I’d been up to Sedona once, last decade when I was living in Arizona (before the ill-fated move back to Seattle) and hadn’t given it much thought since. I remembered the stunning unreality of the colors–rusted reds striated with washed out yellows, deep azure and dark greens. I had the overall impression of a tourist trap, however, and didn’t go for the whole vortex, center-of-the-universe spirituality trip. I’m too atheistic, too urban. Ten years later seemed like as good a time as any to make another visit, see what I could see. Plus, it was a full moon that night, a blood moon, in fact, and maybe we would stay long enough to see it rise, away from the bright lights of Phoenix.
In the car on the way up I jokingly suggested to my two companions we should buy a crystal each and use them to guide us to the vortex. Why not embrace some irony while reveling in nature? I pictured us grabbing a chunk of quartz each from a dollar bin and wandering around the rocks holding them aloft, exclaiming, I’ve found it! All while silly phone pics were being snapped, of course.
As we neared the outskirts of the town, my male companion and I both spotted a sign in a strip mall at the same moment, shouting its name, “Rock Shop!” in unison. He made a hard right turn, screeching into the parking lot, the three of us laughing about finding our first vortex.
Inside we found an artfully, lovingly arranged assortment of crystals, rocks, geodes and agates of all shapes, sizes and colors. I had expected to see dusty shelves and bins advertising by-weight prices of junk. This place was beautiful. We soon found out the owner was a collector, harvesting much of his inventory himself, a jewelry designer and total rock nerd. The array was so dazzling we soon fell silent, carefully examining anything that caught our respective eyes, bringing pieces over to show one another. Soon the woman behind the counter handed me a large, worn book that classified the natural and metaphysical properties of rocks, “in case I needed more information.” Within minutes I was following my companions around the store, reading aloud the spiritual affirmations associated with the crystals they had selected for themselves, without a trace of irony.
What was this?
I selected three pieces that day, and made a pointed hunk of pink calcite my mascot for the trip. My female companion chose a tiny orange cone-shaped citrine, and our male companion grabbed up a gnarled piece of smoky quartz. I made sure we understood the affirmations for each before handing the book back.
It was an exquisite early spring day and we picnicked on the red rocks, gazing up at the vivid blue sky, our crystals laid out on our blanket alongside us. As the waters of Oak Canyon Creek spilled from rock to rock below us we talked about our deep sense of dissatisfaction, something we all shared, our reasons different. And weren’t we privileged to loll about in such exquisite surroundings, with everything we needed at arms-length, exploring our existential problems in the company of friends?
Our privilege would occur to us in sharp relief before the night was over.
As we walked back to the car to drive aimlessly and look at more scenery, I stopped dead in my tracks and pointed to a spot straight ahead. “That’s a vortex!”, I asserted, before I even knew what I was saying. Looming upward was a Jagged cliff face densely covered in Evergreen trees. You could see that the vegetation had grown up into the spaces where rainwater surges. The acid orange of the smooth rocks held a flow of spiky dark green that appeared velvety from our distance. Contrasting against the stark blue sky, it was overwhelming. I sensed some sort of intensity emanating from this tableau, some sort of vibe and it dawned on me, this is what vortex means.
What was this?
We got back on the highway at dusk, chattering about what a great day it had been, and what a find, that rock shop, and what amazing scenery, and we should really go again soon. Suddenly an impenetrable cloud of dust sprang up from the road, cloaking the car and completely obscuring our vision, save for the brake lights ahead of us. Fully dark by this time in the desert, we could see nothing but this curtain of dust. The driver, our male companion, saw a boulder the size of a human head directly in our path. He had three choices, in that brief moment: swerve to the left and fall into a deep ditch, swerve to the right and collide with another car, or hit the rock.
We hit the rock.
The front driver’s side tire blew out, and the dust cleared. We made our way to a deep shoulder of the road where we could figure out what the hell had happened in that three-second space of clear, cloud, rock. We were far enough from the cars swishing by that we could safely change our tire, and that was something. A car pulled in behind us a moment later, and that was something else. We already had help. It wasn’t a crisis, we weren’t hurt, just confused about the sudden dust and its cause.
A young man, maybe nineteen years old jogged up to us. “Did you see that car go off the road? They were just a couple cars in front of you and they went right off the road. My grandma’s in our car calling 911.” He pulled out a flashlight and illuminated the busted tire our male companion was beginning to change. A car went off the road? How awful! Well, that accounted for the dust, didn’t it?
My female companion and I stood out of the way, taking in the rolling ridges, the Saguaro cacti jutting upward, and the glittering stars as our eyes adjusted to the dark. Suddenly the lovely pastoral scene was shattered by figure staggering across the highway, backlit by headlights. We tensed up as it approached, seemingly oblivious to the four lanes of cars rushing by.
It was a young woman, covered in blood, begging us to help her.
“My friend is in the car! My friend is in the car! I can’t leave her!”, she cried, clutching her head. Grandma jumped out of her car, and the young man went to her side. “I can’t leave my friend! I can’t see anything out of one of my eyes, you have to help us!” And as the group began to attend to her, and our male companion continued to struggle with the tire I looked up to see the blood moon slowly rising over the mountains, a thin shroud of mist across its face.
Eerie barely describes it.
Within five minutes an ambulance and two fire trucks roared up and began treating the young woman. They rescued her friend from the ditch, into which their car had rolled. Both women seemed to have sustained head injuries, from which they were bleeding profusely. A sheriff’s officer pulled up in an SUV, shined his light on us and dismissed us, walking toward the action. Eventually a fire fighter came with a sledgehammer and whacked the blown-out tire off the axle. We had broken the wheel. We managed to get the doughnut on, relieved we were exactly 50 miles from Phoenix. We made it home, fully shaken.
The first thing I did at home was light a stick of sage I had purchased at the Rock Shop, smudging the air around my male companion and me. I went into the garage and blew the smoke around the car, the tire. The three of us spent the rest of the night furiously texting each other about what had happened, trying to make sense of it. Each of us sensed that what we had experienced on the road home was more than it appeared. Was there a message?
We agreed that the message, as we understood it that night, was that the three of us are damned lucky. Privileged. Why did the girls go off the road? Had they seen the rock and chosen to swerve? Did they cause the impenetrable dust or did they become enveloped and disoriented by it and that’s how they ended up in the ditch? The answer we had is that our driver had the presence of mind and judgment to plow right into the rock, understanding it would cause the least amount of harm to us, and as a result the three of us walked away without a scratch. We got to go home that night, of our own volition. We were not taken away in an ambulance.
This was the beginning of our profound collective connection to Sedona.