NO MAN’S LAND

Written by Ashley Coffey
Edited by Lyric Dodson

May 1, 2019

Traveling transports us to places our minds only dream of visiting. Some landscapes are lined with palm trees, while others are barren and desolate. Paradise can be found in both, but it can only be experienced through the eyes of a traveler who’s hell-bent on observing the inherent beauty in everything.

They punish people with this sort of silence in jails and prisons around the world. They lock lawbreakers up, without a window to wallow from, and torture ‘em with it ‘till they turn on their country. But out here, the stillness feels like paradise; to say it’s “nice” doesn’t feel right. 

It feels like so much more. Although this oasis is in the middle of nowhere and has no pool to dip into, you might see a UFO or two if you stay out here long enough. But not during this time of day. Not when the sun’s still out and you can still see your shadow. No intelligent life form would dare land their ship right now — not when this part of the world has their eyes wide-open and their guns fully-loaded. 

They’d fire from their chambers if you gave ‘em justifiable cause. I can’t imagine what today’s reason was, but their bullets sliced through silence like an unsheathed sword. Shots came close enough to be heard, but there wasn’t a shooter in sight. Somewhere in the canyon, a gunman wielded his weapon. But to my eyes, he was nothing but an apparition. He was simply a sound in the distance. 

But the funny thing about sound is, it’s nothing without sight. If you hear something, but see nothing, your mind starts to play games by augmenting reality. “What if that sound rang out long ago? Would I know?” 

This desert carries memories in the grains of sand that spread across its landscape. I can feel it in the air. The Cahuilla, Chemehuevi, Serrano, and Mojave people can feel it. If you can’t, you won’t last long. Remember, the silence will punish you. There are no city lights to blind you. So you:

1. Sit still and let the wind move you

2. Remember the battles fought and lost here

3. Pay respect to the people persuaded by pistols to relocate from here to reservations

4. Open your mind’s eye and watch as their ancestors’ memories dance through the air

As I live to retell my journey, I must let you know that I’ve fought a few battles to get where I am. Now, salvation seems close; there’s no need to chase it. It’s all around me and ready to free me from the depths of my psyche. In the vast expansiveness of the wind-whipped rocks, it all seems so barren. But the truth is that everything is beaming with life. 

Caterpillar colonies cling to blades of green that stand out from the sand. Wildflowers pop up in patches on mountains. At their peaks, streams of snow seem to shine their icy crystals as they glimmer in the sun. 

But a moment that pure has never been known to last. It was followed, quickly, by a silence-shattering sound. A cloud of dust formed as wheels whipped up dirt. The driver, a man, maneuvered a windowless, roofless, modern-day Fred Flintstone form of transportation in my direction. Unlike the ghostly gunman, this driver, dodging dips in the dirt, was far from a facade and fueled by his ego.

Anyone riding rambunctiously while blaring barely-recognizable beats subconsciously yearns to have all eyes on them. “Alert your attention in my direction at your earliest convenience,” his attitude seemed to imply. “Never mind your meditating and soul-searching. Watch as I skid through sand while waving at you from afar.”

As soon as the driver and his passengers left, silence was restored. It was almost as if they were a simulation the puppeteer in the sky turned off when they realized it failed to amuse me.

When you’re out in the desert, you feel…well…deserted. Even when you’re with someone, you feel alone. It’s no man’s land — everyone just passes through. It’s a land for loners. It’s a place for souls to seek refuge from the sun under shade-producing boulders.

So I followed tradition, found a spot under a rock that rose from the ground, crossed my legs, and closed my eyes. When I opened them, I saw the shadow of a man walk toward to me. He asked if I was ready to go. I said yes and left with him.