Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Desert Vacation

Steve and I have returned from our longest vacation together-- an entire week in Southern California. We went to visit his friend, Father Joel Kelly, who lives in Morongo Valley, California. It is about a half hour outside Palm Springs, where they were holding an international film festival, and that was part of the attraction-- and definitely the reason we scheduled the vacation for last week. More significantly for me, he also lives a half hour from Joshua Tree National Park, one of my favorite places in the United States.

On the plane, Steve, a landscaper and lover of prairies, said he was looking forward to the landscape of the desrt-- all the new plants an interesting landscape designs to explore.  I told him not to get his hopes up too high.  "There are six plants in the desert, and you'll see a lot of them." Sitting outside in the yard of St. Michael's, the priest retirement home where we were staying in Morongo Valley, he said he counted seven plants-- pretty close.

Of course, there is variety in the desert, but I think it's this simplicity of plant life and all other things that I like most about the area. Steve thought the towns-- Yucca Valley, Morongo Valley, 29 Palms, Joshua Tree, looked not so much like towns as debris fields from airliner crashes. There is no order, and there is also no cover-- you see everything. The houses also don't seem to pretend that they are where they are supposed to be. The desert is not a place that can sustain much human contact, and that is evident everywhere. I find this refreshing, as I did when I used to drive out from Long Beach for respite, for the nothing I could rest my eyes on, for a break from too much civilization and too much pretending that 4 bedroom houses are worth a million dollars and that there's just no end to water and Birds of Paradise and new cars.

The desert was my only suggestion of winter. It gets cold there-- though it was quite warm during our visit. It is comparatively empty, and it is quiet like nowhere else I've ever been-- except Minnesota under cover of snow.  You can see everything-- there's a clarity to that.

We learned to identify clearly these plants: Pinyon Pine and Red Pine and Joshua Tree and Juniper and Mesquite and Cottonwood with giant nests of Mistletoe on their branches, and California Fan Palms, Yucca and Creosote and Cheese Bush and Cholla and Arrowweed.

In some ways, the Big Morongo Canyon Preserve was the biggest find. Just up the road, it had lovely trails and wound through beautiful, distinct zones of plant life: marsh, canyon, ridge, etc.

No comments: