The desert is largely a flat, dry plain of ever-repeating scrubby vistas, punctuated by the occasional slightly weary, litter-strewn, dust-coated town. Remote desert towns often look to me as if they are holding their breath, waiting for something to happen, not sure what to do with themselves, so they simply sit and watch what comes; these towns always seem vulnerable and sweet to me.
And, like most of the surrounding desert plants, the structures in these quiet, ragged towns are most often low to the ground. It’s a conservation thing. Anything that expects to live in routinely 115-degree weather has to be low to the ground. Low means survival. Very few things can take the relentless, pounding, pervasive heat here. The heat simply stands over everything, heaving and speaking in its strange, peppery tongue.
Desert towns register their quiet resignation with faded, peeling paint, black-from-rot wood, crumbling, powdery stucco, and ghosts around every corner. These are the kinds of towns where one could, if one wanted to, disappear, because no one really cares who you are. And, people don’t question. You are just another person, nameless, unconsidered. Oh, sure: the townspeople glance over at you while you are filling your tank but they quickly move their eyes back to the horizon. It’s not personal, just necessity. To look for too long at another human being is to invite an energy exchange, a possible discussion, and to be honest, no one out here has the energy; the heat simply stomps it out of them.
My friend, Jared e-mailed me recently to ask how I’m liking it here. I answered him: “You can never turn your back on the desert; it demands respect, consideration, attention. It sneaks up on you and saps your power. You have to move slower here and be more mindful. I am continually surprised and more than a little frustrated with how slow people walk here. I zip around like a ping pong ball, but the locals know better. They move with careful deliberation, conserving their energy, measuring their effort so they can ensure that they have energy to spare.
Oh, and the cacti are astonishing, prehistoric, and beyond beautiful. I love them. I also love that when one gazes out at the expanse of desert, upon first glance, you think that there is no color. Well, no color other than russet brown, beige, and chocolate brown. But, upon closer examination, you suddenly see all kinds of colors. Flashy greens and yellows, ripe reds and purples, and smudged blacks and charcoals. The colors are just smaller swaths and more spread out than elsewhere. They don’t dominate or yell at the observer, they hang back and quietly whisper at you. They make you work for it. You have to be patient and look a little longer. I like that.”
So, with the low-slung structures of dusty towns that have been here forever to the smaller spots of color and sparse vegetation, there is so much to see here, so much to appreciate. It’s a study in the subtle. Though there is nothing subtle about the heat here. LOL! It’s just very, very interesting here. And, the longer you stay, the more it moves you.