The Gift; An Epiphany


"I saw eternity the other night,
Like a great ring of pure and endless light,
All calm as it was bright:
And round beneath it, Time in hours, days, years.
Driven by the spheres. . ." ---from The World by Henry Vaughan

Even in winter when the sometime snow melts into the ground before noon, the scent of dry heat emanates from the rocks well into the desert night mingling with sage, tamarisk. On this night the midwinter moon is large in the calm sky heavy with stars. The click of my horse's shoes on the stones lends sound to the rhythm. There is nothing in the languid night that could even suggest corruption. The trail leads into the hills, a canyon cloaks me in the quiet, my mare rocking beneath me.

The three-quarter moon rises elegantly, complimenting though outshining the astral array. Ahead of me on the trail a coyote slinks, some smaller animal in its mouth. The silence belies the illusion of lifelessness. On the side of the hill is a rock outcropping that appears as a gigantic lion lying majestically on the hillside gazing over the city. I'd called it "the Sphinx" a long time ago, the hindquarters buried in the side of the hill. Under its gaze I stop and look back to the cities lights, its spread mirroring the sky. In the span of hours, days and years I have lived, these lights have become legion diminishing those above and the great city beyond the mountain's pass grows obese feeding on the wilderness.

A strange glow lights the ground from behind, up in the canyon. The hollow air of the desert is dense in the vibrations commonly exiled from the thick sphere of humanity. Strange, monastic people often frequent these places, some of a sinister nature, others mere anomalies. I sometimes meet them on my sporadic solitary sojourns. A woman on a horse in the middle of the nowhere they've sought is as strange to them and there is more often a mute understanding between us. I think the glow must be some grouping of atavistic pagan dancers heralding the solstice, throwbacks from a now distant 'hip' culture that never was, except in these hills, maybe an errant band of ghosts from the time before writing when stories were scrawled on the rock walls. I ascend the canyon in expectation, of what I am unsure.

The emanation appears to waver, sometimes glowing brighter and whiter than an apparent preferred bluish. Around each bend, closer to the end of the canyon and the apex of the hill, the moon hangs lower, closer to the earth as if there is a connection between it and the emanation occurring just around the last bend. The Christmas night is silent.

The trail extends beyond the boulders at the hilltop, a sort of portal into the next canyon. In the rock portico there rests a kind of orb, though nothing in its presence suggests a shape but an emanation of energy that appears to not originate from anything but itself; a tiny Sol come to earth. My mare sees it too, her ears prick attentively, nostrils distending. She stops and squares, snorting softly at the emanation.

The orb shifts, wavering in a dance that suggests it is aware of our presence and somewhere between the bright white of lightning and the cool blue of weak flame there comes from it a pulsation that is felt rather than heard, but it is melodic and distinctly dramatic. It shifts toward me, the pulsation becomes, unbelievably, Jingle Bells, and I become enveloped in the bright light . . .

The violent molten heat sears, unbearable pressure forcing through the lithosphere. Into the night of bitter storm, a man with a broken heart raises his arm and dies before, from his chest, it's torn. A rat, obscene, crawls from beneath the altar upon which the child lies dead, the sins of the Father upon her head. On padded three-toed feet the rat scurries to the sea and eons later completes the course, to find it has evolved a horse. It turns to look at me, the strip of white down its face becomes wider and brighter and in a blinding flash the earth shrinks and I am beyond the moon hurtling outward.

Passing the Red Planet I reach out and slap it, creating a terra-cotta cloud. Jupiter winks in passing and Rhea cries as Titan dances with Tethys. Iapetus gives an icy stare and the rings of Saturn disappear. Strange Miranda, Uranus blue, Neptune sees no other view. Beyond dark Pluto and the darker orb, I am loose in the vast of dark and light and behold the endless cosmic horde. O wondrous sight, the celestial realm, a ship with no captain at its helm. Again into a blinding flash. Mercury, Venus flying past . . .

I awaken, my back to the ground. The moon is westward in the sky, my mare grazing idly next to me. The presence is vanished, gone from the rock portal as if had never been there. Stars hang in the velvet dark and the silence of the night is intense.

Regaining my saddle I ride to the rocks and look over the next valley descending. I am aware of the earth beneath me flowing out in all directions limited by horizon, the rounded mass in sharp detail, my soul a point of origin. For a long moment I only breathe the charged air, suspended between earth and sky. In a streak of memory I look at my hands.

They are covered in red dust.

Turning away I descend the canyon, my mare and I both content to go home.

I can find no explanation for what visited me this Christmas night, but the gift is the meaning I think I've long known. I never wonder if the thing will ever return, but I always watch for other strange lights at night along with the others that now crowd the desert in search of what found me, no truer gift ever given.

I'm thinking of moving farther out, away from the lights and the bustle that overcrowd the spirit and drown the silence of the desert night.

The End