The Guardians of Mojave

Thank you to the desert for this short story.

“The Guardians”

The sun lingered, still bright and glaring in the late afternoon yet dipping down past the ridge line of the western bluffs. To the east, the shadows of the cholla and dried shrubs began stretching across the rugged canyon. Dusk was still a few hours out. Methodically, I set up camp for the night, in mid wood chopping, I paused. The doves softly cooed in the distance. The muted whisper of the wind through the blades of the nearby yucca. A smile a thousand miles wide spread across my face—there it was, the absence of human sound. No background whir of freeway traffic, no lawnmowers or leaf blowers, or barking dogs. The city was long gone. Only the occasional distant yips and song of coyote punctuated the aural landscape. That was what I came here for.

As the last orange rays of light evaporated from the canyon floor, leaving behind a blanket of violet and and indigo hues, I saw their shadowed figures standing motionless in the distance. Huddled together, they conversed about the stranger who had arrived. Whispering to each other, they were curious, but kept their distance and watched me as I started a small campfire. As I warmed my hands I returned their gaze. Soon the cold evening winds picked up—ushering me to seek warmth inside the shelter of my camper instead. I doused the remaining embers and closed up camp, but not without bidding goodnight to the figures who contentedly kept watch through the dark hours under a moonless star-studded sky.

I was awoken by the far off yips of the coyotes deeper in the canyon and the faintest glimmer of a fast approaching morning peeking in through the east facing window. Who would pass up a desert sunrise if they have the chance? What starts as a slow burning ember along the horizon, explodes into a roaring wildfire of colors stretching madly across the sky.

Edging open the door, bracing myself for that blast of crisp desert morning wind, I saw what I expected but no less filled with awe as if it were the first I had ever witnessed. I took it all in. As the light seeped into the desert, first among the neighboring ragged cliffs and then into the crevices between the cacti and dusty rocks, there they were. Huddled again, the shadowed figures casting sideways glances likely wondering if I had made it through the night. I poured myself a cup of tea, and through the rising steam I greeted them and thanked them for allowing a stranger to share their company for the night.

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