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…

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.