May 25, 2013
Riding the Milky Way in Tucson
Posted on Aug 26, 2010
For insight into various mysteries, I often consult a circle of advisers. This includes not just the usual round of consultants—friends, relatives living and not—but Joshua trees, astrological charts, the weather channel and long-gone saints, sinners and prophets. When I really need to get to the heart of things, I turn to one more source—the animal oracle belonging to a certain ancient tribe (can’t say which one; not to sound cryptic but a girl’s gotta keep a few secrets). This oracle comes in the form of a deck of cards, each emblazoned with an animal that represents particular traits, associations and lessons. Over the years, I’ve checked in with this deck many times; invariably its insight is accurate and powerful. Recently, I began contemplating a move from Los Angeles to various places in the Southwest. One of those locations is Tucson—to the dismay of certain friends who are bypassing the entire state of Arizona because of recent developments in immigration policy. For me, politics does not determine things in the long run; it’s the land—what it promises, what it looks like and how it stirs my spirit. Although I had visited Tucson several times and always liked it, I wanted to see what was hiding behind the saguaros (what I have long called “the Charlton Heston of cacti,” as opposed to the misunderstood and less glamorous Joshua tree—long a totem for me). So that’s how I came to ask the cards what they could tell me about Tucson. The answer was startling and beautiful, shedding light on the region in a time when its everlasting qualities are overlooked in favor of heated political discussion. But more important, everywhere I went during a Tucson visit, the answer was confirmed in palpable echoes of the card that I drew upon posing my fateful question.
In general, it had to do with stars. And I’m not referring to celebrities. No, I speak of what twinkled unnamed and unreachable long before the birth of Hollywood—and in fact was reminded of such during a visit from my mother as we were driving into Tinseltown years ago to see some sights.
There on the corner of Hollywood and Vine was a man with a sign that said “star maps.” Various tourists approached him and purchased his wares. “How nice,” my mother said as she watched. “People are buying maps of the constellations.” Well, what can I tell you? She’s from Ohio, a land where “star maps” really would be maps of the constellations. But I’m from Ohio too, though I had lived in L.A. long enough to know that there was little if any interest there, among tourists at least, not to mention countless other citizens everywhere, in maps of the heavens. It was with great disappointment that I explained people were buying addresses of the rich and famous, complete with triangulations if you paid a few dollars more. My mother and I shared a laugh—at the silliness of it all, as well as the nature of her question. Although she had been living in New York for ages, you can’t really take the girl out of the Buckeye State—a land that has no guile, although sometimes, during pancake festivals, there’s a certain sophistication when the servers break out the family silver.
I was never entranced by the famous, except for Clint Eastwood, to whom I literally could not speak, feeling as if I were in the presence of a supernova, when a mutual friend introduced me to him at a restaurant some time ago. I had had a crush on Clint ever since he was Rowdy Yates in “Rawhide” (hasn’t every girl had a “Rowdy” in her life?), and for days afterwards, I remained in a fevered state, convinced that we had had a moment because we made eye contact and he shook my hand. I began looking into whether any of the local star maps provided his address; they didn’t and I retreated to my corner, pondering the strange spiral I had fallen into. Soon I reminded myself that Hollywood made everything weird. As always, I headed to the desert for solace, refocusing my attention on what was missing in my life. Whenever I visited Joshua Tree National Park, Death Valley and other preferred spots, I found myself more deeply engaged with nonhuman stars, tracking celestial events with a bona fide star map that I ordered from an observatory. My father had shown me Orion’s Belt when I was little and that I remembered, and of course I knew all about Ursa Major and Minor; now I planted myself facing north, south, east or west, learned the names and positions of other constellations, and hitched my wagon to these new destinations. The notion that human luminaries can take us to the infinite quickly faded, even as an ironic observation, and I was right back in Ohio again, swept away by the night skies and riding with Pegasus.
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