“It’s strange how deserts turn us into believers. I believe in walking in a landscape of mirages because you learn humility. I believe in living in a land of little water because life is drawn together. And I believe in the gathering of bones as a testament to spirits that have moved on. If the desert is holy, it is because it is a forgotten place that allows us to remember the sacred. Perhaps that is why every pilgrimage to the desert is a pilgrimage to the self.”
Terry Tempest Williams
The desert is hot and dry most of the year. There are many things that can poke, scratch, and hurt quickly. Many of the creatures also have the ability to hurt. There is little water. When it does rain much of the water runs off into arroyos, ditches, and gulleys. The ground does not quickly absorb the moisture. Everything that lives in these places has figured out how to conserve water and find food. Desert Big Horn Sheep only need to drink every three days when the temperature is above 100 degrees Fahrenheit.
In this southern California desert, it gets confusing. Here it is hot, it is dry, and yet thanks to the Colorado River and rich soil, Imperial County (in the California Desert) is a breadbasket for this country. The ranchers grow iceberg lettuce, leaf lettuce, broccoli, cauliflower, cantaloupes, honeydews, dry bulb onions, processor onions, carrots, sweet corn, spinach, spring mix, and watermelons. During this trip, I have seen fields of hay and flowers.
All this growth makes it hard to comprehend this area is a desert. When you get away from the fields everything goes back to dry and hard land. There are still more surprises in this desert. I went for a hike yesterday and found an oasis. There were palm trees and other riparian plants growing in this one small area. As I got closer I found water and signs of deer, desert bighorn sheep, and other animals. Life is busy where there is water. Animals, amphibians, and birds know where this water is. It is their lifeblood.
Yes, the desert is hard. I discovered the desert when I moved west in 1976. The wide-open spaces, the silence, and the ruggedness drew me to the desert. The flat land is rugged and so are the mountains. I found I loved to explore this landscape and get to know it. I understood that I had to come to the desert on its terms. Its silence and beauty awakens me in a way that no other place can. I need to be aware of so much here. This awareness lets me relish being in the moment.
I came to the desert after Jim died so I could grieve and the desert understood. There were times that I became hard and brittle like this place. I had to confront all sides of myself and I walked out alive. That alone is an accomplishment.
I return to this environment each year to remember and explore and let myself be absorbed in this amazing place once again. Yesterday’s surprise was a small oasis, teeming with life. The next time it might be another slot canyon or a dry waterfall that demands me to climb it. I have learned to lift the rocks and stones away from me when I want to see what is under them. I have learned to walk carefully and be careful of the Catsclaw ( a very thorny shrub that has destroyed more than one pair of hiking pants and a tent). I am still learning about all the spikey, pokey things. I am careful of the animals and creepy crawlies. Respect is taught in a place such as this.
My time is quickly drawing to a close. It is getting too hot for me and I am beginning to feel parched. The dentist is also calling me back to San Diego. Hopefully, I am at the end of this dental event.
I will return to this rugged formidable land again and again. I love all the deserts that I have seen. The California desert is amazing. Yet, have you ever seen southern Utah and northern and southern Arizona? Each area is so different and so desert. I am grateful to have been introduced to this land, to this amazing landscape, and to the desert.
Today I am thankful for my time near the Salton Sea. It has been good to be reunited with friends. It has been good to reunite with this rugged, wonderful environment. The Desert.