Sand dunes are a study in synergy.
The big ones here in Colorado are moveable mountains. They're changing with every breeze; gusts reconfigure them in seconds, as do tromping feet.
By their very design, it would seem sand dunes want to be in motion. Sliding, shifting, molding, eroding. Every moment, they're creating something.
When you arrive at the base, an empty creek bed in October, you spot dark specks on peaks—some moving, some absolutely still, some decidedly four-legged—and you begin to understand that, somehow, in climbing this breathing thing, you will become a grain of sand, a modicum of existence, a crumb in comparison to the whole. But also: kinetic participant. Sculptor.
Walking in sand is challenging. Climbing hills of the stuff, even more so.
Frequent stops are key: to regain breath, to sip water, to dump sand from shoes, to admire a vista that looks different with every bit of height gained, to strategize and restrategize the best route to the top.
Some folks don't want to climb to the top. Or it's not their end goal. Young families carry rented sleds on their backs and scale the first few dunes, oftentimes breaking off from a trail of footprints that turn into dimples before being buffed out completely by the wind.
You picture computations like ticker tape behind everyone's eyes, even the littlest kids'—probably theirs especially—all trying to work out which dunes are steep enough to thrill, but not so steep that they can't be mounted a second and third time for more sledding.
You're not computing much of anything. Not really. Just climbing, looking back to see how small the parking lot has become, and climbing some more.
You climb far enough and reach dunes where there are fewer people, and it occurs to you that up here, probably no one's computing. The energy here is here. People are here. You get the sense that it isn't possible to think about a whole lot here but here.
My friend Molly says, "True presence is a time-bender," and I'd add to that: True presence and obscene quantities of sand are time-benders. Like cracking the hourglass open, spilling out its contents, and deciding to co-create with time, not to rail against it in its various forms—the clock, the encroaching night, the spinning calendar.
So, I'm slowing down on purpose.
My breath, my conversations, my next steps.
You see, there's absolutely enough sand. No shortage. Scarcity is a perspective, and from where I stood yesterday on the highest sand dune in North America, it isn't the only one. There are infinite perspectives, all of them changing with every breeze, each of them a moment's creation.
By the time you reach it, the next dune will have already changed; your reaching it will change it further.
You aren't running out of time. You're just running.
And running in sand sort of misses the point, doesn't it?
This is the definition of happy as exhibited by a jubilant man in a wheelchair.
There's solace in picking up a receiver and talking to a dead loved one, even if you know that 'wind phone' isn't connected to anything at all. (Caution: Listening to this This American Life episode might make you cry.)
"The effect of this basic awareness is profound. What a gift it is to simply recognize our favorite kinds of indignation, even if that doesn’t give us the power to stop them from welling up. Our reactivity can only reach mood-ruining levels when we’re unaware we’re being reactive. That simple knowing—I tend to get uptight right about here—shifts the focus to your own contribution to the problem, allowing you to recognize that the outside world might not be entirely responsible for the dark turn in your current experience, removing the sense of powerlessness from it."
We passed this perfectly ramshackle service station sometime after Amarillo, TX, and I made Dana turn the car around so I could get some pictures. The little bit of research I did uncovered this, an artist who "paints photorealistic images of small-town America," and happened to have found beauty in the exact same place as I. How cool.