The vastness of the desert and the middle of an onion

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I KNOW a secret turnout above the desert. It appears too abruptly along a mountain road to be discovered by many motorists. When I stop there, I step cautiously from my car to avoid kicking cacti. Immediately I am dwarfed by ocotillo, flame-tipped in February. Except for these, the place is, at first glance, a barren plateau above miles of sand. From my private two-acre shelf, space expands to the rim of my vision. A panorama of shoulders and plains in multi-tints of beige spreads before me. A city to the left is a textured patch in the sand. As I stand alone in silent space, even the ocotillos are dwarfed by the vastness of the valley spreading to shadowy hills and beyond to a still farther valley which merges with clouds.

Nothing seems to be beyond that.

``This is infinity!'' I whisper to myself, enjoying the enchantment of enormous solitude. Then a jet-liner enlarges into view and as quickly disappears beyond my ``infinity.''

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After moments of focusing on the beyondness where the plane disappeared, I glance down. Here at my feet are the tiniest flowers I have seen. I had heard of them. Now here they are. ``Belly plants,'' one botanist calls them, for a gastropod's position is the best view of them. My hands wall them and enlarge like Gulliver's. Rose and white millimetric resemblances of garden annuals survive in the moisture the air seems not to possess. If only I had a microscope!

Space is expansive whether it goes out or in. When I drive on, my ``infinity'' precedes me so that I am never one furlong closer to the universal end than before. Nor a micron nearer to the ultimate infinitesimal if I stoop to explore the tiny things close by. Yet an eventual end of the infinitesimal seems more imaginable than the end of infinity.

When boredom or haze cuts off the far view, the intricate patterns of close-by diminutives become focal points. Then exploring near objectives gives a new range to what I thought was monotonously obvious.

Travel reaches out toward infinity. Staying at home provides opportunities to discover what is easily overlooked. It is fun to see where close-up exploration leads. First comes curiosity; then suspense. The reward is discovery which may be a serendipity, a new value quite unexpected.

A poet once wrote: ``My heart is like an onion: In the middle of my very middle is another middle still.'' I never remembered the rest of the poem. Digging out the riddle of those few lines has involved enough thought. What constitutes an onion's middle? Each new generation of botanists presents a theory about a new ``middle'' in the very minute midst of the old middle. Now, they say, we have almost reached the real essence that holds the secrets of life.

The infinitesimal eventually becomes evasive, just as the infinite does, but until it does there are absorbing pursuits in almost any simple thing. From the middle of the minutest middle another onion grows. The flower, too, comes from the arbitrary middle, a soft pastel globe on a sleek stem, not ludicrous as one might suppose, considering the onion's association with pungent olfaction. It is gracious and serene in muted tints. The onion the stew missed has opened a new adventure into thought, which separates like allium scales into countless infinitesimals and infinities. The search stops only once one gets distracted to look in another direction.

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