed to her as a child. My fear that I’m not good enough, that in sticking up for myself I’m doing damage to someone else, that I do have something to give but won’t learn how to share it. I’m afraid of letting other people down, of disappointing and failing them somehow. She told me the fears that dominate her mature adult life: fears of fragility, of departure and loss. We told each other about the people we love, shared stories about them and our trials and projects and moments together.

At the end of our circuit, I shared with her the state park I love most in the U.S., a cool and unexpected desert canyon system with alpine elements 15 minutes outside of Vegas that I’d been going to since college. I took a hike by myself to the summit of one of those peaks, and for the span of an afternoon remembered what it felt like to feel a sense of belonging in the world: the intense openness of the sky, sky blue and fretted with horsetail clouds. The geometric formations of the flora cast dyptich by shade. The movement of water, the upward stretch of rock and trees.

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The padding on the back of my boots had worn thin from past travels and my heels started to bleed on the way back down, but even then I ran for the joy of it, knowing that at the end of this series of turns, this one, this one, and the end of this road and canyon system, there would be a face happy to see me, someone I loved, who loved me.

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These are the moments that we share which are precious; we don’t get many in this life.


Camilla Smart

Camilla Smart

Patrick Morarescu

Patrick Morarescu

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