I have a strong affinity for the desert. After all, I was born and raised there. While I don’t exactly tolerate high heat, I have a deep appreciation for the exquisite beauty hidden in it’s every corner. In my late 20’s I started an annual pilgrimage of sorts to one of southern California’s most beautiful deserts, Anza-Borrego Desert State Park. My birthday falls in the spring and with the yearly urge to reflect on my life I began to return to the park again and again.
To me the desert is like a “Where’s Waldo?” picture. At first glance there is a basic landscape – usually shades of brown with grays, whites, blacks and smudges of dried-out green – but as you look closer the details emerge. Like the way the marbled rock catches the light and glints silvery black in it’s white setting. Or happening upon the statuesque gaze of a lizard that suddenly scuttles away. Or the way the tiny prickles along cactus ridges shine iridescent and gold in the late afternoon light. Or the long, whispered sighs of tamarisk branches swaying in the wind. As you carefully look and listen, the beauty unfolds in manifold ways.
But let’s be honest, the desert is dry and barren and not exactly a synonym for abundance. Rather, it is a common metaphor for what people refer to as a place of heaviness, sadness, isolation, and loss. The desert can be a painful place.
My friend recently posted a simple Facebook survey that read, “What’s more meaningful, pain or pleasure?” The responses reflected this truth that life persistently teaches us: pain. Yes, pain is hard, but this is where we grow, this is where we develop our capacity to welcome pleasure, this is where we didn’t think we could make it, but looking back we see it was the best thing that has happened to us. This is where we give birth to our best selves.
I guess you could say that pain and the desert are perfect metaphors for each other, because eventually both give way to beauty. In spite of all of the deserts own subtle, delicate loveliness – it becomes even more – it literally blooms!
It never fails to happen – sometimes springing up overnight from a good rainfall – life is renewed. The barrel cactus swells with replenished water stores, and green graces what once appeared long dead. In time, the beautiful faces of blossoms will unfurl – their faces shy and blushing in deep magentas, apple greens and vibrant parrot reds. This is the ultimate testimony to life – resurrection and recreation. And that is what I witness in my spring pilgrimages.
This is what the desert tells me over and over again: You can be content in the dryness. The expansiveness of beauty is even greater when you’ve been here; now you can see every green leaf and shining flower for the true gift that it is. And in the end, it will come – there will be new life.