The trip to Arizona was a whim, because I was in Los Angeles and I didn’t want to be there anymore. Dark quiet rooms where the phone never rang. The slam of the door as my roommate went out to yet another party. The blinking cursor mocking the blankness of a blank document. I had been unemployed for two months, and failure seemed to saturate my apartment. My life.
But my friend Nicky’s house in Tempe beckoned, and the road was long and winding. I felt free, untouchable, alone and loving it.
Stopped at the state line for gas and reheated cheese pizza, which I ate while watching the truck stop TV display weather conditions for the greater Western area.
The wind blew heavily in Colorado. Rain threatened Idaho highways. But the path to Arizona was clear sailing.
Soon, I was hugging Nicky, and we were comfortably buried in her man-eating couch while I enjoyed the sensations of not driving. With cartoons playing in mute, Nicky and I played Trivial Pursuit, laughing over silly things.
During our three days together, I tried not to nag Nicky about being a complete recluse. She tried not to complain about my sporadic communication with her. I had a fantastic slice of pizza, a lot of laughs, and a nice soft bed.
And I was almost happy.
We stayed up too late on my last night, and I only got two hours of sleep before waking up early for my drive back. By 7:30am I had a full tank of gas, several caffeinated beverages, and ten miles behind me. I was a mere speck on the 10 freeway, lost in the vastness of the desert, in awe.
It was the colors that drew most of my attention. Mountains the color of coffee, against a blue sky so full of depth that it tricked you into thinking you could see through to the depths of space. Scattered like an artist’s afterthought, flicks of the paintbrush, were plants, faded green from where the sun had attempted to bleach the life out of them.
Nature blooms in the desert, I learned that day.
Lack of sleep and lots of caffeine made the day surreal, like a dream. I was blazing new territory. Boldly going where no Liz had gone before. The sense of adventure gave me a thrill, made me want to try something else, take the path less traveled.
Say, the path through the Joshua Tree National Park.
I knew I had made the right decision when I made my first stop at the Cottonwood Spring oasis. The wind rustled through palm trees with the trickling hush of rushing water. Flies buzzed by and the sun baked down, a dry heat that made every rock and branch seem sharper, intense. I took pictures, kept an eye out for rattlesnakes, my mind not quite believing what it saw.
There is no desert. The only real things live in your mind. Nothing is older than you and your small little world. You know everything there is to understand.
But I didn’t know that a forest grew in the desert. The Joshua tree forest, a Dr. Seuss daydream, with graceful and furry branches reaching to the sky. If the world has sharp edges, then a Joshua tree was childproof, safe, welcoming – chubby toddlers scattered across the desert, trying to hug the sky.
Los Angeles is also a desert, a desert that’s been paved over and industrialized and suburbanized. Gentleness blooms in Los Angeles as sparse as the Joshua tree or the cactus, and it’s so unexpected that you have to blink a couple of times, unsure of what you’re seeing.
My final stop in the park was the Keys View, elevation of 5185 feet, “an outstanding scenic point overlooking an expanse of valley.” But the brochure doesn’t do it justice.
Surrounded by mountains, I could see for miles, the horizon a faint whisper blurred by the expanse of valley leading up to it. It was so empty. No buildings, no telephone wires, nothing but sandy earth that never seemed to end.
I have always wanted to be someone who doesn’t let fear stand in the way of possibility, and at the Keys View, I came one step closer to being the person I want to be. For this was the place where the world ended and began, a land where something can come out of nothing – because in the desert of the land and the desert of writer’s block, potential always exists.
I shot the last shot on my roll of film and walked back to the car. Behind me, a husband and wife walked back to theirs, talking loudly about income tax, small businesses, somebody’s cousin.
It seemed so odd, their conversation, unreal as aliens landing. But it was the world they had brought with them, the world as they understood it. And I knew why that was. I get stuck in mine so often that sometimes I can’t see the sink for the dirty dishes, the streets for the traffic, the mailbox for the bills.
But somehow, Joshua Tree got me out from the place I was stuck, and I broke away from the weight of my own melancholy. Not only did I go to the desert – but I saw it.
And I knew that if nature could bloom there, then so could I.
Where have you found yourself?