Camping Out

He’s almost 8, my son lying next to me, his permanent smile mirroring my own. Is that Saturn? he asks, looking up at the sky. I ditched the tent’s cover, only transparent thin fabric between us and the universe. Am I trying to remember what 7 was like, or did I never grow up? It doesn’t matter, we are here, together, our fingers pointing at constellations, sometimes a plane flying off to cross the Pacific. We talk about other earths and aliens until he drifts into slumber mid-sentence.

As he snores quietly I read about Lydia Child, her quest to end slavery. I listen to the crickets, imagine camping without the tent, without freedom, following the north star to Philadelphia or New York or Canada. Then I’m asleep. I dream about walking deep in the woods, seeing a gray fox. I wake to the sound of rustling bushes. It might be 1am, click my flashlight on, sets of eyes reflect back from outside the tent. Two deer a few feet away nibbling grass. Pausing they stare at me, then trot off. Asleep again until maybe 4am, then Hudson has to pee. We totter out half-awake, an owl hooting nearby, the two of us in our pjs, little streams in the dark.

It’s morning, Hudson says at 7am. He’s snuggled up next to me in his sleeping bag, hair mussed. Good morning, kid, I say. We grin, no words, just love.

Sahara

I’m in the backseat, we must be going 75 mph, reverberating Berber music like Salat, ritualistic Islamic prayer with drums, voices, sintir strings plucked, boom from the car’s speakers, permanent Sahara hair dryer heat fills my nostrils. We left Merzouga earlier in the morning, before that, the Atlas Mountains, Azrou, Fez, Tangier. The road is gone, only sand, like after the first inches of snow have fallen. We stop at the edge, no billboards, no little tourist kiosk, nothing, only a thousand miles of granular fragments, beaten down quartz, dolomite, calcite, silica pixels. I touch its wildness, primitive, uncontainable, not a Tonka truck home, not the domesticated box from my childhood backyard, it looms, immense with dry waves of undulating silence. We walk into it one by one, like swimming past the ocean breakers, together, apart. Speechless, it has absorbed our words, sun pulsating, the desert almost asking us to quietly join it, forever. Human shadows elongate, planet rotates, heat ebbs, darkness, then stars. They appear, first one by one, little white births, souls of the night sky. Then a torrent, a blanket of speckled light, countless orbs above, total blackness below. I think of Yad Vashem, the Holocaust, children who died. Never thought much about heaven before, alone, surrounded.