“The weird solitude, the great silence, the grim desolation, are the very things with which every desert wanderer eventually falls in love. You think that strange perhaps? Well, the beauty of the ugly was sometime a paradox, but today people admit its truth; and the grandeur of the desolate is just paradoxical, yet the desert gives it proof.”
–John C. Van Dyke, The Desert
The Mojave Desert was home for much of my life. I howled like a desert coyote in my bristled, dry, and motherless youth growing up in the desert.
When the air blows off the cool Pacific Ocean, and then collides with the hot dry desert, just 90 miles east, California’s joyful legendary sun vanishes. This is when the wind seems trapped on an endless loop. Dust devils whip across the landscape. The insidious brown vortex unfurls and seizes hard desert dirt, uproots thorny weeds and spreads their seeds into the raped countryside. I know them as tumbleweeds, goat heads and foxtails. My one goal was to escape this pit of endless heat and wind.
Yes, sad memories remain latched to my desert life: Growing up in a dysfunctional family, loneliness, and the night when a wild summer monsoon storm rolled across the desert floor and the sky lit up like the 4th of July with blasts of lightening. My first husband, who just turned 28 years old, and I were mesmerized by this out of control storm. We cuddled our two little girls so that they wouldn’t be fearful of the thunder. Storm-fueled electrical ions burst into the air and energized our conversation about the future. He would go on to graduate studies; I would finish my music education…
The storm hid the fact that before noon on the next day, the young father of my children would die from a deadly shock of mega-volt electricity from a high power line above a trench that he monitored as an engineering geologist. Like the lightening in the desert the night before, he was gone in a flash.
All the challenges of the desert converged — the thistles, the heat, and the stings. Anger of the present and fear of the future thwarted me away from the search for peace and my explorations into meditation and spiritual growth. While I wandered lost between the weeds and Joshua trees, strength grew within — an odd dichotomy of life.
But it was the sunrise, the crystal nighttime sky, the miles of endless vision and possibility that tempered my hungry coyote song. Light, more than anything, dominates the desert. For that, I have returned to the desert to expand my vision and heart.
When I recently felt that the world was collapsing before me, it was to the desert where I retreated for several days of hiking in search of a vision of hope. This came to me:
Past the full moon
free from the noise,
meet the ancient,
be brave to climb,
seek rare treasure.
into your peace.
onto this path,
Life’s serendipitous imp flew with me from the California coast to our landing in the Sonoran Desert last October. The objective was to physically heal. I’ve spent the last four months among saguaros, palo verde trees, wild coreopsis blooming next to chaparral and creosote shrubs. The massive structure of the Mayo Clinic outlines the horizon to the east. Westerly, is the open desert where coyotes and rabbits play hide and seek, and concludes my days in neon orange and purple sunsets. I landed in this environment deathly ill. My health challenge remains, and will remain until my final breath, yet the desert’s medicine and people have brought me back to my feet. For that I remain grateful and honor the jagged landscape, heat, open skies, and those persons dedicated to healing the sick.
Deserts are another one of nature’s metaphors to human life. The colors of the desert, cream, ochre, lava, walnut, copper and mahogany match the colors of the human race.
Most deserts were once lush and fertile environments. But as the planet ages, so have those once lush forests that now seem sterile and vacant of life. Lifeforms, however, adapted in North Africa’s Sahara Desert, South Africa’s Kalahari Desert, Australia’s Great Victoria Desert, China’s Gobi Desert, Western Asia’s Arabian Deserts, and North America’s greater deserts that include the Mojave, Sonoran, Chihuahuan, and the Great Basin Deserts.
Deserts are home for ancient Biblical texts, and indigenous creation stories from America’s Southwest.
Deserts represent the extreme with vast vistas that can bring peace or even death.
It was in the Baja California Desert where I personally encountered my first whale. Connectedness reigns and vision expands.
A Desert Contemplation
This moment is my personal eternity. I am as solid as the ancient rocks that fortress the mountains that rise above the sand. Time is a gift that comes with each moment of breath that links me to a universal manifestation of love and connectedness.
Time is the great healer. Time is the great teacher. Time stands still. Time moves me forward.
—An edited version of “The Desert–Vision” from my work in progress,