Many years ago, in Greece, I met a staff writer for The New Yorker. I asked for advice on writing a book about my travels, but he told me, “Don’t write about travel; write about living in Hawaii. That’s what people are curious about.” What? I was so discouraged. Who would want to read about ordinary life in Hawaii? But I think finally I get it: life on the continent is not at all like life on a speck of cooled (or flowing!) lava, where everyone knows everyone, or at least her calabash cousin; where creatures evolved like no other place on this earth; where the idea of a place (mai tais, orchids, and happy natives) has nothing to do with its reality. Yes, California’s desert is spectacularly different from my old Hawaii rain forest, but that’s just a minor distinction in the scale of things.
Anyway, something makes my jaw drop every single day in this expansive and bright-skied California valley, like the other morning when two coyotes slunk across the dirt road in front of my rental car. When I stopped to watch them, they too stopped, peering over their shoulders at me: all of us checking each other out. When morning commuters came barreling down the road, filling the air with dust, the two canines conferred with each other, and then trotted off, blending into the brush. Goodbye! Have a good day! Hope you find some water to drink!
(So yeah, no coyotes in Hawaii. Hawaii has only one native mammal: the hoary bat. Being in the center of an ocean does that.)
The desert’s blendy-ness is a bit of a problem for showing it off in photos, that and its grandness. The coyotes melted into the background – can you see one in the photo above? A photo of a mountain range that is splendid in the here and now is reduced to a fraction of its imposing power in just a few square inches. Please, use your imagination to feel the magic.
I visited Joshua Tree National Park the day after Thanksgiving, imagining many people would be too busy shopping to visit, but no, it was crazy busy there. I arrived about nine a.m. but already parking lots were full, and stressed-out Park employees were frazzled and barking orders: “No! The parking lot is closed! You have to turn around! Move along! LEAVE!” So I did, after driving around for a while and snapping what shots I could from the roadside. As I exited the Park, a Ranger ran after my car; “Show me your pass!” he shouted. What? Upon leaving? Why? Because the line to enter is so long, he replied. Huh. The poor park employees: they were in for it – as I drove out, I passed a line of stopped cars almost two miles long waiting to enter, and then saw hundreds more driving towards the entrance on my way down. People are really gonna get yelled at today, I thought.
See the photo below of the young man meditating on top of the rock? It took some serious scrambling and a few leaps for him to get there. He was still there about two hours later on my way out of the park. I worry that he got a sunburn, lost in his nirvana.
And, yes, listening to U2’s Joshua Tree while in the Park is perfection.
Live all you can. It’s a mistake not to.