By: Evan Lambert
I wondered how many dreams the dreamcatcher had caught. It couldn’t have been that many: I had only slept for four hours. I thanked the rooster for that. Yes, there was a rooster here, outside my Airbnb “glamping yurt”—the one with the dreamcatcher, where I was trying to sleep. I hadn’t known about the rooster. I’d seen earplugs next to my bed the night before, and thought, “That’s weird.”
I sighed, accepted I was awake, unzipped the front of my yurt, and looked out onto the sandy, scrubby yard. There were two dogs, two goats, a litter of piglets, two chickens, and a duck. A baby chicken pooped on my foot. I looked up at the clear, blue Arizona sky and smiled.
This was traveling during Covid.
When I planned my vacation earlier in the summer, I’d already given up on the places I’d dreamt about in my pre-Covid days, when I’d darted amongst my fellow New Yorkers in Manhattan. I’d avoid London, Barcelona, Cabo, and circuit parties this year. I’d get to go to Des Moines if I was lucky.
But I hadn’t expected this. I hadn’t expected to be drinking stream water out of a jug, or to be going #2 in a compost toilet. I’d thought we’d had it bad when we had to patch that hole in our porcelain Washington Heights toilet with duct tape. But I reminded myself that the alternative was to either stay in someone’s urban apartment in a shut-down city that I couldn’t enjoy, or to grind against 500 maskless gays at a Pride superspreader event. Here, I could socially distance from the world.
On my flight, I reminded myself that everything I touched had been sanitized 5,000 times and that the air circulation on my plane was second to none in terms of keeping my lungs free of virus. However, that didn’t make me feel any better when three people on my trip (all stocky, middle-aged white men with unkempt beards, I noted) had to be reminded to put on their face masks. One of these maskless avengers even turned out to be my row mate on my flight to Phoenix. He dramatically shook his head, making sure I could see, when I sanitized my phone with a sanitizer wipe upon boarding our plane. But when a weary flight attendant walked over to firmly remind him to wear a face mask for the safety of his fellow customers, I dramatically shook my head in return, for 15 whole seconds, until he turned back to his episode of Last Man Standing.
But despite my airplane drama, and my rooster drama, and my dry compost toilet drama, I found joy in moments both great and small. When I discovered a jar marked “goat treats” in my yurt in case I wanted to feed the goats, I fed the goats. When I discovered a chaise lounge next to my king-size bed in case I wanted to curl up with my Catherine the Great biography, I curled up with my Catherine the Great biography. When I discovered a hammock nestled within a cluster of trees nearby in case I wanted to lay back and marvel at the stars, I did just that. I hadn’t seen a star since 2017—unless you counted Famke Janssen.
When all was said and done, I had tried something new, something bold, something outside my realm of experience. I was traveling.
But I had yet to see the one thing that would complete the journey for me.
On the second day of my trip, I planned to get up at 5 a.m.— on purpose, this time—and see the sun rise over the Grand Canyon. In my 31 years of existing, I had only ever seen the sunrise by accident—after partying the night away in Williamsburg, or after spending six hours stalking a guy on Instagram. And even then, I’d never stopped to just watch it. Finally, with nothing better to do, I could witness it, and in the Grand Canyon, no less.
Unfortunately, I realized upon leaving my yurt that morning that I’d forgotten my Catherine the Great biography and that I needed to fetch it. If I were to get heat stroke later and be airlifted out of the Canyon, I would need reading material during my helicopter ride. But I’d also now miss the sunrise—in the Canyon, at least.
So, with only three minutes left before daybreak, I parked my car on the side of the freeway, kicked off my slippers, and clambered onto the roof of my rented silver Camry. I watched the moon dip under the horizon behind me. I watched the sun peek over the barren desert before me. I watched the twinkling night sky transform into a purple-red wilderness. But it all seemed to move so fast. The sun had soared with such alacrity across the sky that I’d become worried it might derail and fall out of the heavens, incinerating the desert.
But I hadn’t been looking at the whole sky. I had only been looking at a small segment—the relatively tiny segment that lay before me. I hadn’t been looking around at the tremendous expanse that the sun had yet to cover. I hadn’t realized that the sun was, in fact, taking its time—that it wasn’t hurtling from place to place, or abandoning its trusty cycles, or plunging to Earth in an Icarian fireball. It wasn’t on a deadline or on a crash course to oblivion. It wasn’t darting among New Yorkers or rushing to catch a train. It had only just begun.
I sat there for a while, marveling at how my car’s silver hood reflected the deep pinks, purples of the daybreak. Then, as a rare breeze rustled up the sagebrush, I looked out onto the desert and realized that I never would have seen this without the help of that damn rooster.
Evan has written for Mic, People Magazine, Out.com, Queerty, and The Culture-ist. His Twitter handle is @evlams, and if more than five people follow him then he might tweet again for the first time in a year.