Perhaps all of nature, in all her variety, teaches those who spend time with her. My chosen—and loved—environment is no exception. Every time I get to go into the desert, outside of town, the desert teaches me.
The first thing she teaches me is to LOOK. The colors of the desert are to be found in full variety, but one must look with curiosity. The backdrop is a tapestry of greens, from gray-green, to olive, to almost chartreuse. Its brightness varies with the rains, but the color range is the same. And yet—when one looks closely at, say, cactus spines, one finds reds and oranges and palest of yellows. When one gazes at the tiny leaves of the autumn ocotillo, they offer every color of fall foliage anywhere. Flowers bring bright colors that radiate as if lit from within. It is endless. But one must look.
The desert also teaches me to ATTEND TO MY BODY. It’s important to be deliberate about where one places hands and feet—and seat! For all its fascination, desert is not a gentle environment. Spines and thorns are everywhere, adaptations to the harshness of the climate. Then, too, there are venomous snakes. When I was a child and our family camped in deserts, we were taught unforgettably, “Do not put your hand or foot where you cannot see.” Such attention to the body is vital in this environment, but it’s useful elsewhere. Being conscious about how we move brings pleasure and it keeps us from stumbling.
The desert teaches me to BE SILENT. There is a moment when one has driven out beyond the city noise and parked, then turned off the engine. Immediate silence. Palpable silence. Even breezes are soundless unless the wind is strong enough to hiss through the cactus spines. Standing in that wide silence, the breath slows, relieved. The muscles gradually let go and rest. Best of all, the mind comes to silence. There is then only being, pulsing around oneself and through oneself as if in greeting. In this soundlessness, awareness expands to include all that is available to the senses: what one sees, hears, touches, smells. It is whole.
When I return to town, even after only a couple hours of listening to the desert’s teachings, I am more than taught. I am fed. I am promised. All is well.