When I was a little kid and heard about the desert, like Jesus praying there, or the devil temping him, I felt very curious about what desert is. I was living on the coast and had never been to the desert.
Desert seemed like a sacred place, where you could pray, be alone, feel raw reality. It seemed to give an experience that was soul nourishing. That’s what I wanted, even as a little kid.
I wondered, what is a desert? An adult might show me a picture. Or on cartoons, I would see a saguaro cactus or sand. Here’s a bunch of bare land. I mean the Roadrunner cartoons, and the coyote that wanted to harm the roadrunner.
Then when I was in jr high, there was this essay contest I won, so I journeyed with other kids to Edwards Air Force Base to see a space shuttle land. It was the space shuttle after the Challenger, which blew up. So it was supposed to be this patriotic, triumphant thing.
When the Challenger blew up in the ’80s, it was upsetting to a lot of people, including many kids watching it. Kids learned about death in this upsetting way, seeing the space shuttle burn. So NASA paused the space shuttle journeys, and the space shuttle right after they restarted was this big victory.
A bunch of kids on buses went out to the desert, where Edwards Air Force Base is, and we slept in this gym in sleeping bags. We watched the space shuttle land. It was exciting, to be in this crowd of people rooting for this thing to happen well, and anxious also.
It was exciting to be away from my family, as I had been away from my family very little. And the president was there. He gave a speech. The president at the time was George Bush Sr.
I was so young and liked the president at the time–I didn’t question the patriotism very much. I was probably a little Democrat then! So I had rebelled from my dad’s Republican beliefs by then, but hadn’t gone radical to where I am now.
That trip was important to me. I loved going out to the desert. It was a sacred journey, and I remember staring out the window of the bus, curious about this land, astounded by what the desert was telling me. Mother Earth speaks to me very loudly.
Then when I was in grad school, I went camping a lot with my ex. We went to Death Valley, and I was amazed by its huge expanses. Death Valley was my favorite place on earth for around 20 years, and I returned there again and again. I met John Dobson there, which changed my life a lot.
My mom thought that going to the desert was strange. She was a home-loving person. She didn’t ever camp and didn’t like to travel.
“You must be very comfortable with yourself, to spend so much time in the desert,” she told me. I didn’t know what she meant, at first. Then I realized that to her, the desert is barren and empty. She thought there’s nothing there to distract you. Her life had tv, home comforts, going to the store, and a town way of being busy. Maybe she also had the idea of Jesus praying there.
But to me, the desert wasn’t barren. It was full of life, just in a different way. Different plants, lizards, rabbits–so much under the ground. Also the cryptobiotic crust, desert varnish, so much happening on a microbial level. Subtle, beautiful, tiny tiny.
I’m such a mammal, but the lizard is so sacred to me, especially horny toads. The lizard is kind of cold, with how it looks at the world, with a different mentality from mine. But I love them, so much.
Sacred Peace Walk
Then I learned a whole new way of knowing the desert, by walking through it, during the Sacred Peace Walk. Cactus blooms, the drumming of our friends, eating by the road, campfires, tons of walking, the wind blowing on me for hours, sun, the mountains healing me all the way.
In 2012 I was arrested in civil disobedience for the first time, at the Test Site. Ming and I fell in love and moved here, to do interfaith peace work, anti-nuclear work. And here we are, in Las Vegas.
I want to be in the desert, love Mother Earth, feel who I am in the context of desert. It’s more sacred to me than ever. I want to feel the water in the sky in a cloud, under the ground, in a cactus, in my own body. What the desert wants to teach me, I’m willing to learn.
Yesterday Ming and I walked on Latenight Trail near Blue Diamond. The weather was perfect. There were people there riding bikes, but we saw no one else on foot. I got farther on the trail than I ever had. We turned a curve, and suddenly the huge beautiful mountains were right there. I felt healthy and well.
I prayed, held hands with Ming and creosote, saw joshua trees and yucca, looked at the sky, saw trash–broken glass, dog poop, soda cans. We took pretty pictures. I touched rocks and took off my shoe to put my socked foot on a cold, cold rock in a riverbed.
Ming got cholla stuck in his shoe, so I used sticks to pry off the cholla, which broke apart. So there was even excitement. He’s ok. And vehicles driving down this dirt road I didn’t know vehicles were allowed to drive on–mostly sprinter vans whooshing by.
Love to the desert, we who love the desert, sweet friends who want to know what the desert means to me. Thank you for asking the good questions.