We are in the desert now. I resisted coming here for many years, dreading brown and barren vistas. I was spoiled by lush trees, the lap of waves against the lakeshore, and the smell of lilacs in springtime. The street where I grew up is lined with bushes that have likely been there for 100 years, some of them almost as tall as the houses they encircle, and walking to the bus stop as a child, the scent of thousands of those delicate purple blooms would fill the air. I wanted lilacs for my wedding, but lilacs are too delicate to survive a whole Catholic wedding ceremony and reception. I settled for roses and alstroemeria.
Then on one of our many trips to the desert, the sister of my soul and I went hiking. The town in which I grew up has one hill where we would occasionally go sledding. It is nothing like this mountain. The discovery that lies around each bend, the crevices filled with tiny flowers in craggy rocks, the unending climb upwards until you emerge from trees and roots to vistas of clouds and open space. I fell in love with this place that day, feeling my soul open up on top of that mountain surrounded by the greenery I thought could not grow in the desert. I learned soon this is high desert, that is, an arid land in an area of high elevation. These sparse words do not convey to you the beauty of this place. I live near the base of the mountain, and so if I am lost, I know to turn towards the mountain and it will lead my home. The mountain looks just like a movie set image, changing everyday depending on the time of day, and the moisture in the air. In the spring, desert flowers bloom across the calderas and slopes of the mountains, purple and bright pink spiking the sagebrush and wheatgrass, drinking in the moisture of the rainy season.
There is very little moisture here though. It is wholly unlike Michigan, the peninsula surrounded by lakes. In September of last year, we had a record-breaking (literally, from 1929) 5 day total of 3.16 inches of rain. I had not believed others when they spoke of dry heat, but it truly is different. Because of the elevation, full sunlight is incredibly warm, and hats are not just decorative here, but a necessary protection from the sun. In the shade, away from the piercing beams of the sun, the warmth instantly is halved, and tolerable. It is nothing like the sticky heat of Michigan where stepping out of the shower, one is instantly drenched in sweat. At night, temperatures drop quickly. The danger of fire is always high. Coupled with the lack of water, it makes fighting fires more challenging for my husband and his crew. Very little water is wasted here. Living in this desert, awareness of thirst is a new thing for me as I am one of those strange people who never got thirsty, even when dehydrated to the point of developing kidney stones. The wind adds to the lack of moisture, whipping across the mountain. At it’s full strength, the wind is glorious and frightening all at once, bending trees and knocking down walls.
If you are like me before I lived here, I imagined the desert in which Jesus spent his 40 days and 40 nights like the Mojave. Endless dunes of sand punctuated by a few scrub plants, a still and desolate plain. Since I moved to this high desert city, though, I picture him here. Though some would argue differently, I believe he was as human as you and I, subject to the same physical pains and hurt that we are. He must have been cold at night, something I would not have thought of before living here. I picture him being tempted on the top of what I think of now as our mountain, the wind howling around him, echoing down the expanse. Having known abundance before, and now knowing thirst, it has brought me closer to what that deprivation must have felt like.
Today I am thankful for that thirst, and the awareness it brings of need. I am thankful for the wind, and the coolness and wildness it brings to my life. And I am thankful for my mountain, for the perspective it has given me in this high desert place.