The granite in Joshua Tree is stained orange. I suppose it soaks up some of the sunlight that shines down on it seemingly without end throughout the days of the year. It absorbs some of the pinks and vermilion of sunset. Some of the soft tangerines of sunrise. Some of the white ember orange of midday. And it shines those colours back to us.
But at night, the colours change completely.
We walked through Joshua Tree under a full super moon, the closest the moon had been to earth since 1948. The granite was illuminated by the soft white light and transformed into pale moonstone. We needed no headlamps. We had coyote vision, and we walked through the boulders and Joshua trees, juniper and scrub pines, owls hooting in the distance, coyotes scampering in our periphery.
The Joshua trees held the most character. They were, without a doubt, in the silliest of moods, jumping and flinging their arms out, freezing the moment we spun to look at them hoping to capture their gleeful Rumpelstiltskin-like dance in the moonlight. We missed it every time, seeing only the poses they held suddenly, the mischievous grins on their faces, wherever those faces might have been.
Stepping up across blown up granite, through house sized chunks of it, we arrived suddenly into a hidden valley, ringed with sloping rounded cracked and piled peaks. In the the moonlit wonderland, cactuses and juniper posed next to glowing granite rocks, little places, perfect little places to sit or to lie, to take it all in. The deceiving peaks loomed close and then far, seeming to creep away from us and then jump back into position when we got closer.
Outside of the hidden valley we stood with the older Joshua trees, looked at the sky and stars behind their great towering limbs, rested our hands on their trunks and played in their shadows.
Our shadows followed us everywhere. The shadows of the trees created trellised patterns against the ground, and I walked those branches, stood atop the trees, morphed in and out of them again, playing with light, dancing on the edge of it. My hands were an entity unto themselves, mysterious and elegant as a shadowy darkness against the ground.
We had to visit the great big granite boulders too. That was my favourite of it all. Up close, the quartz in the granite captured the moonlight and broke it in a thousand dazzling sparkles. We squeezed through cracks in the rocks, our faces turned sideways, our jackets snagging, and came to little places with towering walls on each side. We climbed up and through crevices, finding ourselves atop the glowing moonstone, and down again through little gaps, finding ourselves in little homes with granite rooms and windows, and looking through these windows the world was awash with soft white light glowing in the dark night, and trees and their shadows were indistinguishable. Who could tell what way was up or sideways… What did it matter?
The coyotes were still there when we made our way home through the scrub. They jumped on each other and rolled across the ground, almost silent.
We stoked up the fire before bed beckoned, watching the flames curl and grow, smiling back at us. A coyote yipped and broke into a great howl in the distance, and we looked towards it. Not 20 metres behind us another one replied, and we spun around, and yet another called from the direction we had walked and then another from the rocks up behind camp. Suddenly it was a chorus, yipping, howling, barking, and choking and growling and crying. The wild moonscape erupted with the anguished howls of coyotes and as if on cue, they appeared out of the darkness racing past us on all sides into the scrub we’d come walking through. One, two, three, four, five, six, no, seven, eight, nine…. I lost count, and as they hit the scrub they melted into shadows completely invisible but for their yipping and screaming as if play had turned to fighting. Until pack order was restored. Silence fell then, and we sat, almost bewildered, beside ourselves with silent laughter, and decided it must be time to put this great fantasy world to bed. We climbed into tents and fell deep into sleep.