We live in the far southwestern corner of Las Vegas, and it’s a strange nexus between the extremes of nature and civilization. Four miles to the west, there is no cell service, and the temperature begins to drop as the mountains rise. Six miles to the east, there’s, well, Vegas: manic neon, skyscraper-sized screens, and the fever dream of end-game capitalism buffed and polished to a synthetic sheen.

The first three months of 2023 have been the coldest in Las Vegas in over fifty years. But yesterday was pleasant, so C. and I headed into the mountains. You can tell a lot about a relationship by the way couples hike. A sunburnt man raced ahead, screaming at his partner to hurry up, while others ambled and murmured, lost in their private worlds. C. and I just tend to get lost. We’ll climb onto a boulder, scan for trail markers or cairns, and realize we’ve wandered into god only knows. Straying from the prescribed path makes me antsy, but the whole point of dealing with nature might be learning to let go of the little maps and well-worn paths in my head.

The desert silence baffles my Midwestern mind. No birds chirping, no insects buzzing, not even the faint hum that I associate with humidity. It feels like I’m on a movie set, a manufactured world, and sometimes my hand reaches for a boulder, expecting it to be made of papier-mâché. This fleeting confusion between the genuine and the artificial captures my sense of being alive these days.