After a day of desert hiking I made way for the hot springs in Big Bend. It’s a National Park separated from Mexico by the fast flowing waters of the Rio Grande. The same river that either offers hope or sweeps up those who seek it. I parked my car then walked down a dirt trail along cliff walls painted over in old Indian pictographs. The sky was black but not yet beset with stars. I’d spent all day hiking on the South Rim and my muscles needed the salve of warm waters. I’d been here on my previous trip to Big Bend so knew what was coming. A stone pool set just feet above the river. A little sliver separate from the world. A way to wrap your day then spring to the next.
To set the mood I put on a song about gobbling mushrooms and thought of pitch black nights on the greenbelt in Austin. The ones where fireflies fill the trail, flicking like busted Christmas lights freed from gravity. When I got to the springs there was no one there. This was prime soaking time so I was happy to have it to myself. I stepped to the waters, scooted across the mossy floor, and perched at the edge. From here I could bend down to touch the river, cast my eyes over to Mexico. The country was little more than a muddy shore one stone’s throw away. The spring water was warm but not overpowering. Ah, what a place. I tipped my head to a stone and peered up at the heavens.
I watched as the night sky unfolded before me. A black sheet shot through with BBs to let in light. At first a few stars peppered my vista. Then the slow crank of time revealed deeper blacks and thick clusters of light. Little bulbs emanating from places I’ll never reach. I sipped some vodka cran, just enough to stir a buzz and heighten the universe before me. I felt the urge to swim to Mexico so dipped over the edge and set myself in the waters of the Rio. They were room temp, not even to my waist. The current was fast and I was tipsy so I waded upstream to the shallows. The water sloshed against my shins. With this I started making way for Mexico.
The current rushed across rocks the size of deflated soccer balls. They sat just beneath the strong water. It wasn’t enough to tackle me but fierce enough for the need to brace each step. I couldn’t see what I was doing so my foot slid on stones or sunk to the mud around them. With arms fanned out I did my best not to slip. To have the hungry river swallow me up and spit out a skeleton. In under a minute I was to the Mexican side. I walked over rocks into the long grass and warm mud further up the bank. I sunk in and assessed the land before me. This shore looked the same as where I just came from. Take a hammer to my head. Spin me around. I wouldn’t know which country this muck belonged to.
I soaked in the atmosphere then pulled off my swim trunks, tilted my head, and stood naked staring to the stars. I don’t know why but it felt right to be bare. I extended my arms and framed both hands against the spectacle as if placing them on a steering wheel. I turned this wheel by shifting my hands and torso ever so slowly, each degree revealing a new piece of sky. A shooting star passed through the frame. Wow. Fucking wow. I spun the wheel once more, stepping my feet in small circles to complete an arc. The Milky Way passed through my view then out. I chunked up pieces of the dippers. The earth sat silent minus the the murmuring speech of nature. A rushing river and incessant insects signaling out to a dark world. To think, dinosaurs once roamed this square. Saw these stars. What a place. A light breeze passed over my naked body, warm currents of air drying the Rio Grande off every part. In the distance of America I saw light cast off cliff walls and knew people were approaching. This was the cue to redress and step back to my country. Across the river sewing magic from side to side. What a night.
There are certain places in this world that you innately know are special. The palaces of nature. They imbue a feeling from the moment you arrive. I felt it when I ascended Half Dome in Yosemite, burnt driftwood while sleeping on a remote ocean beach in Oregon. When I stood at the foot of Crater Lake and peered out over majestic waters filling the caldera of an exploded volcano. These places they mean something. You are wowed, overcome when you enter them. Better for it when you exit. Little pockets of light in a tumultuous world. This park, these waters, they’re one of those places.
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