That’s so desert!

My notebook is filling up with desert lessons.

There are two deserts, according to Desert Magazine editor Randall Henderson:

  1. “A grim wasteland … seen by the stranger speeding along the highway.”
  2. “The other Desert—the real Desert—is not for the eyes of the superficial observer, or the fearful soul or the cynic. It is a land, the character of which is hidden except to those who come with friendliness and understanding.”**
** Thank you, Wildsam Desert Southwest field guide vol. 2

Use of “desert” as adjective:

Ex: There’s an “Open” sign on the door but the lights are off every day and the phone just rings and rings. That’s so desert!

Ex: Wanna come to the liquor store with me? No your pajamas are fine, it’s totally desert.

Ex: No one knows what that weird thing is. It’s been here forever, just super desert.

Getting around:

“Up the hill”: Yucca Valley (10 mins.) and Joshua Tree (15 mins.) for grocery stores, vet, yoga, and Del Taco needs.

“Down the hill”: Palm Springs (30 mins.) for great medical care, tiki bars, and just general Palm Springsiness.

Los Angeles and Orange County: 1 hr, 45 mins at best. Stretch of I-10 between our turn-off and Riverside = Idiot Thunderdome.

Post offices in either direction, neither has a self-serve machine. People in line will talk to you about being old, the slowness and unreliability of the postal service, and the way things used to be around here.

Mysteries to be solved:

  • What is that dinosaur-like screeching that happens at sunset across the wash every night?
  • When will I see that barn owl family living in the burned out house down the road?
  • Are the two connected somehow?
  • Is that Vietnamese place next to the Big Lots! any good? (I checked…not really.)

Birds in the yard:

  • California thrasher
  • Broad-tailed & Anna’s Hummingbird in perpetual territory dispute
  • Western bluebirds
  • Cactus wren, rock wren
  • Roadrunner
  • Ravens going ha ha ha
  • White-crowned and song sparrows
  • Scrub jay
  • House finches
  • Scott’s oriole
  • Say’s phoebe
  • American goldfinches
  • Mourning doves, white-winged doves, doves, doves, doves

Trees in the yard:

  • Olive
  • White iron eucalyptus
  • Mulberry
  • Palm falm
  • Manzanita
  • ???

People I watch for in town:

  • An old man with bubblegum-blue hair
  • An old woman in the parking lot at Vons in an honest-to-god superhero cape

My relationship to the desert/questions:

I hated it my whole life, because I grew up next to the beach and couldn’t understand why anyone would move away from the water. Away from all that green.

My mother and her friends were so desert. Unpredictable, wild. Yecch, the desert is what I always said. Then 10 years later, in New York, with my mom’s dog dying in my arms from a carefully administered dose of pentobarbitol, I suddenly needed to be here.

Did my mother call me out here to do this? Did her dog’s spirit pass into me? Did hers? I can breathe and think better out here than I have anywhere else. Am I here to remake myself in my mother’s image, if she had felt whole and loved?

Is this what you  want of your daughters?

Desert plants identified so far:

  • Mormon tea
  • Apricot mallow
  • California buckwheat
  • Yerba santa
  • Cheesebush
  • Rabbitbrush
  • Desert trumpet
  • Creosote
  • Cat’s claw acacia
  • Desert willow
  • Joshua tree
  • Burrobush
  • Paper bag bush

Favorite sunset picture so far:



What are those dried-up, chewy husks I’ve been getting from the supermarket all these years? The dates here are fresh off the palm, the skin breaks and the inside is like frosting. As Joni Mitchell was trying to say, I really don’t know dates at all.

Wallace Stegner:

We simply need to see … wild country available to us, even if we never do more than drive to the edge and look in. It can be a means of reassuring ourselves of our sanity as creatures, a part of a geography of hope.  –The Wilderness Letter

he also said:

“You have to get over the color green; you have to quit associating beauty with gardens and lawns; you have to get used to an inhuman scale.”

Wallace Stegner was so desert.

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