It's generally assumed that because this is the desert, the climate is pretty much oppressively hot all of the time, with no life-sustaining qualities whatsoever. Of course, the summers here are hot, dry and unforgiving, especially if you’re not prepared and acclimatised, if you don’t give the desert and its power to snuff out life its due respect and awe. But just as it has the power to take life, so it has the capacity to sustain and nurture a plethora of life, never more evident than now, in the heartbreaking beauty of spring in this desert.
A technicoloured feast of wildflowers abound. Joshua Trees are sprouting white blossom and cacti are blooming flowers, startlingly resplendent on their prickly hosts. Even the ubiquitous creosote bushes have little yellow blossom. Some parts of the area are covered in a carpet of weed-like grass, looking more like pasture than desert, offering decent grazing for the hardy desert bunnies, fattening them up for the even more hardy coyotes. A multitude of birds join in the dawn chorus, in preparation for the day ahead when they will nest their young. Tortoises, lizards and snakes are surfacing from a winter of hibernation. Life is palpably present, opening its eyes after the necessary slumber of the winter months.
The longer days of summer will come and the desert bloom shall pass. The unrelenting heat of the daytime is tempered with mind-bendingly beautiful early mornings and evenings when the temperature makes your skin tingle with pleasure. In town, things are generally quieter, life takes on a slower pace. Winter, spring and autumn are the so-called ‘high seasons’ out here. You try to get most of your heavy outdoor work done by spring, or rise early with the sun to get to work before the heat of the day sets in and then retreat indoors, returning to it at twilight.
Autumn, and the weather turns fine again. The days start drawing in, the evenings become chillier. You can feel life inhaling into winter after the long exhalation of spring and summer. Preparations for winter begin, making sure the pipes in your home are intact and insulated and that you have enough wood to keep you warm indoors.
Winter here can drop to below freezing and the winds are wild and loud, making you thankful for a sturdy roof over your head. Occasionally it even snows, like it did this winter just past. A snow-covered desert is a thing to behold. The other-wordliness of this place, now shrouded in the silence of snowfall, is a delicious assault on your senses. Its incongruousness reminds you that anything is possible.
The rhythm of the seasons here is tangible and you naturally fall into its beat. I think this is true of rural life anywhere. Having lived in a city all my life, with its frenetic pace come hail or shine, this seasonal rhythm speaks of a gentler relationship with oneself, with each other and with the earth. City life, with its obsession with constant busy-ness, multitasking, relentless productivity and growth, takes no notice of our natural rhythms as human beings. Waking up in the dead of winter, when it’s still dark outside, when you should be asleep in bed, to drag yourself to work through commuter crowds is, frankly, insane. Unless you’re saving lives or keeping the peace, what is the point of such behaviour, of carrying this toxic energy of exhaustion and simmering resentment into your day? A ‘city that never sleeps’ is a sanatorium, a bubbling cauldron of madness. And then we consume like madmen to distract from the undercurrent of suppressed rage that comes from denying our natural rhythms. Life becomes unsustainable for ourselves and for this planet, not a separate entity but an extension of ourselves that we have become so frighteningly disconnected from.
I’m not suggesting that everyone lope off to some remote corner of the world and start listening to the wingbeats of ravens. I realise that’s not everyone’s cup of tea. But surely quality of life is, whether it’s in the city or the countryside. Surely there is something to be gained from putting the human being first instead of the megalomania of business and commerce? As long as productivity is measured by quantity rather than quality, and economic growth precedes individual and collective well-being, our human legacy will be one of madness. But I feel that change is afoot. I hope that it is. I think more and more of us are demanding this change and we need to keep doing so. I sense a growing desire for a shift towards a simpler and gentler way of living and it’s crucial at this time to keep that momentum apace. Life cannot be sustained by the constant exhalation of relentless activity. We need to inhale as well. The rhythm of the seasons is a gentle breathing in and out. A breath. The simplest thing in the world, but without which, life would cease to be.