by Jane St. Clair
Out West it is easy to be by yourself, truly by yourself, the only person for miles with a wilderness stretched out before you. The landscape is not as friendly as back East, and yet its strangeness and foreboding only adds to the sense of solitude. You don’t see mammals with big brown eyes — those animals that are our closest relatives. You have to get used to the alien ways of reptiles — slow-moving turtles struggling with the heaviness of their homes on their backs, slithering surprising snakes, and the ever-present lizards that belong somewhere in the Triassic past.
The desert is much lower to the ground than a forest – most of the time you literally walk above it all, and you are not encircled and enclosed in greenery. A forest is more giving, more ready to present you with gifts of food and water, and a forest appears abundant and benevolent as you walk on its soft moss and carpets of leaves and flowers. Desert earth is hard, strong and exposed. As you walk tall above the hostile plants that prick and sting and cut, you feel more alone than ever, as if you landed somewhere no person has ever been.
There is very little color in the desert. It is way more subtle than the kindergarten palette of a Midwestern autumn. The desert colors are subdued, as if the dust of eons of erosion left everything softer, grayer, subtler. Mostly you see shades of pastel green, so many greens you wonder at the number of varieties. The mountains behind you stay soft pink and soft purple except when the setting sun turns their faces bright red. You see gray decaying plants that never seem to die. Nothing dies on the desert, or so it seems. A few cacti are purplish brown, some are dull yellow, but mostly everything is pastel green. shades and shades of pastel green.
In spring, though, you may encounter a tree … newly budding and backlit in the morning light … and this tree is friendly and gives you colors .. ..
But most startling of all is to come across a patch of desert wildflowers! They always seem to jump at you suddenly — red, pink, purple, yellow– all of a sudden, like a too bright light in a theater. Somehow they grow amid the cacti, at the bottom of this sandy pebbled earth so much like a dry sea bed. Suddenly, a patch or bush or tree full of desert wildflowers!
Natural bouquets just offered to you ..
And, if you are lucky in March or April, you will see more than just little patches of wildflowers — you will come across an entire field of them, a host of them as Wordsworth said … a host that –like unexpected angels– sing to you — and you wonder, how can it be?
Such a great gift, a gift of light and music, suddenly presented, suddenly received — just when you thought you were most alone.