A Walk In the Sonoran Desert

by Jane St. Clair

I don’t think there is a place as quiet as the Sonoran desert in summer’s noon.The temperature is an impossible 119 degree inferno – all the creatures have burrowed to coolness so many feet underground. Most are sleeping and will do their foraging by moonlight.The silence is all encompassing – nothing stirs, not even the tips of trees. It is that quiet.

Today it is late autumn, and when I walk in my Sonoran desert home, there is a friendlier feel. Soft winds touch my face, I hear a rustle of leaves and shadows, the round teddy bear shapes of cactus smile at me.A bunny startles and tries to hide by standing still. I come across lizards and turtles and snakes, even an unexpected bright-eyed mammal, perhaps coyote or bobcat.I do not feel alone.

The mountains surround me as far as I can see.Only the vast turquoise sky with its Windows-white clouds competes with the majesty of the Catalina.I try to find patterns in the twisted castle turrets and shapes and shadows of these mighty rocks, and I feel smaller still, especially when I try to calculate how many of my footsteps it would take to climb to the peak that spreads out in the distance before me.The scale of this Sonoran desert is inhuman, and I feel swallowed up and consumed like Jonah in a great whale belly.

Yet sometimes I see my western landscape in terms of layers of colors and forms, and then it seems friendlier.The bottom tier is yellow and beige sand dotted with grey, purple and pink pebbles. Next comes a layer of golden brush — dead and brittle grass and bush, drying up in the desert sun.A little higher there are myriad green layers: mint, lime, teal, yellow-green, light green, blue-green and black-greens, constantly shifting green hues as I walk, changing in tone every time the sunlight hits them.Now a layer of fuzzy white broombush tips caught up in the breeze make snowflakes on the cacti. I look again and count my layers: gold sand, dry gold brush, greens of cactus and bush, white broom tips and then, a touch of autumn: red, orange and yellow where a few brave trees have turned.

Again I see mountains, in this light, purplish pink rocks, the might of which ascends into the sun and spreads into the valley of this wilderness, casting what David called the shadows of death on some unlucky meadows.Jigsaw-like, these peaks cut a pattern through the thick turquoise sky. I count the layers again: gold, green, red, purple, pink, turquoise.This way of thinking is inadequate: I still feel small and overwhelmed.I am overwhelmed by the desert around me: its space and its vastness –and I can see for miles and miles and miles and miles and miles.