Friday, March 11, 2011

Desert Magic

In any year, with just the right amount of water at just the right time, even the
ordinarily barren foothills leading toward the desert, burst into unimaginable beauty.

 Jim and I were mountain people. We loved the pine-scented highlands, the glacially-carved tarns hidden here and there, skies so blue they oft bordered on purple, the enticing aroma of evening campfires and the skimpy beauty of haze headed skyward. Our children are mountain people too. Snowy mountains. They live to plunge down white slopes on skiis or snowboards, bundled to within an inch of their lives, goggles over their eyes and muffs on their ears and scarves around their necks. So what if it's snowing? All the more adventure. At least for a while. My grandchildren prefer the beach. Accompanied by a surf or body board. Never mind the sand or the many salty swollows accidentally imbibed or even the fact that a shark was spotted just off the coast last week. They ignore the blazing summer sun, endure squinting eyes, and insist they had a ball.

I've personally always believed that God preferred the desert. Just look at the facts. He made so much of it and then dumped it all over the planet--sometimes in huge blobs, sometimes in small caches. It's a land where creatures hide almost all day and hunt by night; where mountains tinted purple grace the horizon, appearing to be only a mile away, yet take hours to reach; where cacti with sharp, deadly spines produce flowers whose petals are as delicate as butterfly wings. Deserts are notorious for scorpions, rattlesnakes, fuzzy tarantulas, pack rats, and coyotes.

Which land would you like to visit?

You might be surprised if I told you how beautiful the desert is at the right time of year. Spring and Fall, it is a magical place unseen by many and known to few. Especially following a winter of inches and inches of well-spaced rains. Come about March or April, what had once seemed flat, brown, dusty, dirty, and barren turns into scenic postcards created by our Heavenly Father and free for the taking. Flower seeds that have lain barren for more than a few years, when watered at the right time, and in the right amounts, suddenly begin pushing up tiny green leaves that grow into large plants displaying  a painter's palette of color gone mad. White, yellow, pink, purple, rose, orange and red. Spiny cactus show off magenta flowers, untouchable because the spines protect them from hands who'd like to pluck to take home.

It is a show to behold. But it lasts only a few weeks. Flowers called "Goldfields" carpet hillsides nearly as far as the eye can see. So does the California poppy, a beguiling orange flower, so plain in itself, yet showing off such majesty when thousands band together that it nearly takes the breath away. So colorful is the desert floor, one no longer notices the dun-hued mountains forming the backdrop or the many  lizards doing some kind of reptilian push-ups on sun-warmed rocks, or the song birds making melody atop a red-flamed ocotillo or a nearly invisible coyote slinking between gray-leaved bushes.

It was at our own desert, about a two hour drive from home, that I truly discovered the beauty of God's favorite place. I've been across the Mojave countless times, always found it boring (in any weather) and oft wondered why on earth anyone would want to visit or heaven forbid, live there. It always seemed just so much of nothing. Then came the first year our son had gone off to college in a state an airline flight away. I was sad to my bones. He'd been home for Easter and had already gone back. I'd taken to my bed, crying. Jim tried and tried to get me to perk up but to no avail. I still missed my oldest child to the point of depression. But Jim was not one to give up.

"Do you want to go for a ride?" he said.  I answered, "no." "Want to drive up to see your folks?" The same answer. "Would you like to go out for lunch?" Same answer. So it went, on and off for a couple hours while I lay in bed feeling ever so sorry for myself. Jim approached me again, "Would you like to drive out to the desert and see the flowers?" I shook my head no. "Come on, Sandy, you love flowers. I know you'll feel better if you get out of bed and get outdoors. You always enjoy yourself when you're out with nature."

He had me there. So I did as he suggested and although I'm not crazy about the long drive to the desert, I always enjoyed being with my husband, and I began to feel my mood lift a bit. When we finally reached Anza-Borrego Desert State Park, we didn't even have to stop at the Visitor Center to inquire where the flowers were blooming the best. We just followed the line of cars. We had to park in a quite illegal spot so I could get out to take photos, but I didn't care. I was dumb-struck. I'd lived in California since I was sixteen. I'd been to the springtime desert more than a few times. But I'd never seen it like this.

I felt as though God had put on a spectacle just for me. Flowers everywhere, all kinds, all colors, spreading off into the horizon, over every nob and down every swale. I felt surrounded by beauty. And love. It was nearly too much to take in. Creeks seldom seen had sprung forth, their gentle bubbling over sand and rock teasing the air with a soothing song; gentle breezes cooling the back of my neck and pestering my hair out of place; a silly roadrunner passed by, looking for all the world as if it were trying to make the Olympic track team. Or outrun Wiley Coyote. Comic relief for an intense day.

Jim stood quietly beside me. His arm wrapped tight around my shoulder. His wisdom had worked. He knew me better than I knew myself. He leaned down and kissed my forehead. He always had to lean down. He was six feet tall; I am barely over five feet. We always looked like the giant and the midget but we cared not. I put my camera down, noticing I'd already shot a full roll of thirty-six and was sorry I'd not brought more film with me. "Want to walk up Palm Canyon?" he asked. I considered that a great idea. Wild sheep lived up there and visitors often spotted them hiding out in the rocky ledges. I guess they were on vacation that day. We saw naught but birds and bugs and bees.

By the time we returned to the trailhead and walked back to our car, the light was beginning to wane. I stood amidst the flower fields, making small circles as I surveyed the 180 degree majesty of the desert that day. Nearly everyone was gone now and we had this perfect place to ourselves. "I'm not depressed anymore," I yelled over to Jim. He smiled that ear to ear grin that was only his. "I'm so glad you brought me here." He smiled again. I skipped over to where he stood by the car and gave him a kiss. "Thank you for doing this for me" I said. He nodded. "I knew you'd like it."

"Today is the first time I've really understood why God loves the desert," I said--so loud that anyone left alongside the road could have heard it. Jim grinned. "It's really beautiful, isn't it?  He looked at his watch. "Want to catch a bite before we start home?" he asked. "Yep," I replied. "All this happiness has made me really hungry. Do you think Borrego Springs has a decent place to eat?" He smiled and gave me a big hug. "Guess we'll find out," he said.

They did. We ate. Jim drove home. Inside, my heart was singing. I still missed my first-born. But I had gleaned insight today into something I'd not previously understood about the Lord. I thought about it on the long drive back to San Diego. The mountains are beautiful every time of year. So is the Pacific Ocean. Only the desert puts on a spectacle by God's decree. In my heart, I considered today a Command Performance created just for me. How fortunate were those who'd gotten in on my ticket.

"Do not remember the former things, Nor consider the things of old. Behold, I will do a new thing, Now it shall spring forth; Shall you not know it? I will even make a road in the wilderness and rivers in the desert." Isaiah 43:18,19

Copyright by Sandra L Keith 2011  All rights reserved.
All photos are property of the author and may not be reproduced without permission

1 comment:

  1. Such beautiful photos. Amazing! Thank you Sandy!