A Love Letter to the Desert — By Dylan Johnston

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We come when we have nowhere else to be. We have no jobs, responsibilities or worries. I could say we have no purpose, but that would be a lie. Climbing is just an excuse to be here; as if we need one. The purpose is the desert herself. We are here to sleep crusted in red earth, under the brightest night sky, listening to nothing but our own heartbeats. Mornings are slow, evenings are slower. Life is simple. We are all in love.

I am in love with the desert. She has seen me during my highest highs and lowest lows, elated on crumbly summits and crying in the lowest canyon. Sometimes I think I know her, but she never ceases to amaze or surprise me. She is my muse in art and adventure.
I left Moab in tears. I had been camping in my car up Spanish Valley Road after the girl I thought I was going to spend the rest of my life with left me. She was my partner, in life, love and adventure. I watched the Moab valley fall into darkness from a bend in the road; my world was shattered and everything hurt.

I contemplated life. I was trapped in my head battling an existential crisis. Red sand rubbed a fresh wound. The desert is not a place for healing. I left, still in love with a landscape and a girl that had scarred me.

Ex PartnerEverything I felt for my ex-partner – both love, and contempt – was somehow inexplicably tied to my feelings for the desert. I couldn’t look at a picture of sandstone with out my stomach doing summersaults. Even going climbing on the other side of the country was painful. The Moab area was a place we shared. It felt like she had stolen the landscape from me. I didn’t know if I would ever go back. But time has healing power beyond my comprehension.

Truthfully, I just couldn’t stay away. My love for open space and red, barren rock is stronger than I knew. It was a full year before I was able to return. I wasn’t moving back, just visiting. With Riley as my climbing partner and chief shoulder to cry on, I was as ready as I would ever be. Our plan was to hang around Indian Creek for a week or two.

After becoming reacquainted with sandstone cracks, we set our sights on the North Six Shooter; it is a classic, iconic, 325-foot tall, chunk of freestanding sandstone. It had been at the top of my tower-climbing list for years. The most perfect formation Mother Nature could create. It guards the entrance to Canyonlands and provides those who quest for the summit with the view of a lifetime.

We botched the approach; it was a not-so casual two and a half hour crypto-tiptoe that spit us out on the wrong side of the tower, so much for avoiding the four-wheel drive road. The spring winds were picking up and it seemed like a storm was in our future. The first two pitches went smoothly, or as smooth as tower climbing can go. The roof was my lead.

“Riley, I’m scared” I tried to sound calm, I am sure I didn’t.
“You got it!” he yelled back.

Whatever Riley, you’re not up here. Fuck it.

I pulled through the roof only to realize I ran out of hand size pieces for the remaining hand crack. Fuck it.

I belly flopped onto the summit with a sigh of relief. Tower tops are great for self-reflection. I mean, what else are you going to do up there? My vision relaxed into the distance.

It had been over a year and I still thought about my ex-partner. We were supposed to climb this route together. The desert was our place. I wasn’t sure I was or would ever be over the relationship. I didn’t come here to climb; I came here to face my demons. I felt like I had taken back the desert, she was mine once again. I am still in love with the landscape.

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The wind howled and thunderheads swelled on the western horizon, she was telling us our time on the summit was up.

I have continued to return to the desert; she is my place to visit when I have nowhere else to be. She will always accept me. I arrive with old friends and new. Climbing is our excuse to be here. I remember old love. I climb, paint, shoot film and scribble words on paper. I am in love and always will be.


This piece was written and illustrated by the talented Dylan Johnston. Dylan also participated in a collaborative series of stories in March of 2015, which you can see HERE.  To check out more of Dylan’s work, take a look at his website. Thanks, Dylan, again, for sharing your story!

Do you have a story you want to share? Great news, we are ACCEPTING SUBMISSIONS!

Actually, that’s not really the way I talk, so that’s not what I’m going to say.

“Accepting submissions” sounds somehow like you are doing me a favor; like I’m bending over backwards to look at your work.

Of course the opposite is true. You are doing me, and all of us, a favor by embracing your unique gift – whatever it may be – and sharing it with the world. I am more “psyched to see what you made” than “accepting submissions”.

So if you have something you created, send off your work, and hopefully Fringe’s Folly can help you share it more widely, wildly, or wilely. I know, that’s a lot of W’s. But I decided to let it slide, because, after all, I am the editor. And sometimes I think breaking rules is more fun than following them.

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