409. Sonoran October

Image result for sonoran desert picturesSonoran, not, snorin’.

(May be related to sonorous, “capable of giving out a deep resonant sound”, but what do I know? Wikipedia claims it comes from the early Spanish explorers who dedicated the area to Senora, Our Lady. Sort of like Maryland was named for Queen Mary. Not Maryland Monroe, knuckleheads!!  Our Lady’s Desert just doesn’t sound right, though, anymore than the Swamp of the Sacred Heart does. Again, what do I know? I’m just a little lost blogger with a bald spot.)

The desert spreads across part of California, a lot of Arizona, and parts of northwest Mexico. There are no leaves to change in the Sonoran Desert, just cactuses of all types plumping with August monsoon rain under the still intense autumn sun. 90 degrees each day of the past week that we spent basking in Tucson’s glorious light, visiting the grandkids and their mom and dad, as well as the sweetest dog ever, Kermit. Yes, there was pool time too. Fret not, blogaddios, rest and recreation were sampled while I painted their rambling house and drank Mexican beer at night. What might sound drudgerous was actually more of an extended meditation with me applying rich brown paint like eyeliner onto the overabundance of a ranch house’s butter cream face. Focus in on that for a moment.

“Define the relationship”, I told my daughter. “The butter cream face just blobs all over without definition. I’ll define it with this Ultra grade Native Soil exterior satin acrylic paint from Home Depot.” And so I did, cutting the edges of door and window trim, boxing, fascia and gutters. Finally the tapioca hippo house pudding magically jelled into a caramelized camel crème brulee.

The first night at my daughter’s house we went to bed at 7 or 8 p.m., which was 10 or 11 p.m. east coast time, where we had started our day. Inevitably we awoke at 5 a.m. on Sunday, rested and interested in the half moon and full complement of stars above. I sat by their pool in the dark and leaned my head back to watch the interstellar show above. Two shooting stars flared inside of five minutes. The longer I focused, the more stars and swirls of stars I witnessed. Down the hillside wash toward the city of Tucson I thought I heard an ambulance siren, and then realized it was a coyote when six or eight other coyotes joined in on the siren song. “Aiyeeeeeeeeeoooooooooooo”. Palm trees swayed ever so slightly as the air moved in Indian ghost whispers. Sara brought coffee out in the moonlight. I breathed in as much of that spirit as I could, hoping it would stain my heart forever, leaving Night’s footprints in a wiggly trail, as if a lizard had skittered over fresh wet mud.Image result for arizona night sky

“Oh, man!  This is just a taste of all the beauty in this world, the grandeur of God’s plans, the bliss of being still. Cosmic sparkling wine and delightful appetizers. The visual equivalent of  grilled shrimp wrapped in bacon. How awesome must the main course be!”

Even as I sat inside their brick-walled front yard with the wrought iron fence, I knew packs of near sighted javelinas and sharp eyed coyotes were out beyond, scavenging for their next meal. Bobcats and mountain lions too. Rattle snakes and owls I’d never see or hear were on the predatory prowl as well, gliding noiselessly through sand and sky. The potential danger was salt on my senses, making them more acute. As the eastern sky paled, the Catalinas stood up; the fan palm trees and feathery mesquites appeared against the phosphorous background that was forming. In the dark there had been little depth or shape perception; but as the light increased, all the fine details of the landscape emerged.Image result for sonoran desert wash in morning light

Each moment brought a deep breath of satisfaction from my contented abdomen. Weather I love; location I love; the people I love, all together. “My my, hey hey. The burrito man is here to stay. It’s better to burn out than to fade away….” Rust Never Sleeps was a classic Neil Young album out of which those lyrics trickled. And yet, here in the desert rust does seem to sleep or at least nap. Without water, the oxidization of iron slows down. Just one more reason to love this place. My personal body rust is slowed also by the constant divine light that suffuses this holy land. My joints push back against gravity’s grinding grip of six decades. “My, my, hey, hey, the burrito man is here to stay…”

What is this lovely attachment I suffer for this desert scape? Something like a loom in my mind where memories are woven horizontally through vertical heartstrings into a supernatural tapestry. Words and images fail, however, to capture the palpable spirit hovering all through it, but the spirit loom racks it all together into a tight weave. A Persian rug could not be a more perfect reflection of this dream.

Image result for persian carpet images of desert designsNaturally a large part of my self longs to stay and plant lettuce and roses; to weld odd pieces of metal into defiant, eccentric desert art; and yet still blend into this desert scape like a thick-walled adobe casita. I’d like to have my cake and just nibble at the edges, consuming the annual interest while admiring the precious principal. My rational mind knows it is impossible, but my irrational mind tires of the merely possible. Magic and miracle and mystery await the curious mind that is tenuously hinged by bungee cords to “reality”. Open that  gate…

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398. Sanguine in Sedona

Nothing surprises me anymore. Here I am checking my blog traffic in the lobby of  the hotel in Sedona and “Play that Funky Music Whiteboy” is on the muzak soundtrack. I suppose it all has to do with the cosmic confluence of energies and vortexes that New Age folks in this town blather about. If you want your soul’s aura mapped, hey, no problem. Consider it done. Need your energy balanced?  Boom, level as a bevel. Raki and yoga are also available across a vast spectrum so that you can get your inner chakras aligned with the great Giver Bear’s liver.  Crystals and readings are omnipresent for whatever ails a weary spirit. You can get a quinoa enema with jasmine highlights at bedtime or snort gluten free steel cut oatmeal for breakfast. Okay, I am making some of this up, but it’s like the Grateful Dead’s tour bus blew a tire here and never left. Hipsters, dipsters, whipsters, and post-menopausal slipsters all chug about in their karmic glory.At any moment Vishnu could sit next to you at the organic deli.

“Is anyone sitting here?” says Vish.
“Dude, you should know that one.”
“Sir, I do indeed know all, but I do not vish to be so conceited as you.”
“Okay, sorry. What are you ordering?”
“I love the hot bean curd.”
At the next table…

“So, like, I was in Glastonbury, you know, and it was, like, such energy, you know, and I was buzzing with it in my lower spine. Don’t know what that means, but it was sooo coooool. Better than an iced colonic.  My aura was pulsing. I could feel it moving… you know?”

“Totally. Glastonbury vibes with Stonehenge and other alien sites where crop circles just erupt from the earth mother like pimples on a teenager’s face cuz the earth is going through adolescence. Sedona is so like that, man. All these canyons vibrate with past and future spirits that course through them with the monsoon rains. And it all comes to oneness in the vast random non-uniformity of nature. The Flow is where the power rolls, the current, the frequency, the quirky quarkiness of it all.” Blather, blather said the big guy who needed deodorant a year ago last winter. Arrogantly grandiose, he carried on without taking a breath while his two disciples breathed in every stinky molecule of his wizzdum. I’ve run into folks like this on a few occasions in my life, but they were on their way to psych wards.

The waitress takes their orders. “We’ll share an unsweetened iced colonic with spearmint and lemon in a recyclable paper cup that was not used in experiments on animals.”

“Great choice. We are the world. What’s inside is out, and what’s outside is in.”

Seriously? Even Jerry would hurl at such b.s.

 

I’m thinking we should never have come to this vegan garden of vectors and vicissitudes, but my wife and daughter were salivating over the menu of organic, gluten free, flavor free offerings from the Vedic beyond, imagining all their special dietary needs would be soothingly and enthusiastically  accommodated. So I drove over there in a psychological headlock, feeling like a virgin on prom night in a frat house. Nothing good was going to come of this adventure. My pessimism was not disappointed. (Is that a triple negative? What ever happened to Heidi the goat herding virgin? She got sick in the low valley as I recall.)

I was also thinking that a cheeseburger would be good, but we were immersed in a meat free/ preservative free/ hormone free / neo- Fascist food zone. I feared that the truly unwashed crowd might turn on me if I dared to suggest anything carnivorous. I ordered the Sedona Burrito. It seemed the least offensive thing on the limited menu. Beans, sprouts, quinoa, kale, and various other death defying ingredients. I washed it down  with a vodka/Pepto Bismal shake. Very proactive but to no avail. Nasty is what nasty does. It was nasty, lemme tell ya.

It was the worst meal I’ve ever paid for, even surpassing old Leroy’s Jamaican Jerk Chicken that I had on a local adventure years before. It’s hard to ruin barbequed chicken, but Leroy met that challenge before he died. And until this excursion to vegan land I thought I’d come to the end of Gastronomical Nightmare Lane. But I was wrong. This vegan burrito tasted like a dirty sock taken off a death row prison inmate and then dragged cell by cell through prison soup de jour until it dripped no more. Laid out on an unadorned white plate, even the flies would not land on this thing. In perfect hindsight I should have just eaten the plate.

My wife and daughter choked down salad somethings. I wondered if this was really a training camp for sadistic chefs and masochistic diners. No one could serve this sort of slop daily and stay in business, unless, unless every other customer were stoned out of his/her brain. Hmmmm, then even dirt would be palatable and full of cosmic vibes. It was my fault for coming here sober with taste buds that were not hobbled by psychedelics. If only I’d known and smoked up a bunch of Hawaiian herbs, I could have been in the vortex with the others instead of standing outside the party separated by plate glass. A stranger in the great ape house.

The next day we were all suffering buyers’ remorse. Immodium was coveted by all. I’ll skip the sensory details.

“Wow, I feel so freed up, unbound from intestinal fortitude but chained to the porcelain bowl.”

“We are never eating crap like that again. And don’t even say ‘I told  you so'”.

“How about ‘So, I told you’?”

“Don’t make it worse with your verbal incontinence.”

“Okay. But you know what I’d like right now?”

“Surprise me.”

“That milky chalk solution you have to drink before an MRI. It gags you and you think you’ll explode if you have one more sip, on top of Johnnie’s new dog food…”

“Shut up!”

Thank God it’s so beautiful.

 

385. finer details

I’m getting obsessed with my wall mural, folks. I may need a paint night intervention with a fire hose to separate me from my paint brushes.  The big forms are taking shape with large dollops of desert colors. And there is sort of a pattern coming into view, a 360 degree panorama of the Catalina Mountains plus some poetic licensed violations of nature. My sun actually sets on the west wall just like at my  daughter’s back deck in north Tucson, but in my office it’s behind the seat where most of my clients choose to sit. Having defined the parallel universe thusly, I dare not introduce another sun… unless I want to go full Dali. I am tempted to paint numbers on my white sun as if it were a clock face, no hands though. Why paint yourself into a time corner when you live in a circular world? Time is not flat or square, right? Columbus proved that, I think. I think a bird’s wings would be sufficient to suggest the clock hands and “time flies” theme on my bone white sun’s face. It’s not photography or realism that I’m going for. It is a dreamscape instead with a condor of consciousness swooping across.

On the east wall is open desert with some stone towers and burnt orange foothills to frame the emptiness, borrowed from a DeGrazia painting I saw. I placed a small rising moon opposite my enormous setting sun. Not sure where it’s going to end, but the process of working on such a  huge scale is very freeing, exhilarating even. However, I have to calm my exploding creative flatulence as clients arrive, expecting my full focus. So far, one took a picture to show her husband, and one gave me constructive artistic criticism. “You might want to go impressionistic and just suggest mountains, you know? soften the lines.” No, I’m going for surrealism, mate, but thanks anyway. None of this stuff actually exists except on my walls. In a way it’s like walking into my 12′ by 12’mind matrix. Terrifying. Strange. Beautiful.

Most folks hardly even notice the grandiose overhaul, which is pretty amazing to me. In my old office bathroom I smeared dark maroon paint on three walls of the claustrophobia inducing room. My billing lady said it looked like someone had been hacked to death in there. Not a word from anyone else for six years. Maybe they thought I was a mafia “cleaner” and they were too scared to raise my suspicions. Perhaps I should have littered a plastic finger or two in the corners, you know? Maybe a bloodied watch or a shoe for the full noir effect. Wait, it’s supposed to be warm and fuzzy and safe in therapy bathrooms, no masks, clowns or tool company pinups. Drat! boundaries kill all the funny folks who will kill you without boundaries.

So now come the long hours of detailing the big shapes, adding dimension, shadows, textures, suggestions, contrasts, etc. In some ways, I suppose, it’s like language in that I have the nouns, verbs and tone of voice, mood, vocabulary, theme, and some sense of symbolic narration on my walls. Does that make sense to you? The main nuts and bolts are in place, but now I’m tweaking the subtleties, adding nuances and hints. Adding adjectives and adverbs, prepositional phrases, clauses, only with paint instead of consonants and vowels. I think you are following me, right? Nod here. Thanks. So I add a stoic cactus, or a hundred cacti, an abandoned adobe house, some sage and agave, and parched washes crying out for a single drop of rain.

Or take a song, you musical peepers. You lay down a rhythm, develop a few choruses, a bridge, then write some snappy lyrics that capture the feel you were after… and eventually you play it over and over, adding the bass, the drums, a keyboard, maybe guitar, a sax or harmonica solo along the way. You jack up the vocals, perhaps add harmony, steadily moving toward a sound you know you’ll recognize though you’ve never heard it before. A vague, shadowy template floats in your head like a goddess until one day you meet her in the flesh. How does that work?

What is that? Creative spirit echoing back from the hidden caverns of the cosmos. Inexplicable to scientists who insist on repeatable proof in line with the holy grail of the scientific method. What sad boys and girls they are. How do scientists explain falling in love with one special soulmate? It’s not reproducible; instead, falling in love is anecdotal and eccentric as all heck. Probably irrational at many points, but ultimately it keeps the species viable enough to produce other little scientists who don’t believe in what they cannot prove repeatedly. Mystery, my friends, mystery defies scientific investigation. The revelation of creation is still a mystery.

Details, all details, follow the big picture, my blogadillos. They hang on the larger slabs of reality. You get your dirty car detailed; you seek details to understand and sometimes to believe or remember; you ask for details when you smell a rat. Details trap the rat on little slivers of truth.  Smaller strokes made by tiny brushes move like little creatures underfoot. In this case they are under my grip. Baddabing:  a cinnamon line appears to define a random ridge from a purple mountain against a sulfur yellow sky. Intuition rules this palette of endless color selections. The paints talk to me, persuading me not to wash them away but rather shift the hues I had in mind. I comply because there is no right answer, and wrong answers scream immediately. “You can’t have pink cactuses… or can you?”  I need to explore that further.And when I figure out how to transfer my photos of the mural project onto my computer and then upload those to the blog, I’ll share the inner workings of my brain with you, my fine, fine seekers of truth.  Aloha for now.

 

384. Love Now

I’ve been off the grid for the past ten days or so. A week in Tucson with my only grandchild so far, Leah, who is three going on forty three. Sunny days and mild temperatures just reset your groove. Playing with a three year old will do it too.  I also got to help redecorate a 20 x 20 foot playroom for my daughter and son-in-law, smearing drywall compound and paint until ugly gave way to beauty, just before my arms and back fell apart. It’s scary how little endurance I have for real physical work anymore. There was a time when I could work all day at a project and be ready to get back to it the next day. Those days are over. Now exhaustion sets in around four hours into steady labor, followed by ibuprofen and sleep. Sixty years old in the body but twenty five in the mind equals a deficit of 35 somethings.

It’s very satisfying to see indisputable progress appear at your fingertips. In a way, painting and redecorating yield a similar satisfaction to blogging. Something is there at the end of a session that was not present earlier. I am nothing if not creative. Likewise, if I’m not creating something, then I am nothing. I love color and music and shape and rhythm. I never grow weary of art. How can you tire of saffron/cinnamon paint called Moroccan Sky as it floods across sterile white primer? Like watching blood flow through a pale, transplanted heart as it beats in the new living patient. Okay, I’m overly dramatic, but I do get excited when I see transformation flow out of a two and a half inch paintbrush.  Light and mood follow color. They have no choice. Bedouins may clomp across the baseboard in a camel train, and it’s all right.

God’s art is all over Tucson. He has done some amazing work in Arizona, let me say.  We visited Sabino Canyon and Ventana Canyon on two separate days. I posted about Sabino last year. Ventana is quite different since you have to  go through a chic resort to get to the 80 foot waterfall that is the crown jewel of this canyon. Despite the commercial development of Ventana Canyon, God’s beauty still pulses in the hills and the stream that runs through them. Not as quiet and untouched as Sabino, still it is lush with cactus and agave and palo verde and mesquites and flowers of all sorts. Man’s hands are much more obvious in Ventana, but it’s all good. Done with respect for God’s gifts.

That’s one of the many things I love about Tucson is the reverence for the landscape and the overall Sonoran Desert environment. Whereas Phoenix paved and watered the desert, creating an artificial metropolis, Tucson grew symbiotically with the fragile  landscape, never overwhelming it as is the blistering case in Phoenix.

 

On our last day in Tucson we visited the Degrazia Gallery of The Sun Museum again. He was an amazing guy and the museum is his creation, filled with his creativity. Primarily paintings, but also sculpture and ceramics, wood, furniture, and glass, as well as whimsical arrangements of old rusty metal objects in the courtyard.  You get the sense of a man who loved deeply– the land, the people, his art, his God, his friends. He is buried there between the museum and the chapel he built for the Indians. A simple pile of blue tinted rocks with a wooden headpiece, a dog tag hangs with Degrazia engraved on it, and a heavy bronze wreath at his feet. Simple and simply amazing. Everywhere you turn you see his handiwork. The man was a creative dynamo and a free spirit.The kind of guy I would feel comfortable hanging with, drinking his Chivas Regal… and I don’t even like scotch.

Standing there at his grave, I thanked him for being true, not pretentious or aloof. A real guy who inspired me. Part of me wants to go back to the 1930’s and build an adobe house on a bluff above Tucson. Drill a well. Plant slow growing vegetation that will take decades to come to fullness. Watch as a mesquite tree spreads and builds a pocket of shade beneath it. And just create left and right, above and below. Paint the stars at night and sunrise in the morning. Sculpt anything that stands still. Stack rocks in zen formations. Cast bronze figures. Fire clay and make glass. Pound out sheets of copper. Just stay on the wavelength of making art I believed in.

One other delightful site to visit nearby Degrazia’s place is the Hacienda del Sol, a fabulous resort built out of a former girls boarding school that was constructed in the 1920’s. Desert spirits are in every nook and cranny of the place. Hand made furniture and beams, doors and tiles just seduce you; calling you to linger and get outside of time. Beauty so palpable it can bring you to tears of awe. Dali’s melted watches and clocks make sense when you transcend the bully of industrialized TIME and its command, “Go, go, do, do.” Uhhh, no, not for me. I say, “Screw you, time naggers.” Drop it!! Just be, feel the moment that you are in. Cherish the past and hope for your future, but fully inhabit the moment you are in. Life artists do this very thing when they create.

March 2016 025When we came back to PA, I knew what I was going to do. If I can’t stay in Arizona, I reasoned, I can certainly put Arizona on my office walls. I pictured the work involved on the long flight back. I’d follow my favorite phone photograph taken from my daughter’s back deck, a sunset over the western ridge of mountains. Gloriously simple. I calculated the effort and imagined the colors. Strategized the parts involved. And smiled in pleasant anticipation of the outcome. “Hey, Ted DeGrazia, I’m comin’ to getcha.” Classic rock songs played on a loop in my brain as I entertained this project… Hendrix, “Let Me Stand Next to Your Fire”, “Purple Haze”, “All Along the Watchtower”. I think deeply creative folks can see a song or hear a painting, smell a sculpture or feel an abstraction. Don’t expect me to prove or explain that statement. It’s a stick built hunch leaning over a vortex of faith. Okay? So, with just a few hours of sleep after a three a.m. arrival, I went to my office and began to DeGraziate it. Pictures will follow as I finish the Sonoran Desert Mural.

 

In the moment

life pulses

from God’s fingers

through mine

across my little Desertine Chapel

And time stands still

Suffused with peace

269. Tucson

Don’t hate me yet. It’s 75 and the sapphire blue sky has just a sampling of wispy white powder doughnut clouds that serve as contrast behind the chiseled Catalina Mountains. It’s so still that I can hear the little finches fiddling in the palm tree behind me as I sunbathe/read in my daughter’s back yard. The little patch of grass is a hot tub without the water and I am loving it. Let me just say, sitting at this computer just steps away from the glorious sunshine is an act of supreme discipline, my bloggy wogs. It’s not easy being the Big Burrito, but someone has to do it. You may not realize it, but this post is truly an act of agape love. Bathe in it with me for a while.

Amazing what unpolluted sleep can do to one’s nervous system. Body parts I did not know I had have started talking to me again. Little neck and back muscles I’d lost touch with since the summer have resurfaced happily. Once the sleep tank is full, well, life becomes balanced again. Waking up with the sunrise is simply a joyous natural act not drudgery because I know the day ahead is a jewel waiting to be admired.

Image result for psychedelic pictures

And dreams!! The first night my dreams were so wildly funny that I was certain I had laughed all night long and kicked and danced. Something very deep in my being bubbled up to the edges of my consciousness like champagne. And it was good. Maybe hallucinogenic as well. I was wearing my Jimi Hendrix tee shirt after all.

On Sunday we went to the local zoo. My two year old granddaughter got  a camel ride for one of her birthday presents. Of course we chanted, “What day is it?  Mikemikemike.  Hump day.” These camels did not speak English, apparently. Still, it was a lovely day. Leah also fed the giraffes carrots and got to see the baby elephant. My favorites, the tortoises, were out in the sun eating squash and grass. Their slowski motions brought to my mind the old 16 rpm vinyl records, which made me feel like a walking anachronism in this high speed age. Revolutions per minute? You can’t be serious. Yes, my poor jacked up human babies, there were four speeds on turntables back in the day– 16, 33, 45 and 78 rpms. The little 45’s had a song on each side. The 33 rpm lp’s were long playing with 5 to 10 songs on each side. 78’s were before my time though I handled many of them. They zipped around on the turntable at more than twice the speed of 33’s. I realize that I sound like a skipping record as I drone on docent-like at the vinyl record museum of recorded sound, but just nod along and smile at the old geezer as he geezes.

Image result for giant tortoise pictures

Simple things seem delicious on vacation.  Grocery shopping at home is tedious at best; here it is a glorious ride through the local Sprouts store.  Service matters to these folks. They will walk you to the item you request without any editorializing or snarky attitudes along the way. Even though the rice I was looking for was right under the large sign that said “RICE”, my grocery lady guide simply smiled as she gave her parade wave to the rice section, as if I were a winner on a game show. “You’ve won a bag of long grain rice!”  I appreciate these little things once my mind slows down to notice them. The problem, of course, is that we mostly live our lives at superhighway speeds that require the obliteration of details and subtleties for the sake of speed. Slow down, Nation, like the kind Tucsonans who move at 33 rpms.  There is only one interstate highway here– Route 10 that runs East to West. It’s the only 78 rpm around. The rest of the traffic seems very manageable due to a simple grid road system. Though I cannot find a bag of rice at the grocery store, I know where I am geographically… behind a shopping cart at 16 rpms, digging the desert sun and the prehistoric vibes etched into the sun drunk landscape.

Yesterday we ventured out to the Tohono Chul Botanical Park. It was enchanting to wander along pea gravel paths among mesquite and saguaro and agave. A huge olive tree hung above the entrance to the gift shop, suspiciously void of low hanging olives. My wife wanted one of the ripe ones, but being a flat footed old guy, I had to pass on by. All sorts of birds chirped and tweeted and trilled. Water sounded holy in the desert brilliance. Several fountains and pools were incorporated along the meandering way. Many ramadas covered in saguaro ribs offered respite from the sun. Butterflies floated along magically. Each breath felt like God was in it.

Desert dwellers are spiritual people. They cannot help but think of God. As I read about the Tohono O’odham tribe, I was fascinated with their mobile culture, how they followed their meager food sources. The huge saguaro cactus fruit was a staple for them. They made wine out of the reddish/purple fruit. I don’t recall any bloodshed or weaponry, land disputes or raiding parties. Being subsistence gatherers, they had nothing to steal, only spirits. The temporary ramadas reminded me of the Jewish tradition of building a temporary structure outside during Passover, not because they are needed but to remember their own desert experience thousands of years ago.

Image result for saguaro ramada pictures

Maybe that is what I love most about the desert:  the absence of distractions. Life seems stripped down in front of you, no pretension or layers of status. Your clothes and cars don’t matter much in the blazing sun.  A good wide brimmed hat and practical shoes do matter. So does water. And sunscreen.

Okay, I can’t stand it any more, more. I must get back to the rays and gentle air that rolls down from the ridges beyond Tucson. I gave you a literate summer breeze to inhale and hold deeply. If you wake up laughing slowly, you’ll know it worked, Amigos. Now you can hate me.

Image result for tucson mountain ridges pictures

 

121. Solacity

Quiet, fabulously quiet on the outskirts of a city that claims a million residents. Just me and the dog, Sweet Kermit, walking to the dead end of Pima Farms Drive and then up to the trail head that leads into Saguaro National Forest. No traffic, there’s no place to go. Houses hunkered low to the ground blend into the dusty brown landscape. Each adobe finished house is a muted desert color:  cactus green, sand, putty patina, pale sage,  alabaster, salt, bleached bone, rusted iron, ocher, faded plum. Faint sounds only reinforce the ambient quiet. A dove coos on an overhead powerline. Anonymous birds flit fearlessly in thorny bushes. The crunch of gavel beneath my shoes. Kermit’s excited breathing. Tucson, you are as beautiful as a sleeping baby. Which is why I am here, to hold my sleeping granddaughter as she grows by the hour.

A huge hawk sails overhead soundlessly. Thousands of feet high in the blue sky a fighter jet might as well be a snowflake for all the rumble and shake it does not cause down here. The glorious February sun beats down on my dark tee shirt as an easy breeze blows west to east. I love this vast open saucer surrounded by stark mountains to the east and prickly cactus-covered spires behind me. I feel the urge to get higher, to breathe it all in, to gaze on the splendor that God has wraught here in the desert. There is a palpable spirit here, one that the Native people celebrate by burning sage in a fire at dawn to honor their ancestors. Unfortunately for them the European settlers did not embrace them or their quiet spirit, and moved them to less desirable, more arid lands. The new folks burned their ancestors and celebrated, i.e., expropriated, the sage and the mesquite, the land and the water.

Water is everything in the desert here just as it was in Jesus’ time and place. Just like Psalm 1 says,

1 Blessed is the one who does not walk in step with the wicked or stand in the way that sinners take or sit in the company of mockers, 2 but whose delight is in the law of the Lord, and who meditates on his law day and night. 3 That person is like a tree planted by streams of water, which yields its fruit in season and whose leaf does not wither—     whatever they do prospers.

Water is the universal symbol for life. Along with breath, you have half of what you need to sustain life. Earth and fire, I guess, are the remaining two. I recall a piece of survival literature that showed how long a human can live without oxygen, heat, water, and food. It’s about three– three minutes without oxygen; three hours without a regulated body heat; three days without water; and three weeks without food. Fascinating that survival requires the four prime elements–air, water, fire, and earth (from which we get food). In denying these elements to others, we condemn them to something less than life.

So I wonder about the Native people, when they first encountered the Christian explorers and then settlers… how did it go? Was there respect given and received? Did the first White men in Arizona seek wisdom from the folks who had inhabited this harsh climate for thousands of years? It does not look that way. And did these Christian settlers share Jesus with the Native folks or impose Him with guns, whiskey, and bullets? I’m no historian, but I think the Grand Canyon could not contain all the tears of the Native people of what we call the United States. How ironic that people groups who themselves had fled Europe’s corrupt aristocracies and state religions would deny Native people their culture, their faith, and their lands. And the descendants of these settlers repeat their forefathers’ sins by denying modern immigrants any shelter, food, water or air. Human nature has not changed much if at all since the time of the Old Testament prophets, so it seems to me. I’m pretty sure that if Jesus had been the first non-native person in the Southwest, there would be a lot more sage smoke at dawn and a lot more love among the cacti today.

Today as Tea Party Rightists rage on in paranoid frenzy and knee-jerky legislators push for guns in teachers’ hands, I wonder why we can’t just enjoy the silence together. There is beauty and truth in abundance outside this solar kissed city. Breathe it in, again and again.  May my children’s children and yours yield their fruits in season, never wither, and always prosper.