Highest ridge of the Kelso Dunes, Mojave National Preserve, San Bernardino Co., California, USA. Night hiking without a light; full moon bright as dawn.
12 April 2006.
We all have lessons to learn.
In some cases, years pass between the time a lesson is given and the time it is taken to heart.
The spring this photo was taken, lessons in the following presented themselves to me:
- How sharing yourself can be wise, and how holding back can sometimes be wiser.
- How self-possession can bring people near to you, and how neediness can drive them away.
- How happiness comes when you embrace life, and how sadness stays when you sit on its sidelines.
- How Nature can make you whole, and how Modern Living can take you apart.
Only in the intervening years did these lessons sink in, reiterated by new teachers.
For each of the lessons, I am grateful.
To the author of that first springtime primer, I say, “Thank you.”
The older I get, the longer the list of people to which I owe such thanks.
Almost all of them: the folks who made me uncomfortable, the folks who questioned me, the folks who – wittingly or unwittingly – challenged me to take a hard look at myself, my actions, and my true motives: the way I really was rather than the way I thought I was.
The folks who took my cherished and carefully protected view of myself and tested it for verity.
Always, these people are our best teachers. And to them, we become grateful.
In due time, of course. In due time.
* * *
Enjoy the full moon tonight, everyone.
New York Peak (7,533 ft), New York Mountains, San Bernardino Co., California, USA.
23 April 2006.
New York Peak: the first summit I ever reached without a trail.
The East Mojave view that spreads out below it is breathtaking. California to the west, Nevada to the east. Sun and sky. Bajadas and mountains. Dunes and dry lakebeds. Creosote and cactus.
Nearly unspoiled, except for the black snake of I-15 and the gaudy spectacle that is Stateline Primm.
Nearly unspoiled, that is, until later this year, when one of the largest solar installations in the world is erected near Ivanpah Dry Lake.
I am in complete support of solar development in wise places: already-degraded lands near the communities that will use the power.
But I am NOT in support of solar development on remote, vital BLM land — habitat of an endangered species, the desert tortoise — chosen for its relative lack of red tape rather than for the long-term sensibility and sustainability of its location.
Deserts are old places. But that does not make them dead places. Deserts are not wastelands. In the desert, the ground is alive. Life — plants, animals, insects — is everywhere, if you only look for it. Deserts persist on a time scale different from the rest of the world. They grow slowly. They recover slowly, if given a chance.
But from this development, that land will not recover.
The next time I climb that peak, oh, how different the view will be.
It breaks my heart.
America, let’s remember: these lands are our lands.
Why are we letting corporations plunder them for profit, when viable alternatives lie elsewhere?
In 2005, Easter fell on March 27th. That year, I shared the researcher quarters at the field station with an artist-in-residence and his wife.
Life in a remote place generates a special alchemy of spare time and scant supplies that yields improvisational gold. The rare instances you’re in town, you stock up; the rest of the time, you take what you have on hand, and you get creative with it. (And folks, let me tell you: that is the life!)
That Easter morning, I awoke to a plunking sound. I opened my cabin door to a mystery: fancy European candies scattered at my feet. Overnight, someone had secretly attached them to the door, but as the desert sun rose and warmed the adhesive, they’d loosened and fallen — plunk, plunk, plunk.
Also waiting was an Easter basket that beamed with remote-living ingenuity. It was crafted out of an old strawberry container and tissues, and filled with sugared almonds and an Easter egg, dyed old-school (with coffee grounds, I think) and handpainted with an image of me and my favorite study organisms, native wild bees.
This egg was, of course, the best Easter egg ever. (Even if it did make me look somewhat “mad scientist” — that huge eye!)
Where the artist and his wife scored the sugared almonds and fancy European candies, I will never know.
But I’m still thankful for it all.
Joshua Tree (Yucca brevifolia), New York Mountains, Mojave National Preserve,
San Bernardino Co., California, USA. 23 March 2005.
2005. The rainiest year in Southern California since 1969.
Everything — EVERYTHING — bloomed. Oh, what a year that was!
Over spring break, Matt joined me in my fieldwork to witness the splendor.
I don’t remember which of us snapped this shot of a flowering Joshua Tree.
But I do know that if you find yourself next to a wild Joshua Tree, the Mojave Desert is the only place you could be.
If you’ve never seen one up close, you might think about doing so soon.
With climate change, they are dying. And with their natural seed disperser — the Shasta ground sloth — extinct, they cannot move to more favorable climes.
Too soon, Joshua Tree National Park may be without its namesake plant.
Let’s all cross our fingers for a United States commitment to the Kyoto Protocol, shall we?
Van Winkle Mountains in foreground, Clipper Mountains in background.
Kelbaker Road, Mojave National Preserve, San Bernardino Co., CA, USA.
27 February 2005
Five years ago today, I took this photo. My memory and my field notes tell me it was a beautiful day. I had just arrived in California for my second Mojave field season. Oh, those first years of a PhD: so full of hope and promise! They were the best years, but I didn’t know that then.
I am working hard to finish a big data-entry project, and to send my advisor the first real products of over seven years of dissertating. Finally, finally.
It will feel so good.
Joshua trees. Creosote bushes. Big pale granite boulders.
Oh, how I miss them all.
A pocketful of conversation hearts for My Favorite Desert:
The best way out is always through.
- Robert Frost (1874 – 1963)
I do believe there is no better motto for the completion of a dissertation. Or for freeing oneself from any of life’s quagmires, really!