Last fall, myself, my husband and several of our close friends descended into the Moab desert for a week of red sunsets, red sand, granite towers, and sharp sunrises. We pulled onto a dirt road encased in slick rock and heated shadows. The sand boiled beneath our feet. I erected our tent, organized blue coolers, and jugs of frozen water.
Sarah jumped on my back. “Can we play now?” She asked.
“No,” I told her. “Not yet.”
“You’re moving too slow on purpose,” she pouted, slid back down into the sand, and tucked her head beneath her knees.
Sarah is seven. She wears her mother’s blue eyes along with her father’s energy and endless curiosity. Her father climbs mountains, reading routes, exploring rock lines, curves, and the edges of human endurance; her mother’s passion for adventure is enhanced by her ability to see others, to heal with a touch, to evoke calm with little more than her presence.
Wearing both their triumphs and their failings, Sarah is a fire. Already bathed in the burning sand, her eyes scan and absorb the skyline, finding questions buried in the rocks. She scales a boulder to see what the world really looks like then chases a lizard down into the sand. My husband, a man with impossible endurance, who will commit without hesitation to the chaos and uncertainty of mother nature, scaling granite faces with his hands, charging through miles of rock gardens and cliff bands on his mountain bike, or exploring unseen trails and peaks on feet, can keep up with Sarah’s furious questions and energy for an average of five minutes at a time. Asked to entertain her while I prepare lunch, he returns alone a few minutes later, his face ashen and unhinged.
“I’ll cook,” he whispers.
Sarah and I play games throughout the day while her parents explore the desert. We climb a granite face and analyze the crooked lines in the rock. We chase lizards, researching them and the desert landscape on my husband’s phone to discover their secret hiding places. We find insects, draw them from multiple angles, and then tell stories of our exploits over hot tea and s’mores.
Sarah is, in my mind, a genius. Her eyes are hungry for more, filled with questions, always ready to leap beyond, into, out of. She is a force and the knowledge she gains will be meaningful, purposeful. We must learn about lizards, she knows, so that we can catch them. We must learn how to write and draw so that we can teach other kids how to find them. We must, she proclaims, learn why the sun burns like that, why the sand is red, how that stone came to rest here. The rituals of memorization collapse into an expanding dance of discovery.
I remember the joy when, as a child, I realized that I could ask “why” to anything. The world then, was possible, was infinite. There was no end, no answer – just the joy of wandering, discovering a taste, a smell, a sight – the joy of creating, breaking, making, imagining. Our endless forests and deserts, our shifting languages, and dirty feet and hands – this is the education I hoped to discover as an adult, to rekindle the sudden fascination, the ability to ask, “why?” Something that I had lost, that I had forgotten…