Wednesday, March 30, 2005

Not about politics

Reading a recent post in Creek running north about the Mojave Desert and ravens, I was reminded of a rock art trip in the Mojave desert my wife and I took, a long time ago, about 1975:
Our newfound friends who live on the edge of the Joshua Tree National Monument in California are proud of their local prehistoric Indian artists, and of their Joshua trees. I was amazed by how beautiful the California desert is, the mountains in the distance, and higher mountains beyond, the Joshua trees scribbling wildly out of the immediate foreground, sky, and rabbits and roadrunners and flowers whose names I did not know.
But the thing I remember about that trip was an oasis; we spent the night at one, the real thing, miles on a rocky and pitted road up a furnace canyon. The canyon wall stone looked so hard that it would chime if struck, and the air rung with heat at noon. Then there was a vision of palm trees, thirty or so, a washingtonia species, tall over the violent green thorn bushes, floating, mirage-silvered; when we got there the air was full of flowers and pepper smells, and birds, and humming insects. Bees threading the acacias. Hard alkaline water to drink from a primitive creaky pump. We rested in the shade. I cannot describe how pleasing it was. Hundreds of hummingbirds, the air overloaded and spilling out chaotic iridescent buzzes, and great flocks of whitewing doves; synchronous wingflashes everywhere in the corner of your eye. On the canyon wall there were a few faint enigmatic Indian markings peened into the rock.

We stayed overnight, and a little before dawn I awoke briefly and looked around at the warm stars and the thin sickle blade of the moon rising before the sun, and felt like a Tuareg, or a Bedouin, like Abraham would have felt. I understood, then, the Moslem feeling for the crescent.
When you sleep indoors you wake up slowly and test the day, toe first, but at sunup that morning I was wide-awake, the sun had crashed over the canyon wall and clubbed me hard in the eyes. Everybody was up and folding up their bedding. But instead of hollering at the camels, and loading them, we threw our stuff into Jeeps, and moved out into the desert like a military column, eating trail mix out of plastic bags for breakfast while we drove, with thermos jug coffee--the roar of the engines thickening the air, and the hot wind blurring my eyes, the horizon sweltering in the heat. The sun filled the day like blare from a trumpet. I had sudden hallucinations of mountain streams, water limpidly dissolving stone.
Erosion was powered by raw sunlight working on the cliff rock, rippling the desert-varnish black stone with surface cracks which flake off when no one is looking, into rubble, then pea gravel, and finally sand which the wind picks up and rasps at Palm Springs, where it settles into heaps that threaten suburban houses.
I only barely remember where this now-mirage-like oasis was, somewhere south of Joshua Tree National Monument and I-10. My fear is that such a beautiful and fragile place is either destroyed and gone altogether, thanks perhaps to too many motorized expeditions like the one that took me there, or made into a resort for the wealthy. I'll never find out because I have lost track of our guides, and I would never be able to find my way back on my own.

So I hope for the best.

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