Old Woman Springs
By: Sophia Stid
I went to the desert because I wanted to. After a hard winter, it was a simple thing, and I clung to it. It felt good to want something. To know it and name it and do it. I trusted my desire again, after wanting and doing things that hurt me all winter until I became numbed to my own body and my heart. I lived in my mind, embedded in art theory class and regimented soulless plans for my creative future, trying to analyze and rationalize my way out of a heartbreak that had taken me by surprise. I didn’t want to eat and never felt hungry, but I knew I should, so I counted out apples, spoonfuls of peanut butter. Eat, I had to tell myself, had to have my friends tell me. Eat. Anxiety was a charge that kept me humming constantly so I couldn’t sleep, but I saw the bruise-colored skin under my eyes and knew that I should, so I lay myself down in the dark each night. From that numbness, that silencing of all that was good in my life, poems began to emerge. Poetry was the language I could speak in when I could not speak. An intuitive cartography—a map I could understand when I understood nothing else, when I did not know who or where I was.
And in my poems, the desert took shape. Mysterious animals. Fierce light and slow, deep colors. Flowering sharpness. Blue mountains. Water underground, roots miles down. I wanted to go, I realized, and it felt like such a grace. No reason. No analysis. Just desire. Just my body, which I was beginning to feel happy to be in again. I wanted to feel warm. I wanted crazy sunsets and cactus trees. I wanted to be free. I had to prove my freedom to myself, and so I made my plans, found someone who needed help with an art installation and had a place for me to stay. I went to the Mojave, to Joshua Tree, where I had never been and knew no one.
My mother and grandmother drove down with me from the Bay Area. “I just feel like we haven’t talked about Anne Lindbergh enough,” my mom said at one point during the road trip, and I felt so sincerely aware of the power of women, the strength and wisdom of these women who I had been born through. And even now, somehow, they were still seeing me through birth again and again. In a desolate stretch of strip malls and cul-de-sacs in the Central Valley, I felt a sharp stabbing loss as I understood for the first time how I had surrendered my own power, how I had given it away for something that did not keep. In the wake of that pain: gratitude for the women who love me so well, who trusted me to find my way back to my own innate power and wisdom, who saw in me what I could not believe in my confusion and despair. I’d won a writing prize at school that year, for a collection of poems I titled Poems for the Matriarchy. I hadn’t known what I’d meant then, but now I did. We drove into Joshua Tree on Old Woman Springs Road.
I drove Mom and Oma to the airport in Palm Springs a few days later, and drove back through the valley of wind turbines and smooth blue mountains that looked like sheets shaken down from the sky. I felt wholly, fully alive. The previous summer, I had been in love; this summer, I would be in love with my own freedom. And I was.
Sophia Stid studies poetry and spirituality of place at Georgetown University.