I swear every trip out to the desert is more beautiful than the last, and last night’s adventure to the cholla forest between vallecito creek and the hot spring of agua caliente was no exception.
here’s why: one, the orionid meteor shower was completely off-the-hook! we saw dozens of meteors flashing like roman candles across the sky, some lighting the sky for more than just a few seconds as they crossed paths with our planet. two, we built a beautiful fire and rejoiced in its warmth for many hours (though the air out there barely dipped below 70, all night), rolling around on our mexican blankets and yoga mats as orion’s arms first rose over the horizon to the east and well after the gibbous moon set over the in-ko-pah range to our west. three, chollas are (obviously) just my favorite. they have a protective, sweet spirit about them, and a strong presence that makes me feel that (even if there weren’t hundreds of animals and billions of stars to keep me company) I’m definitely, definitely not alone.
an interesting conversation evolved when d voiced that he did not feel the visceral, emotional connection to anza borrego that I do. while he loves chollas and other desert friends as much as I do (I think), he said he doesn’t feel nourished by this particular lifeworld the way that he does when he visits a deciduous or coniferous forest, a seashore, a mountain range. it got me questioning what it is about my time in the desert that feels so restorative to my mind, body and spirit.
here’s what it is, I think.
the desert feels alive in a specific way that not many other ecosystems do, to me. even the silence is alive. it pulses with the sound of beings demanding themselves into existence beyond all reason. something about the austerity, about the fierce urging of things, insisting on themselves despite the harsh climate and the extreme nature of survival out here.
maybe it’s just me. but somehow what some call a ‘barren landscape’ or a ‘monotonous monochrome’ is to me an incredible rainbow willed into being by millions of living expressions of color. look more closely: the earth that appears white or tan is actually blue, red, gold, black, pink. the land that looks to you uninhabited gives itself away if you’ll just glance at it– legions of tracks that tell the stories of the rabbits, foxes, mice and wildcats that people these gorgeous plains. open your ears to the songs of the coyote and the owl, lift your chin to the sky which all kinds of incredible birds of prey encircle with their ferocious patience.
let the milky way lull you to sleep in its pale embrace. allow your eyes to flutter open when you hear the coyotes serenade your tent, but go back to sleep when they fall silent. let the heat of the sun wake you, say good morning to the army of cholla guards who stood watch.
take a deep breath. close your eyes and breathe in the silence, the warmth against your eyelids and your heartbeat the only indication that you are still within the boundaries of your body. feel the soft give of the sand beneath your feet, and the light wind that plays with the hairs on your arms. take a step, even, in any direction– keep going, not following any trail, and not worrying, because you know you can follow your own tracks home.
with every step you take sink deeper into the awareness that you are welcome here, that you belong here as much as the cholla, as much as the turkey vulture, the jackrabbit, the mountain lion. extrapolate this sense of belonging to anywhere on this planet, or this cosmos– see that you are home here, and here, and here too, as much as anybody has ever been or will ever be. deepen your knowing as you walk: you belong to this earth as much as any piece of it might belong to you.
and, finally, of course: you are the earth, walking the earth. the fertile ground that made you, the soil you come from and return to, the plants and animals that sustain you and will one day be sustained by the dark earth of your body, all particulars in the great circle dance we call planet earth (and which, of course, is yet another tiny particular in the greater circle dance of the everything), same as it ever was and on into forever.
this, more than anything, is what I learn when I’m out here. and while I might (and have, and will) encounter this same lesson in another community, it’s this one that has taught me over and over and over for the last three years, and this one I return to whenever I need a night under the stars or a morning in a forest of cacti to remember.