A person should be defined by their passions and so we leave Las Vegas. We need to escape this decaying town of greed and monumental shallowness. The sea of neon, beautiful from the air, lays heavy on us like a forgotten promise or some fragmented hope and makes us feel sullied and reticent. The promise of inconceivable riches on the spin of a coin or the roll of a dice, the smell of gluttony that permeates the air and the jangling cacophony of wanton desire that assaults you the second that you step off your plane stretches our senses and leaves us breathless and gasping in all the wrong ways.
There is nothing here that can echo my feelings for my companion or the epic adventure on which we have embarked and I can no more stay here than count the stars in the night sky. After cruising The Strip and laughing at the marks, in search of transient and morally ambiguous bliss, I am as compelled to leave this city as I was to cross vast distances to gaze into my companion’s liquid eyes and let her grace enrapture me. My seat at America’s last cultural gangbang may have been reserved some time ago but I bow my head and ache to move on. This isn’t for me…at all.
And so, just a few hours after I arrive, with the metallic taste of jet-lag still fresh in my mouth, we are speeding out across the desert. Each mile we put between ourselves and Sin City lightens our mood. The desert air, crisp, pure and pellucid cleanses us and we slip back into our normal roles. Once more we are fervent travellers; two points on a continually moving map, crossing vast distances to create a perfect facsimile of the human heart which began with a handshake in a Manhattan book store and will end up I know not where.
‘Zion,’ my companion sighs with a throaty inflection that is as enchanting as unexpected, ‘makes me believe that there is something….’
She pauses and together we watch America slip past the windows: Starbucks, Wall Mart, McDonalds. She sighs again as if she needs to readjust the cultural anchors of her world so to make things simple and understandable for me.
‘Something beyond this world. That God exists, that there is a plan and we, although small and insignificant, are here for a reason; for a purpose and that divinity is all around us.’
I try to agree but having a mouth full of peanut butter cakes makes this difficult. She looks at me, screws up her nose and adds, ‘and it seems, Silly Boy, that your plan is to eat more than your bulk weight in junk food per day.’
I blush and guiltily wipe chocolate crumbs from my chin.
As we approach Zion National Park I lean back, turn on James Blunt’s majestic album and watch my companion draw energy from the surroundings. Her posture grows more confident, her smile more radiant and the air in the car seems palatable and charged. We are chased by a storm of biblical proportions across a mythical landscape and the road in front of us seems to show both the curve of the earth and the shape of our obsessions. I press my nose to the windscreen and try to out stare the storm whilst I think about how I wrote her name on a frozen shop window deep in Eastern Europe with my breath a few days ago.
The atmosphere inside the car is ephemeral and serene whilst outside the storm pounds the car with snow and hail and fork lightening flickers across the horizon. Our world is pared down to the basics: me, her, the music, and our shared dreams. The road in front, when we catch glimpses of it through the storm, seems to challenge us to make plans; to dream impossible dreams and to shape the world by our will and our will alone.
‘Make a wish now,’ I whisper, ‘and that wish surely will come true.’
A soft smile, a slight chuckle and then and we are once more slicing through America and the road is lined with malls, gas stations and countless other points of consumer reference. With her even the mundane seems beautiful and full of portent.
Our first stop is a small town called Virgin. Predictably I make the jokes that thousands of tourists must have made whilst she stands with arms aloft in the car park and seems to draw down energy from the serrated, and snow capped mountains. She looks almost like a figure from Norse legend and I watch her soak in the beauty of the day, the scenery and the cold, still, cleansing mountain air and I half expect her to flex her will against the mountain (I have no doubt it would come off second best) and draw down its ageless beauty into her soul. Digging in my pockets for another peanut butter cake I realise that if there is a secular equivalent of kneeling in a great spired cathedral whilst mystic light slants down through Gothic stained-glass windows then this must surely be it. I feel closer to God than I have ever done before.
When we enter Zion National Park a short while later the light is pale and watery, a honeyed glow lies softly across the land. It’s hard not to believe that the exquisite rock formations, the sensuous striations that make me wish I could paint and the depth of longing that this land exudes exist purely for my companion’s spiritual gratification and that the vocabulary needed to describe this place adequately exists only in the landscape of her dreams and desires. I can barely focus on the surroundings, despite the delicate beauty, and find my eyes continually drifting towards her and the transformation that is occurring.
I want to capture this moment and her very sense of humanity so that when I am alone and far away I can take out these memories and slip, effortlessly, into bliss. Each hair-pin bend, each misty vista, each wonderfully wind-sculptured rock seems to thrill her more and I realise that I should define her by her passion for life, by her appreciation that there is much, much beauty in this world but also by her willingness to share this deeply personal moment with me. Suddenly I feel very small and inadequate and in a way it feels like arriving at the destination that I have always been searching for.
Later, whilst she sits almost trace-like in the car I scramble over rock formations and try to capture the mood with my camera. Sensibly she doesn’t carry a camera but captures the images directly in her heart but I need something tangible and real to know that this day really existed. I need to have something that I can touch so that when we are far apart, as we often are, I will know that this wasn’t a dream; a hallucination or some form of psychosis bought on by too much junk food but a defining moment in life. My camera can not convey the complex splendour of the scenery and when I sit and try to make notes my pen can not find the words that this day, this park, this person warrants. Only with the hindsight of time and the detachment of jet-lag can I begin to write and then the words come spilling out. They are still barely adequate and capture only a glimpse of this day.
Later, as twilight descends on the park we find ourselves hugging each other under the watchful, and somewhat reproachful, gaze of the mountains. Distant snow-capped peaks catch the last rays of a dying sun and our shadows lengthen across the deserted car park. Zion is at rest but yet the air is velvety and scented with promise. We wrap arms around each other with an intensity that is both unspoken and consuming. Content and centred I close my eyes and drawn in deep lungfulls of mountain air. I can feel the tranquillity and stillness that I have been searching for seep into me.
This moment crystallises into something of such eternal beauty that I feel, again, profoundly moved. The sound of night envelopes us and when I open my eyes the day is almost spent and the mountain peaks are dressed in their best black cloaks. Full night isn’t too far away but there is still some colour left in the day. The first stars are visible in the night sky and this seems to thrill my companion further. Her yearning for happiness and wonder seems unquenchable today. I close my eyes once more and let my mind soar around these mountains and rocks that I am now convinced she has conjured into being. When I finally return to this earthly plane we are all alone with the night and our thoughts. We are reduced to talking in whispers lest we shatter the glassy tranquillity of the moment.
‘Where do we go from here?’ I think to myself.
My companion, as ever perceptive, sees this thought flicker across my face, pushes herself away from me and spirals off around the car park. I hear the sound of her boots echo off distant peaks and I am sure that her eyes are twinkling. And, at this moment I suddenly understand: It doesn’t really matter what plans we make and that there really is no need to ask questions that neither of us can answer because, like the beauty of Zion, some things are eternally true and just meant to be. My companion spirals back towards me, sees the look of comprehension in my eyes and takes her hand in mine. She tells me that there is junk food in the next town. And, like the beauty of Zion, this too is true.