The Desert is Holy
Across the street from where I live, lies a tract of desert land. I don’t know the acreage, but it is large enough to walk for forty-five minutes without walking the same ground. Over the years I have watched hawks and Turkey Vultures circle over it. I have heard the songs of the mourning dove, the tic tic tic of cactus wrens, and the sharp tweet of the Phainopepla. On rare occasion, I’ve caught a quick glance of a lone coyote making his way through the brush.
Two weeks ago man moved into that area. They brought with them machinery well suited for destroying the desert. Within a few days, crude roads had been bull-dozed and open bare areas the size of football fields were haphazardly laid out across the area. Seventy-year-old barrel cacti, Palo Verde trees, prickly-pear and cholla cacti were reduced to piles of discarded rubble. The beautiful saguaro cacti were spared, I suspect, only because it is illegal to destroy them and because they have a dollar value to be gained from selling them.
Soon that section of the Sonoran Desert will become another row of tract houses and a large car wash. One more area of nature, one more home for local flora and fauna is lost for the financial benefit of man.
This morning I walked past the new construction site and down the road a mile to the Maeveen Behan Desert Sanctuary. Over the past 8 years, I have walked the trails of this preserve over one hundred times. It is a wonderland of Arizona nature. I have seen coyotes, javelina, desert tortoise, jack rabbits, hawks, vultures, road runners, rattlesnakes, and countless lizards on my hikes. Springtime brings areas awash in wildflowers.
This morning had a different feeling about it. There was a coolness in the air, with wispy clouds letting the bright January sun warm the earth, and only the occasional sounds of the local birds. What I realized was a subtle difference that comes over me when I am in the desert. My heartbeat slows, my mind, which normally chatters like a tree filled with monkeys, begins to empty of its worries and clutter, and begins to fill with calm and joy. At some point on my walk, I knew I was at my best when I was there. Monkey brain chatter becomes thoughtful musings about writing, beauty, and happiness.
As I walked, I again noticed the golden dry grass (or perhaps it is weeds) eight or nine inches tall, swirling as a carpet. A resting spot for the creatures that live there. The early morning shadows cast across my body, and I looked thirty feet tall. A vulture flew high, using thermals to glide as a graceful dancer above the desert floor. Once again, I felt gratitude for being allowed to share this beautiful spot.
Recently, another joy came into my life. I started reading The Book of Hope by Jane Goodall and Douglas Abrams. I came across the book after watching a short documentary about Goodall. The book has proven to be a much-needed bright spot in my life. I confess to often falling victim to the seemingly endless cycle of news about what is wrong with us as a species. It seems we are daily bombarded with reports of what we are doing to destroy each other and the planet on which we live. This book, with a subtitle of A Survival Guide for Trying Times, is just that. Jane Goodall has spent the majority of her 86 years advocating, teaching, and studying nature and our place as a species within that sphere. She is a realist in the truest sense, but she also lives a life of hope and optimism. She believes to this day that mankind can change and that we can save this planet. To be sure, she does not say we will do this, but she says we can do it. This little book is filled with that hope and optimism.
Goodall talks about the power of nature to maintain. She tells the story of how two five-hundred-year-old camphor trees survived the atomic blast that leveled Nagasaki, Japan. Only the lower half of their trunks remained and most of the branches were torn off. Not a single leaf remained. Now the trunk of one tree, filled with cracks and fissures, thrives, and is considered sacred and a holy monument to peace and survival. Prayers are written in kanji characters on parchment and hung from the branches for those who died.
I said to Suzanne the other day, if I could meet and talk with any person on this planet, it would be Jane Goodall. She was a beautiful young lady when in her 20s, now at nearly 90, she may be even more lovely. There is an unmistakable wisdom and contentment in her eyes. I freely admit I envy in that serenity.
I remember hearing the following quote while watching the raptors flying at the Arizona Sonoran Desert Museum. The quote is from Baba Dioum a Senegalese forestry engineer.
“In the end, we will conserve only what we love; we will love only what we understand, and we will understand only what we are taught.”
In my universe, I could hear nothing more accurate. Give yourself a gift, go outside, be quiet and let the beauty draw you in.
Go well, David