by Patty Morwood
I heard a new phrase lately: 'graceful desert living.' Never mind that I've suffered heat-stroke; I have really learned what 'graceful' coupled with 'desert' does and does not mean.
This winter we've lived in a city that seems to have plopped itself down in a giant sand pit. None of the lush green shades of Ohio, except occasionally, when turning another of the endless beige-sandy pebble-strewn corners, did I run all-of-a-sudden into a greensward! Ahhh, a reminder of home, though in reality, grass in this place means a sucking away of precious water, the gold-standard of the desert.
Every purse, every back pack, automobile compartment, and workplace drawer holds extra bottles of water; I know some who stash away salt tablets just in case. Certain times of the year, even while walking quickly from your house to the car, the heat can knock you down.
And the critters. There are all kinds who wander in from the desert, as if making sure humans know they themselves are the real intruders and should thus be made miserable with stings and bites (for some of us, a mere sighting is shock enough!).
The most frightening of the desert commoners include mountain lions, sidewinding rattlers (to minimize contact with the hot sand, they move sideways in an S-shaped motion), scorpions and the venomous gila monster.
God was gracious to me this winter. I didn't see any of these animals. Only a small three-inch lizard on the kitchen floor in the middle of the night one time; but since, I've dreamed of little lizards scampering across my pillow as I sleep.
I'm used to tall green trees with boughs and leaves swaying in the wind. Desert succulents don't sway, they've those fat little leaves and profuse colorful buds that keep them rooted and stationary; others sport needles and sharp protrusions. I know God made these strange plants for desert environments, and indeed, to an acclimatized person, it is all very very beautiful – critters, cacti, brown-beige, and intense sun-heat.
Early in the morning, before it is really hot, I like to take my golden doodle out for a walk on "The Loop", a walking-biking path that wraps one-hundred miles around the city. One day I saw something humorous: a dog walking with little booties on all four feet because of hot sidewalks! As the calendar moves toward summer, it becomes a very common sight.
One Sunday in March, the bulletin at the church we attend here warned, “Beware, the snakes are out!” My hiking took on a new dimension; I focused downward, eyes sweeping back and forth under bushes and across trails looking for that familiar diamond pattern, instead of gazing straight ahead on the mysterious and awesome desert and its pristine blue, blue sky.
Truthfully, the great Sonoran Desert is an awesome geographical place. It spans many miles, as it covers the California Baja, and parts of California, Arizona, New Mexico, and Mexico. We spent years vacationing in Mexico's Sonoran Desert because my husband's parents lived there, where the desert ran right up to the beach. But I didn't pay much attention to the desert then; I was occupied with slathering sunscreen over my young children's fair little bodies and hovering with out-stretched arms as they encountered the powerful, dangerous sea without being carried away.
But today, in southern Arizona's Sonoran, I have actually spent several months instead of just a few weeks. Father Kino is renown in Mexico, but now I notice he's famous here too. Many streets, missions, schools, monuments (even two in the United States Capital's National Statuary Hall), geographic features, and royal forts bear his name. One of our sons married in our ancestral home on the beach in Kino Bay, Mexico and later named his golden doodle “Kino.”
Father Kino, 1645-1711, was an awesome man: a Jesuit-educated missional priest, as well as a geographer, explorer, cartographer, astronomer, and writer. How did he do all this? He wandered the Sonoran Desert of Mexico and what would later become southwest America for decades.
He loved the indigenous Native Americans, in ministering to them he established 24 missions/country chapels, 19 rancherias (villages), and countless other stations and royal forts (presidios) and towns (pueblos). He walked; he rode horseback. He followed ancient trade-routes, all along the way introducing European seeds, fruits, herbs, and grains; he taught people how to raise cattle, sheep and goats, becoming Arizona's “first rancher.”
And the early maps of Mexico's northwest, America's southwest and the Baja were drawn by his hand, probably as he leaned against a big boulder under that intense bright desert sun, to survey his glorious but dangerous surroundings.
I wonder how many times he was incapacitated, as I have been, with heat-stroke.
Since that unfortunate experience, I've learned that prickly pear, the most common succulent in the desert, gives a high yield of electrolytes. No doubt Father Kino chewed on their invigorating “pads” (leaves) as he tread under giant saguaros, relaxed under bright stars luminous in the black night of the desert, and woke to circling hawks and vultures overhead.
But soon we're off to the health food store before returning to lush green Ohio – for even after a rather tame Ohio hike or a ½ marathon super-walk, a few spoonfuls of prickly pear nectar mixed with water would be a boon!
A boon that will remind me of my winter of awe: graceful living in the great Sonoran Desert.
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