The desert is an inhospitable place. Driving out of the mountains, into the valley, the landscape transforms. The tall pines thin out, shrivel, and disappear. They yield to the oaks, and those fade too as the desert gets closer.
It sucks the moisture out of my body. My lips grow canyons and scales, and there isn’t enough lip balm to repair the damage, let alone keep it at bay. Even though it’s October, the sun is bright and hot in the sky. The act of scoping out a site, and setting up a tent is enough to make me sway with dizziness. Inhaling some food, and drinking massive amounts of water restore me a little. It’s time to go for a walk. I should have just enough time to get to where I want to go and return to camp by sunset.
Because my 4-cylinder Honda, with me driving it, couldn’t make it very far down the sandy roads, I have to hike 4 miles to the trailhead. Desolation surrounds me. A few scrubby and barren bushes pop up out of the dry lake bed. My eyes and my camera are ready.
I’ve found ancient fossilized shells before. I’ve found bone fragments and a skeleton torn into pieces. Little treasures. Sand and dirt and boulders make up the majority of the landscape. Ancient dry lake beds, oyster beds, sea floors. The macabre part of my personality gravitates toward things like skulls. The lifelessness of the desert. But is it really that bleak? A mile up the road, the landscape morphs. Cholla chokes the flat parts, and crawls up the hillside. Fields of agave erupt, and paint light green into the scene.
And then there’s the evidence of all the animals. Holes in the ground. Tracks littering the sand. Bits of scat everywhere. Desert lavender, cat’s claw, and a host of other desert shrubs and grasses spring up in the places that get more shade and water. It’s easy to see the lifelessness of the place. However,it’s anything but that.
There’s an immense amount of diversity here. Animals, birds, plants and insects specialize to the environment. Periods of famine exist, to be sure, but there are also times of abundance. And even in famine, the scrappiest little bush has the—I guess I’ll call them skills or programming—to survive, wait out the scarce times and come back stronger.
It strikes me this is also a metaphor for the human experience. My human experience. And a reminder. I could perceive certain times of my life (example, the present) as proverbial deserts. Such times are not wastelands. They are closer to the desert I experienced this past weekend. Even though some things are lacking in my life, there is a flood of wonderful things. Friends, adventures, creativity. And a huge amount of personal growth.
So, these lessons from the desert: We can encounter times of stress, and be motived by them; grow in ways we couldn’t have imagine. We have the capacity to adapt, and answer challenges creatively. And we are stronger than we know.