The hike began at a grove of palms and sycamores that circle ponds stocked with big, beautiful trout at the Whitewater Preserve, northwest of Palm Springs. The Whitewater River tumbles down from San Gorgonio, the big mountain rising behind San Bernardino. To call it a river is an exaggeration, or should I say an anachronism, because long ago it was a mighty flood that carved out a huge, long U-shaped canyon. Big boulders are strewn along its path. The rivulet runs a light blue-grey as it carries the dust of battered granite down, down, down into the desert sands of the Coachella Valley.
Past spiky yuccas, around gold-green chollas glowing in the sun, alongside clusters of tuna cacti blooming brilliant purple-pink, I walked until I passed by the volcanic outcrop of Red Dome next to the riverbed. From there I walked east to a steep divide, and at the top gazed back down the desert canyon. I hiked back down, veering into a narrow drywash where I found volcanic rocks glistening with black crystal needles of schorl tourmaline.
I walked three miles alongside the shimmering, tumbling water, facing the enormous shadowed vertical wall of Mt. San Jacinto, streaked with traces of snow. Holy awe filled me as I attended to the beauty all around. I sensed that it was my duty to take it all in, and appreciate it as fully and completely as possible: on behalf of the mountain, the river, the rocks, the desert plants, the flitting birds. The farther I walked, the deeper I went in mindful prayer. I looked, I breathed, I smelled the scent of creosote bushes: letting them be as they were, attending to my experiences and thoughts about them, and then releasing those thoughts to make way for further attentiveness. Peace and joy, in equal measure, overwhelmed me. Looking carefully, lovingly at the hazy image of Mt. San Jacinto. Picking up dust-whitened dry sticks, washed down from San Gorgonio: feeling their smooth texture, studying and admiring their shapes. Absorbing the shimmer on the water, receiving the shapes of the flowing rivulet rolling over and around the rocks. Being with. Drawing near. Letting be. Letting go. Noticing. Watching the flow of these experiences, and watching the unmoved Watcher of the flow. Knowing, and knowing the Knower.
This is the purpose of human existence: to be God's eyes and ears, hands and feet, showing reverent attention to all that is, and letting this loving, observant way of seeing and being manifest in all our relationships. It is a profound responsibility and privilege, a sacred calling. We have evolved into our consciousness so that God will have a way to observe and adore this little patch of the cosmos that surrounds us.