How is it that I spent a good portion of life running away from the desert? How is it that spindly Joshua Trees, and other thorny desert native plants were nothing more to me than bastions of poking and impalement?
How is it that now I find retreat in the high desert and can’t seem to end ways to photograph the Joshua Tree and other thorny desert native plants?
As Gilda bounced along the rough campsite road at Black Rock Canyon Campground, in the northwest end of Joshua Tree National Park, these questions came at me like a gameshow quiz.
Black Rock Canyon Campground may be one of my favorites. Why?
*Gorgeous location with thick Joshua Tree forests
*Water on site
*Real bathrooms — that flush and are clean, no less
*Both easy and challenging hiking trails
*Not overwhelmed with endless streams of tourists
*Wildlife sighting possibilities
Ah! It was the wildlife sighting possibilities that drew me there in the first place. A year earlier, I read that owls frequent the campground. Nothing would pleasure me more than to have Oly at the ready with its 300 mm lens focused and zoomed in on an owl perched on a Joshua Tree at sunrise. It would be my money-maker photo that I would enter into nature photo contests across the planet. It would be my signature work.
The combination of a harried few months filled with marginal sleep prior to leaving the coast for the desert in Gilda, rushing to set up camp before the sun set at the ridiculous time change in November, shooting dozens of desert sunsets (thanks to a rose’ kind of sky) cooking a fantabulous shrimp stew on the camp stove, building a fire and settling into the night with a glass (or more) of Michael Rose Cellar’s 2016 Estate Bouchet Rose — a wine that matched the sunset sky — that when I crawled into my section of Gilda’s sleeping nest, I was a goner until the sun rose the next day.
“Did you hear that owl?” Spouse asked while I picked the sleep from my eyes.
“It was nearby. I heard it call ‘whoo…whoo, whoo’ a few times.”
“And you didn’t wake me up?”
“No. You were snoring.”
“If you ever hear that again, WAKE ME UP!”
I’m currently hooked into owls. It’s how they look about what’s around them. Regal. Royal. Wise.
I see owls as a companion to wise women — something I have never seen in myself. Those awful moments from childhood when my life transitioned from an adored, but motherless child, in the care of kind godparents, to a return to my father’s home with his new wife, my new “mother,” the echoes of her voice shrilling into the desert air, “You stupid little whore!” remain.
Why, yes, I must be stupid if an adult says so. By 7th grade, even a nun, who failed Empathy 101, sorted the five rows of pre-pubescent students by grade averages. Closest to the exit doors sat a row of shining young academics who averaged A’s on their report cards. To the far left of the room a line of five miscreants defined the students that averaged grade F on their report cards.
Deemed a miscreant, it was okay because I was closer to the windows that lined the pale green classroom. While I went from an A-student in 1st and 2nd grade (while living with my godparents) to a total failure at 7th grade, I could watch the desert wind force tall elm trees to bow to the asphalt, observe clouds twist and turn, and leave the room via my imagination anytime I wanted to. But I was stupid and this nun, my grades and future academic career, proved so.
OK. So I learned the hard way that I’m not stupid at all. And maybe that’s why I crave a natural encounter with an owl in the wild.
But it was not to be so on this trip to the desert. However, I clicked over 400 frames with Oly. Some are good — even the final capture of a flittering cactus wren who did everything possible to escape Oly getting it in focus. It wasn’t until I took to the camp chair, found a meditative moment, that the cactus wren blessed me with lovely photo opportunities. But it won’t be my money-maker, on the cover of every nature magazine around. Or?
In answer to my questions above, I wrote in my work, “Connection — A Book of 48 Natural Contemplations:”
“…the sunrise, the crystal nighttime sky, the miles of endless vision and possibility tempers my hungry coyote song. Light, more than anything, dominates the desert. For that, I have returned to the desert to expand my vision and heart.”
And I agree with John C. Van Dyke who wrote in his book, “The Desert;”
“The weird solitude, the great silence, the grim desolation, are the very things with which every desert wanderer eventually falls in love. You think that strange perhaps? Well, the beauty of the ugly was sometime a paradox, but today people admit its truth; and the grandeur of the desolate is just paradoxical, yet the desert gives it proof.”