I thought to myself, “Sitting by a mountain stream is no different.” Watching wind skim across white sand mesmerizes me just the same. Jackets and pants popped like ripped flags and I felt like I was standing on the mound of a buried pyramid. We hiked up a windward slope stepping and sinking in sand like snow, shin-deep, stopping to run our fingers through it, drawing symbols, lifting up our cupped hands to watch the glitter of sand twinkle and blow away like ghosts.
Our spot, change that, the track we built had just been crashed by a dad and his two kids, so we bounced. Sounds harsh, I know. Smile and let them slide, right? But, my son had just prepped the entire slope. Alone. Like a skateboarder clearing an empty swimming pool to safely skate the bowl. Raking leaves and trash. Drying up the wet spots. My son packed down the sand by sitting on his disk and scrunching forward all the way down, like he was driving a little Tikes car, over and over, to carve out a track. He was pooped. Understand, there are no runs on sand until you’ve built a track. No matter how much you’ve waxed the board. He packed it down and smoothed it out, climbing back up the hill, over and over again, until he had a fast enough track. Sitting on a giant frisbee, the boy had carved out a 50-foot groove in sand.
Breathing hard, he put his red hoodie over his head and tightened the draw string, and smiled at his finished project. We had hiked a good distance from the picnic area and pumpjack to find a dune to ourselves. But I noticed a dad and his kids attempting dune after unprepped dune, getting closer and closer to us by the minute, like slick trick-or-treaters who saw the lights come on inside of our house. There were no curtains for me to close and sneak behind. I couldn’t whisper to my wife and son not to move. I thought, I know how surfers must feel when poachers drop in and steal waves after you’ve done the scouting and put in all the work. That’s how fistfights on the beach start. I’m going overboard, I know. Right? But, when his daughter dragged her foot and toes right down the middle of our chute like a toenail plow, my son and I had had enough. That settled it. We looked at each other like two blinking meme guys and left. I laugh now, but it was like standing beneath the friendly-fire of Godzilla, watching her foot come down to trample our sandcastle, our glittering sandcastle, with a fireburst of roars.
But it turned out to be the best thing that happened to us that day. It made us do what we’ve always done on the trail when we want to be alone. We just hiked far away. Far across the sandhills like French Legionnaires, until we could be bothered no more. If only I had had a brass spyglass to pull out and extend to make sure no other trick-or-treaters were on our tail. But there wasn’t any need. We were far, far away, well past the line of comfort zones.
In the distance, I saw a tall, white dune with two green sotol plants growing below. I looked back and promised my family this was the last one. My wife grimaced. Her hair clutched her face like the legs of an octopus, and she used her fingers to pull them back. When we made it to the top, my tired son just sat, like he did as a toddler in the sandbox, digging in his feet, making circles with his hands. I got silly and danced. We laughed, and took a moment to gaze at the miles of sandhills lined with Shin Oak, the biting winds trying to blow us down.
Just the night before we were trying to learn how to sled on sand. We walked by an Airstream at camp and talked to a nice couple sitting under hanging lights wearing beanies and coats. They smiled and pointed us in the right direction, cupping coffee mugs in their hands. We made our way up the sandhill and it felt like we were walking through the deepest snow. I smiled. I wasn’t even looking around. I was just feeling, feeling everything, living through my skin pores. The soft air tingled. The hills almost glowed, like a light bulb just switched off, with the dimming light of a dead glow. The sky, a dark violet-indigo, swirled in color and gushed like a bruise. We were deep in the Permian Basin that night. Georgia O'Keeffe, where are you?
I had to laugh when I reached the top of the first dune. I saw two children in the distance, holding sled discs trudging our way in the dark. I was so impressed! That’s how we lived when we were kids, my aunts looking at us crazy if we stayed at camp. I watched them as they got closer. They climbed up to the top where we were. One girl, maybe 10, and another boy, younger, with long blonde hair, breathing a little hard, smiled and sat down on their discs to slide down to their parents’ camp by the Airstream. Of course, I asked them where to go. “Oh yeah. There’s one farther out that’s WAY taller than this one,” the boy said, flicking his bangs out of his face. He jumped on his disc, sliding down behind his sister, and they were gone.
That night, in the cool, on the softest sand, we hiked and settled on the steepest slope we could find. We held the lantern while our son tried a few runs. But the speed wasn’t there. I waxed the board, but I didn’t have the greasy, smooth layer I was looking for. While my son and I climbed and I pushed him down, my wife went into worker-bee mode. She pulled out that little bar of wax and scrubbed the hull like she was a crazed sidewalk artist. Like she was coloring in a mural with a tiny stick of chalk. Scrubbing and scrubbing, blowing the flakes off. Sounded like she was working sheet metal through an English wheel. She climbed up. When she flew down right by me, whooping, flying off her disc and crashing into the sand, I knew we had passed lesson number one. Prep is everything. We tossed the other discs to the side and focused on that one. Three sledders gliding on dunes after Thanksgiving, under a West Texas moon.
We headed back to camp and my son used our small axe to chop kindling out of piñon. I was nerve-wracked listening to him whack. We bundled up by the fire and had s’mores. We couldn’t see the stars for the clouds, but we got a few raindrops. When we left, we were stopped on the road by flashing red lights and the drop of the boom-gate to the railroad. A night train screamed by and my wife and son got out of the car to watch it pass by. The wind flipped up our collars, the cool air washing over our skin, and behind us, myriad crystals of quartz sparkled in the moonlight and swirled in the wind.