When I first came home from Arizona, I could still feel it. All I had to do was close my eyes, and I could easily immerse myself in that desert setting. . .the warmth, the open sky, the low trees and cacti and shrubs. I had memorized it all on my walks, or sitting in the sun, or standing at evening watching the hummingbirds flit from bush to bush, feeding.
Maybe it's because of the foot of snow that arrived here this past weekend. The frigid temperatures, the north wind. But I love winter, so I know it's more than that. Already the other things that make up my life have crowded in and resumed their place. Things like errands and electronic gadgets and emptying the dishwasher. Things like email and appointments and grocery shopping.
In the desert I found not only silence and solitude, but I found immense beauty, something I caught from my daughter, Sarah, who has fallen in love with the place where she lives, and from Michael, also a newcomer to the desert. Michael moved two and a half years ago from the northeast, and is the hospitality coordinator for Desert House of Prayer. Each, in their own way, helped me to discover an appreciation for this beautiful place.
Sarah showed me the green-barked palo verde and the creosote, which, if you cup it in your hands and breathe into it, will smell deeply of creosote. Moisture activates it, so the air is full of its fragrance (if you like the smell of railroad ties) following a fresh rain. We also tromped off the trail once to explore a tree that had wrapped itself protectively around a huge saguaro. (Michael cleared that up for me when I described it to him. The palo verdes and ironwoods often provide a sheltering "nursery" for cacti as they plant themselves and attempt to grow in the desert floor.) Ironwoods, he said, reportedly live from 1,200 to 1,800 years. And, yes, he pointed out to me, the saguaro dotting the landscape create what is called a saguaro forest.
As Sarah and I hiked and explored the Wildlife Center with Grady one afternoon, she explained to me the various features of the landscape, the trails, and the washes with which she has become familiar. She has her own identifying "knob" by which she can locate her neighborhood at a distance from almost any spot she happens to be around Tucson. Grady, too, offers lots of instruction when we hike together. He stops and points as we walk along, "Cactus" "Sticker" and practices jumping down the terraced steps in the park. Sarah and I jump with him. It think he's lucky, having all of this so readily within reach, a short ten minutes away, and parents who will take him out to enjoy it.
"Nature objects are icons," he said. "Each one is a window into God."
We talked for a few minutes about the partial "boots" he had found--formed over a long period of time from the nests the birds frequently bore into the saguaro. These were small, only a few inches long, but he promised to bring in a large, fully formed boot he had found. Michael watched for more than two years, waiting for a dying saguaro to disintegrate enough to yield it up.
We skipped the rattlesnake and scorpion instructions, since they hibernate in January, though Michael did mention that in the rooms the furniture remains pulled out from the walls, and the curtains and bedding purposely do not reach the floor. He told me that I would hear coyotes, and that I would probably see the family of javelina that wander the grounds. Javelina (It's pronounced Ha-va-li-na, as Grady repeats to his mom.) are actually peccaries, which look like smallish pigs or wild boars, but are not at all related to pigs. They look like this:
Aquinas says that every creature reflects something about God's nature.
What, I wonder, do javelinas reflect about God's nature? For some odd reason, javelinas evoke compassion in me, and a little sadness. I feel for their dumb fierceness, their stiff awkwardness, their stinkiness and snarly appearance, and the way they so easily startle at movement or sound. In a way they seem so innocent and vulnerable. (Yet, these same traits in human beings fail to evoke a similar response. I usually want to avoid them!)
Sarah and I saw six more javelina on our way back down the sunset mountain the evening before I left. Two were crossing the road, and four running up the ditch, including two wiry little babies! We also spotted a coyote right next to the road, looking into our headlights.
About the coyote. I slept with my window open, hoping to hear them in the night, hoping they would wake me. I heard them three of the four nights I was there, once just a single yelp around midnight, and got up to view the stars.
Eating breakfast each morning, I watched birds. Woodpeckers, cactus wrens, mourning doves. I even saw a large owl-like bird with a rose-colored breast. She drank water from the birdbath and then perched atop St. Francis's head for a while. I looked at trail maps and read guides. "The washes are our highways," Michael had said, "and in the smaller ones you can find turquoise colored stones." In one of the hiking guides, I read, "Remember to look UP!" and found that I had to remind myself there's a view "up there" as well, when it was so easy to become totally absorbed in things on the ground.