Swirls of colored sandstone. Slanting sunrise light. The Fire Wave will be a beautiful beginning to the day. I pack my lens kit, tuck water bottles into the side pockets, make sure I have Clif Bars on board. I’m not going far, but it’s best to be prepared. I keep a headlamp in the lid pocket, too. Belts adjusted, the load just right, I slog down the sandy trail.
When I stop for a quick drink of water I realize how light my pack feels—and I laugh. Out loud. Because I haven’t brought my camera. It’s sitting in the back seat of my truck, twenty minutes away. Uphill. I sometimes carry it inside the pack, in a Think Tank holster—maybe part of my brain thought I’d done so on this day? No question, I’ve lost the early light now, but I want to see the wave—a hustling half-hour later I’m back at the same spot. I pass a couple of teenaged girls returning from the wave, hiking in trendy tennis shoes. My boots smile.
And I’m still not paying attention.
Soon I’m stepping over a pile of rocks that partially block the trail. Someone’s put them next to a cactus—protection against tourist traffic, perhaps? I forge on, following the boot prints laid down by other hikers. Pretty soon, though, the trail narrows, gets rocky—nobody in tennis shoes has come this way. I look around, unable to comprehend the obvious.
I’m moving steadily downstream in a widening wash. No obstacles to overcome, and there’s still evidence someone’s come this way. Checking my watch, I decide to continue another ten minutes.
Quitting time. Standing in cool shadows, pack off, chasing a Clif Bar with cool water, I accept my situation. The Fire Wave is out there somewhere—I’ve simply overlooked it, as easily as I did my camera. In the midst of Nature’s patterns I’ve failed to recognize my own this morning. Suddenly I feel tired, unprepared, a bit dejected. But I’m in no danger unless I continue walking down the wash, the sunlight is beautiful to behold, and I’m in a light reflecting chamber of rock and sand, immersed in exquisite silence, and have it all to myself. The people at the wave (wherever it is) would be jealous. For the next twenty minutes, before sunshine swallows my small paradise, I look for pictures among the rocks, and find them right at my feet.
Retracing my steps, I’m soon back at the rock barrier by the cactus, and there, in all-too-plain sight, are a line of rock cairns (the first not ten yards off the trail) marking the route to the Fire Wave. I’d had my head down when I passed earlier, intent on making up lost time—I doubt I’d have noticed an elephant then, unless it trumpeted. When I reach it, up a gentle slope punctuated by broken stones, the wave is anticlimactic, but no matter. It’s been a great day after all.