What is it I love about the desert? Not the heat—I usually manage to avoid it during the summer months. But in the last 30 years our travels have taken us through the desert every other year or so, and the beauty is always overwhelming. Perhaps the reading I did with the children years ago created a fondness in me, preparing me for the real thing. Along Sandy Trails by Ann Nolan Clark, a library discard, was given to them by a neighbor long ago, and the loving descriptions of the plants and animals thriving in the arid soil of the Southwest make you feel friendly toward these hardy creatures and their home.
“The sky is the daily bread of the eyes,” said Emerson. Montana may have the nickname to go with the phrase “big sky,” but the whole Southwest gives a feast for the eyes. Plenty of sky, plenty of space generally. In New Mexico the sky and the air were the aspects that demanded my constant attention and made the place so stunning.
As for the land, when you stand on a peak and look over the broad expanses, the first impression is often of brownness and barrenness. That’s where you are wrong. Get close to the ground, and you will see darling quail scurrying about, a graceful ocotillo, or the cholla cactus that seems always wrapped in a halo. The desert is always brimming with life, and sometimes blooming as well.
More spiritual lessons could be had from this large section of God’s creation than I will notice. (Even if, as some have said, there was not a desert in His original plan; Christ came into a world already changed and containing deserts, so even they are blessed.) We’ve been back home from our latest desert excursion for ten days, and after wrestling the whole time with possible connections to the heart’s topography, I feel stupider than before.
Perhaps the desert is compelling because there is something about it that draws me into the present. Certainly it doesn’t appear to be a crowded place, which makes it easier to focus on the details, the bits of Creation so exquisitely made. The next step is to glorify the Creator, and there you are in the moment of God’s presence.