The not so obvious languages of the desert

Two conflicting views of the desert used to inhabit my imagination.  On the one hand, it was a desolate and barren landscape and, on the other, an exotic and mysterious dreamland. This imagination was fed mostly by the Western movies I watched in my childhood and the romantic fiction I read in my early adult years. In the movies, the desert seemed vastly inhospitable, lifeless and desolate. In my mind, the sand smelled of dry baked earth and tasted of dust and silver dollars. The harshness of the arid wilderness mirrored the white cowboy’s ambiguous “frontier justice” and his mythic struggle to survive. Much more vivid and exotic, but by no means less stereotypical, was the desert of the fiction I read. Exotic looking men with thick turbans roamed the desert dunes on camel caravans bringing merchandise and mystery to hopelessly romantic minds like my own. This desert was mostly a psychological backdrop to the fiction I read, used as a metaphor to convey the effects and meanings the author wanted to create.

If fascination is a kind of love, this turned out to be a fickle love affair.

The truth is when I moved to Arizona, I missed my green hometown. I missed even the rainy days that I used to loathe.  I missed the temperate climate and the extensive leafy parks where I used to go running.  I missed the sweet smell of jasmines and wisterias and night blooming flowers. This was home. Moving from one extreme biome to another has taken a heavy toll on  me. As far as ecosystems go, the sub Atlantic forest is literally poles apart from the Sonoran desert. The lush, abundant vegetation that I found at “home” was nowhere to be found in the Sonoran Desert.

I lost my bearings.

It has taken me years but I have learned something: the beauty of the desert is not an obvious, polaroid one. Similar to poetry, the landscape reveals its magnificence for eyes that are trained to capture its subtleties. This unfolding requires time and effort. My relationship with the real desert, the one that became “home”,  was a rather shaky one. Its vastness initially scared me. It has taken me a long time to understand its languages.

I am still learning.

Yet, the beauty of the desert has always been there waiting for me and it surpasses even my romantic imaginary deserts. After all those years, I still marvel at the multitude of colors that the Sonoran Desert displays daily. Little by little, I started to adjust my eyes and discern its colors. Waves of reds, oranges, peach, terracotta and tans appeared to me in a beautiful tapestry design against  different shades of blue skies. This is by no means a rain forest but it is the most humid and fertile desert of the planet – plants not only survive, but thrive. Wildflowers grow even in the hot summer months but it is during the spring that they flourish spectacularly,  in extensive carpets. Full of life, color, drama, sound and and yes, a bit of fury (given my tumultuous beginnings).



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