We found a spot next to a serpent sculpture that appeared to dive its artful body in and out of the expanse of sand and across the plain road that led us away from the small village's lights. Mountains of rock in the distance bordered our peripheral sight; the sun set and the moon appeared in the desert. In twilight, we set up our simple camp to watch the stars come out and the meteors shower. Soon, we could barely see our serpent neighbor's face or details of the terrain. The rustle of blowing sand punctuated the soft quiet.
Husband, brother-in-law, and I leaned back in our chairs and across the car hood to watch day turn into night, to witness regal hills of stone and stark stretches of desert, humbling in their magnitude, dissolve under darkness that fell like a blanket in greater and greater silence. Soon, even the desert seemed unimaginably small, and we even smaller, under the twinkling stars, the great arc of a faint Milky Way, the blazing bursts and fleeting tails of meteors that struck our planet's atmosphere.
The absence of light around us brought these distant bodies closer. The universe deepened with each further adjustment of our eyes as stars and galaxies came into focus through our minute, organic lenses. We marveled together at the wonder of such a view - laughing and creating new constellations, I imagined the generations of humans that have gazed at this same scene. I felt my baby kick enthusiastically. As the first meteor flared like a sparkler across the sky and we all cried out at its intensity, I made a wish that my descendants would find such intimacy with the cosmos.
Soon, even the moon sank below the horizon. Under the ancient story told to our vision this night - a tale of stars now long gone but still appearing to us, a song of nebulae and novas that have yet to reach us with their light - I felt connected beyond labels of our relationships to the two humans next to me. I felt only our common delight, collective curiosity, and intrinsic courage to seek space where we felt our smallness and entered a different plane of awareness of our place on a galactic scale. This, too, is an old story, as primitive and essential to humans as those told of the temptation of serpents, the ventures into the desert to find enlightenment, the dreaming of intelligible messages and images written in the stars.
The next day, my boy picked up a nondescript clam shell I found in the bay near our home away from home. In expectation, he put it carefully to his ear. I first felt inclined to correct him - "You can't 'hear the ocean' in that kind of shell" - but caught myself. That shell, made from desert sands, elements long ago forged in the bellies of stars, brings close the expanse of natural wonders he instinctively longs to know. Although it may not resonate with his pulse to give the illusion of hearing the sea, it resonates with something more.
Putting a shell to an ear; turning one's face to the night sky; touching the beauty beyond one's finite life by letting the spirit-mind wander cosmic sands: this is what the mystics and scientists and prophets and common people, adults and children, can know at the core in any moment of transcendent connection. Nevertheless, we lift constructed sand to our ears. Nevertheless, we journey to the desert. Nevertheless, we dream of stars and imagine we are one of them.