Maybe because the summer heat has hit even San Diego, maybe in sympathy of the drought in the rest of the country, I thought I would share this piece, one of my “California In Spring” series I have written on short breaks over the last four years. If you have never been alone deep in the great deserts of America, you should go.
High desert, low desert,
sand dunes, stone cliffs,
saguaro wash, cholla hell.
If you want to taste the true soul of the desert,
not a place on the map with a Hollywood name,
but the grand reach of dry land that covers a third of North America,
then you must leave the places of people behind.
The desert sun will split rocks and boil blood,
bleach a Coors can white in two desperate months.
Canyon wall echoes are swallowed in sandy washes
and evaporate on the endless flats.
Most days, other than wind and maybe one raptor’s cry,
the desert is deaf.
Rattlesnakes don’t bother to coil and strike.
Unless you step on them,
they just don’t care.
In the desert the bad things you have done perch beside you,
waiting quietly like a hawk above a rabbit hole
to see if you will honestly atone.
Where there is a hint of green, birds chirp warnings.
When there is a hint of springtime, sun teases out wildflower splashes,
exploding blooms of buttery yucca,
red-flamed ocotillo tips,
chubby, pulpy prickly pear,
and the earth-bound smell of rock-ground sage.
But the hint is just a hint, never a promise.
An oasis is a rumor.
A creek is a myth.
An artesian spring is God.
Visitors are like flash floods to this endless land:
violent monsoon thunderstorms, wayward drunken miners,
crazed new-age pilgrims, brazen narco soldiers,
rapid auto tourists, dusty two-car towns,
asphalt slashes, disappearing tracks.
All of these transients are as inconsequential to the great desert
as a pinprick supernova in the infinite sky.
I am no shaman, no priest,
but one Sedona day
I saw the Great Kachina carved in a red sandstone cliff,
and the wispy tails of cirrus cloud stallions chased by
puffy grey wolves across a cobalt sky.
These are visions that avoid the world of water
and the lands of life.
And one Death Valley night, long on baked-in heat and short on friends,
I climbed a scree-covered hill, sat alone,
and watched a full moon cast white ghost-light
across a stillness so deep
that even the howls of coyotes on their midnight hunt
fell short of heaven.
Desert mind is Buddha mind:
no us and them,
no here and there,
no this and that.
There is just desiccated space
where imagined angels raise the light
and sing a vaulting and a tortured
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