Last month I traveled to a business conference in Arizona. I flew after dark and so missed the chance to watch the Great Basin and the southwestern desert unfurl beneath me, but I woke the next morning fairly surrounded by exotica. I ambled around the resort astonished by the sunshine, the absurd cacti, the little rabbits running around under the succulents, and the unfamiliar birds.
My favorite of the latter were the Mexican grackles. The male looks in silhouette like an art deco hood ornament from an antique automobile, with a smooth long neck, a curved beak, and a sweeping tail that doubles the length of his body. He is essentially a grandly elaborated blackbird, but his song is more metallic, made up of strange tickings and whirrings that suggest a clockwork mechanism within.
I took every opportunity presented me to escape from my fellow businesspeople with their lanyards and their mobile phones and their language of three-letter-acronyms. I lurked at the edge of the golf course and along trails threading between manmade ponds. I held my face, eyes closed, toward bright Apollo. I stepped beyond the resort property to find the edge of the desert and catch a vista of the barren mountains.
So much of adult life seems an exercise in pretended enthusiasm. If my employers truly understood the profundity of my lack of interest in our business, would they bother to keep me around? I compliment myself that I do good work, that my skills and experience are valuable, but the satisfactions I personally take in my duties are so negligible, so fleeting as to be not worth mention. If I had some other means of support, I would walk away from my so-called “career” tomorrow with never a look back, never a second thought or sense of loss.
I was made, it seems, for retirement: for wife and children, for walking among the trees and mountains, for home and garden, for splitting wood in the backyard and stocking the bird feeders, for cooking meals, for books and tea and a fire in the hearth on a rainy night. Pressing deeper into middle age, ambitions burn away like mist, the light of gratitude warms. Thank God, I have not lost my pleasure in being a human creature and or in wondering what it all may mean.
There were only a few minutes of daylight remaining when the plane that would ferry me home to Oregon left the ground. We passed in woolly dusk over the Grand Canyon, with snow on the higher plateaus at its north side and banded island spires of rock fading from pink to orchid to deepest purple. I observed that Night does not “fall.” It does not come down on us from above in the style of morning. From the abyss of the canyon below, gentle Night crept upward little by little to meet us.