Last month, when I reread Steinbeck’s Travels with Charley, I underlined at least one turn of phrase a page. His manner of churning description out of observation is one to be studied, and so I do. This weekend, I applied that knowledge.
Drew and I visited Joshua Tree National Park for the first time. Three days under an expansive sky where uninhibited light poured slantwise. Two nights, cold enough for the air to cut our nostrils with dry frost. They were far from being frightful; they were lovely beyond thought.
Entrance to the park was free this President’s Day weekend, and left us rich with memories, photographs and calloused toes and fingers from climbing 100 million year-old jumbo rocks. And nearly all the while, I read the desert like a page out of John’s book:
The Southwest is a great and mysterious wasteland, a sun-punished place.
At night in this waterless air the stars come down just out of reach of your fingers.
A vast and inventive organization of living matter survives by seeming to have lost.
One may look in vain for living creatures in the daytime, but when the sun goes and the night gives consent, a world of creatures awakens and takes up its intricate pattern.
The desert, being an unwanted place, might well be the last stand of life against unlife. For in the rich and moist and wanted areas of the world, life pyramids against itself and in its confusion has finally allied itself with the enemy non-life. And what the scorching, searing, freezing, poisoning weapons of non-life have failed to do may be accomplished to the end of its destruction and extinction by the tactics of survival gone sour.
The lone man and his sun-toughened wife who cling to the shade in an unfruitful and coveted place might, with their brothers in arms–the coyote, the jackrabbit, the horned toad, the rattlesnake, together with a host of armored insects–these trained and tested fragments of life might well be the last hope of life against non-life. The desert has mothered magic things before this.