Between launching the Tableau de Parfums fragrance line on Friday, October 7th, and screening Woman’s Picture on October 11th, perfumer Andy Tauer and I travelled from LA, where these events were held, to Joshua Tree, where we tried to decompress a little, ate greasy truck stop food, and took a short hike in the national park through an area which was once the Desert Queen Mine.
Andy’s been hiking more than I have, and I’ve been smoking more than I should, so the hike wasn’t as easygoing as I imagined it would be. Later I found out we were never actually on the trail, which explains why we couldn’t find our way back on it when we thought we’d veered off. You do get turned around, and if you go too far on anything but intuition, you can find yourself panicking. One rock looks like all the others. You look for your own footprints when you circle back around as we did more than a few times. “Look,” said Andy, at some point. “That was me, and that was you.” I couldn’t tell the difference between the sole of an Addidas sneaker and the paw print of a wild animal. You see the limitations of intuition out there, where hunches can start to feel really foolish.
The sun is merciless – like in Los Angeles, only with vast expanses of sand and rock, and a lot less between it and you, unless you count the massive rock formations, which seem to amplify the sunlight somehow rather than block it. You get dehydrated quickly, especially if you insist on smoking breaks. I insisted on smoking breaks. I needed to catch my breath, I said. Andy is tireless. You have to try hard to keep up. Bend over to tie your shoelaces and he’s gone. Eventually, I let him run ahead, up an incline or two. We were turned around and he wanted to see if there was anything resembling a path in the distance. There wasn’t, so he came running back and we retraced our steps.
The Desert Queen Mine operated from 1895 to 1961. Ownership changed hands several times, according to a sign heralding the steep descent into the canyon and the surrounding trails. It was passed along by way of “murder, robbery, foreclosure, sale, and payment for back wages.” After a few minutes hiking in the desert you learn that trusting your partner is paramount; get lost, and you might be stuck with them for a while. An argument wastes precious breath. We’d just started out, which is to say stumbled down the canyon, when Andy told me about the Dutch/German couple who’d ended up dead in the park earlier this year. I wondered how long they’d been stuck together, and whether they wasted time bickering about the decision to go this way instead of that.
Later I looked the story up online. The couple drove into the park and got stuck. Their bodies were found about a mile apart on the same road. The car was five miles away. Like Andy, the man had run ahead looking for a way out.
We never got so far from the pit of the canyon that we couldn’t find our way back to it, but we did have some trouble figuring out where we’d descended in the first place. Near the car we realized we’d never been on any actual path but one of our own making.
It feels pretty amazing to be lost this way, or only slightly lost, or a turn away from being lost, especially in that environment, because it puts you in touch with how little control you have in life, and how little you are in general compared to the overall design of things. You spend so much time and energy trying to exert control in most situations. It’s humbling – and terrifying – to realize how little you ultimately have.
When we weren’t focused on finding our way, Andy and I talked about: perfume, our collaboration, fragrant materials (birch tar, galbanum, tuberose, castoreum), and the steaks we planned to have the following night.
Andy told me he served time in the military rescuing wounded personnel. I can carry you if you can’t go on anymore, Brian, he told me. Then he asked how much I weigh. “Well, I can always drag you,” he said, when I told him.