Wednesday, December 10, 2008

The Desert

I grew up on the East Coast, and I always loved all the trees, all the green, the lush green lawns. I also remember driving from Flagstaff down to Tucson for the first time, thinking how brown and dreary the desert was. Shortly after arriving in Tucson, I visited the botanical gardens and started my education about the desert. Slowly, I began to learn the names of desert plants, such as creosote, mesquite, and ocotillo. The more I learned, the more variety I started to see in the landscape. Where I'm going with this is that I have come to love the desert and see more colors in it than in the green landscapes of the east.

Last year, on Christmas Eve, we camped out on the dunes of White Sands National Monument, under a full moon. We were the only ones camped in the park and were utterly alone in the vast expanse of the stunning gypsum sand dunes. The silence was deafening, the light was breathtaking, and the air was sharp. Although we were quite cold, it was one of the most incredible camping experiences I have ever had!

I decided to look up some poetry about the desert to share with my readers, hopefully conveying some of it's beauty and loneliness and power. Enjoy!

The desert has many teachings

In the desert,
Turn toward emptiness,
Fleeing the self.

Stand alone,
Ask no one's help,
And your being will be quiet,
Free from the bondage of things.

This is an excerpt from a poem is by Mechthild of Magdeburg, a German mystic from the 13th century. Although she did not live in a desert, and the desert in this poem is likely not a physical desert, I feel that these first two stanzas of this poem captures the spirit of being in a desert.

The following is a poem by Lord Byron which appealed to me as well!

Oh that the desert were my dwelling place,
With only one fair spirit for my minster.
That I might forget the human race,
And hating no one, love her only.

This next poem is by Bernard Howe, a poet who lives in Tucson, which is part of the Sonoran desert, quite different from the Chihuahuan desert where I live. It is lighthearted and quite descriptive of the terrain.

Way out west where the prickly pear grows,
lived an old man who only had 9 toes.
Seems a javelina wanted one for lunch,
when it got the chance it took it with a munch.

Life in the desert is different from the city,
for out in the sonoran no one gives you pity.
With the hot sun beating down upon your head
if you run out of water the next thing is your dead.

The snakes are hiding quietly amongst the desert rocks,
if your not to careful one may bite you through your socks.
And if that ain't enough there's scorpions that will sting,
then there's monsoon storms that always come in spring.

Yes that old sonoran desert that runs through the southwest,
is home for me old sam the old man thats possessed.
The desert cactus that flowers are pretty to your view,
but if you step on one, the thorn goes through your shoe.

It seems everything grows wild within this here desert,
along with the critters that make sure you stay alert.
But there is still beauty in all of this here land,
like the setting of the sun which is always grand.

Many colored wild flowers cover everything in spring,
the splendor of a sunset which makes your heart just sing.
Yes mother nature protects all that she has made,
and all that lives out here knows where to find the shade.

Yes the desert sage may dry up and become a tumbleweed,
and with a dust devil they can pick up lots of speed.
The road runner runs along like the quail with her young,
and our Native American brothers speak another tongue.

All these things live in harmony along with mother earth,
I hope nothing destroys this for it is beyond any worth.
God made this desert land with all its natural beauty
and we must protect its balance because it is our duty.

The final poem is one that I wrote. Now I put it at the end, with the hopes that my readers don't actually get to it...Poetry is not a strength of mine, and I've probably broken every rule/convention in writing it. It is about White Sands National Monument.

Vast and undulating
Glistening and rippled
Interrupted by lone yucca

The power is overwhelming
The silence roars

I am alone in the vastness
My footsteps are my only past
Adjacent dunes are my only future

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