On being a stranger in an alien land

After nearly 49 years (minus a couple of weeks) I find myself on what may be my first legitimate vacation. Leah and I have come back to her homelands to visit her family and to celebrate her grandmother’s 100th birthday. Back to the desert that is Southern California. After the obligatory helloing and howdies, I’ve fled to the high desert around Joshua Tree to spend time with a once upon partner in crime of my once ago past life. A brilliant painter that has haunted the edges of my life for nearly 2 decades. Spiritual family if you will. And the lovely woman he’s tied his life to that has known my step-daughter longer than I have. Two truly lovely loving people. And their absolute pill of a pup, Shugah. An affectionate little white terrier mix that seems to have a wider verity of collars than I have boots. (And I have an absurd number of boots, just ask Leah)

Their place is in a nondiscript corner of the country ringed by mountains and tucked up near the back of 29 Palms Marine Base where they built the fake Iraqi/Afghan village of shipping containers. I’m told that the near perfect silence is occasionally broken by the sounds of mortar and machine gun fire off in the distance. All hail war everlasting.

So I find myself in this place. One of arid austerity. Under an achingly blue vault of Nut. (She is the Egyptian goddess who holds the sky in her embrace) Dotting the landscape are other tiny homesteads that have either succeeded or failed, mostly failed near this one. The desert slowly reclaiming what it rightfully owns. All land is only temporarily occupied by humanity. Even if for a thousand years. And a place like this holds this fact up and nearly screams it into the faces of those foolhardy enough to temp the desert’s timelessness.

On the way to this tiny slice of heaven, I drove through several of the once tiny towns that framed Leah’s early life. Now bloated and grotesque with the cancer of strip malls and big box stores that signify Late Stage Capitalism. Mowed lawns around the Latter Day Temple. A Starbucks every other block. And yet here, at this place the desert prevails. Earth Abides.

I’ve remarked before how livestock and pets don’t mask their desires. There’s no ambiguity of their intentions. They are not capable of deceit. The desert is even more so. Virtually every plant here is covered in thorns. NO TOUCH!! Even many of the animals and bugs sprout the same. The slow ones anyway. The others are fleet of foot and furtive. Or slickly slither about the Creosote and cactus ever watchful for the unwary. Though not obvious, their presence if made known by tracks in the sand. The familiar 2X2 of the Jackrabbit. The odd diagonal scars of the Sidewinder. Here and there the tailings piles of ant nests. All laid bare by the lack of leaf litter so ubiquitous in my native biome.

In a land laid bare, such as this, the sense of impermanence of my own existence is thrust fully into my face. Close at hand are several old structures, abandoned in the mid-70s. One, nothing but a slab and broken glass, put paid to the FACT that what seems solid and lasting, such as the place you, dear reader, will sleep tonight, will one day crumble to dust. “And this too shall pass.” The desert screams that from every peak and draw in its eternal silence. You I we are but temporary attendants to this great drama that is life on earth.