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A River in the Desert

Catherine Pedigo

            She had seen seas of all types. In the Pacific she felt the smooth sand between her toes, and in the Atlantic the fierce tide pushing her down. In the North Sea she pushed through the cold towards the wooden planks of a ship disintegrating just footsteps from the shore. But no ocean had calmed her the way staring across the sandy grasslands before her did now. Wind blew against her back, cooling the air just slightly from the scorching sun above. Above, the sky was a purple-tinted blanket of its own, stretching over the flats, dunes, and plateaus alike.

            The ocean was loud. The desert was soothing. The shh, shh of a breeze in the sparse grass and the gravel sound of shifting rock and sand beneath a boot were whispers. No library, no lecture hall, no memorial could command the respect that the rising mountains and the cresting dunes expected. The traveler adjusted her bag, and set forward on her course. Boot to ground, sweat to brow, and eye to the horizon. Her days had been planned only so far as the distance she expected to cover and the direction she expected to walk. Otherwise, the only voice she had to answer was the beckoning call of the pink sunset wherever it chose to land. Light directed her eye to where round-headed cacti with purple flowers that burst unexpectedly.

            A river ran a few miles to the north. She hadn’t expected a river in a desert, but who was she to tell nature how to do its job? It had been weeks since she’d swum in water, and so she adjusted her course. The banks were sandy and then suddenly shocking green. The flowers were thicker here. It took her fingers a while to unlace her boots, the heat burning against her forehead and cheeks. But still, the soft whispers of the desert kept the world around her quiet. Even the run of the river was nearly silent, turning a corner like a snake through the sand. Boots to the side, socks tucked within. Pack down. One more glance at the cloudless sky, the rising plateau in the distance, and the purple flowers nearby.

            Her feet slipped into the water with barely a splash. The water was cool, and ran trickling over her toes and feet and ankles and calves. She could see her toes nudging into the riverbed, disturbing pebbles here and there. She stood taller than she ever had in an ocean, but she felt smaller than everything there in the desert. The water of the river, the water of the seas and the oceans and the inlets and the fjords, they were all the same. Running everywhere like a traveler without a destination. So she leaned her head back and closed her eyes, and let the desert tell her its secrets.

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