Tuesday, July 1, 2008

“THE DESERT’S DUSTY FACE”

In contradiction to an earlier blog I wrote about oceans and my memories of the blue Pacific near Big Sur and Carmel, I write now about deserts because summer reminds me of desert vacations taken in July and August that I miss – in the Mohave of southern CA, the Sonoran Desert of AZ, the Chihuahuan Desert of West Texas, and the deserts of southern Mexico.

In desert climes, I believe that the soul dries out from any weightiness of spirit imposed by winter. Deserts uplift me – that radiant light beaming on sand stretches, and harsh outcroppings fierce and defiant hanging over the long, arid expanses. I remember traveling by car and suddenly seeing small lakes shimmering in the distance, the hot air making waves on water that doesn’t exist – a mirage, of course, glowing on the face of the dusty highway running through the desert. I love the sea of dull yellow sand, and the lilac-haze hanging above it. The immensity of desert causes a certain exaltation of spirit and feeling of freedom within me.

The desert offers not only the wonderful dry heat and cool nights, often with gentle winds, it offers a glimpse of strange plants called xerophytes that withstand drought and salt. On the family odyssey to Diddy Wah Diddy (CA) when I was 11, I began to love the Joshua Tree, the giant Saguaro cacti, strongly scented sage brush, and Sotols with their tall inflorescences. When we lived in southern Iran, the entire landscape was desert, and I thrived in the hot dry climate. I’ve also lived in El Paso, Texas where dust storms were the only deterrents to my appreciation for the arid landscape.

Strange, this love of both desert and ocean. If, as Joseph Campbell says, “the rational mind stresses opposites,” there’s room in me for a love of both the silent expanse of desert and its illuminations and the ocean with its inspirations. Some writers believe that the landscape of the soul is within and don’t believe in the power of Place, but I’m not one of those writers – landscapes inspire me to find the Divine within, to search for meaning in the natural world. The power of Place teaches me to be alive.

Here’s a poem I wrote while living in the desert of southern Iran, from an unpublished manuscript entitled FARDA, THE NIGHTINGALES WILL SING.

WHEN WEST MEETS EAST

Like mild animals sulking in the white sun
our compass needles heat and run awry;

dust sways a fly on scarlet cherry,
rational cries of deep green birds

fall into the desert sea.

In this strange parchment we dwell
under Eden-like mimosa,

quiet as the old stones
Persians once worshipped,

listening to songs of sand and desolation.

As them, we mild animals
sulk in the white sun,

saying Enshallah, Allah wills,
time ticks sand on cracked hogbacks,

softly spilling into Fall oasis.
Farda, the nightingales will sing,

Farda, reach the other half of this world.
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