Constantino Diaz-Duran is a fellow at the Center for Social Cohesion at Arizona State University. He is chronicling his walk from New York to Los Angeles to celebrate his eligibility for American citizenship. Follow Constantino’s progress.
A country road in western New Jersey, a wheat field in Pennsylvania, a church in Norlina, North Carolina, a bayou in Cajun Country, a plain in Texas. I have been to all these nowheres. I have loved their middles. Today, I write from another one: the San Francisco volcanic field in northern Arizona.
I have been here two days. I’m in love with the sky. “I want to hear what you think when you get to Arizona,” said my editor when I wrote about the beauty of the Alabamian firmament. Well, all I can say to him now is that I cannot give him an answer, because I am in awe.
“Awesome.” I want to use that word to describe the beauty I have seen, but I cannot. It has lost its meaning. Blast us and our penchant for diluting words! A movie, I do not care how good it is, is not awesome. A car, no matter how cool, is not awesome. Your new apartment is not awesome. Awesome are these stars, these vast horizons, this silence. These are the things that inspire awe.
My host, a retired optometrist living some 30 miles northeast of Flagstaff, spent years working at the Hopi Indian Reservation. Now he lives “off the grid.” What this means is that there are no public utilities of any sort in his house-no wires or tubes of any kind leading to his property. He is 100-percent self-reliant. He uses solar energy and collects rain water. A sometimes-reliable satellite provides him with access to the Internet. He hooks up his cell phone (an old clamshell) to a special antenna in order to get a signal.
I, city slicker par excellence, feel oddly drawn to this lifestyle. I have never been earthy; I’m not a fan of “crunchy granola.” My bow ties and hats have never screamed “hippie.” Could I survive out here? Could I do without the lights of Manhattan? I am beginning to think I could. The coyotes I heard last night do not scare me, and the sun I saw rise this morning could turn this night owl into an early bird.
It is easy, out here, to understand why the ancients worshipped the sun. We miss, in the city, its majesty. The sun is its own herald. It teases you with a strand of aqua in a sea of black. It frames it with a stroke of pink, and slices it with orange daggers. Then it appears, a perfect arch that grows into a circle. It burns your eyes-deliberately, perhaps-forcing you to turn. It shows off. You see its light, cast on the land behind you, and you remember: life would not be, were it not for its power.
I am off, now, to the Grand Canyon-off to refine my understanding of “awesome.” I continue my discovery of this country, my love affair with its beauty. I go on in awe for the land that boasts these fields, these mountains, these precipices, and these cities-these works of man and nature. I am off to seek more nowheres, and to relish in their middles.
See Constantino’s entire route.
*Photo by Constantino Diaz-Duran.