Posted: Sunday, June 10, 2012 2:10:06 AM
There is a peaceful silence to the desert: the empty terrain, bereft of trees and cut up by mountain ranges and washes, speaks its own noiseless language of winds and voids. Sagebrush rattles like a winding sentence. Here and there, commas and caesuras of animal chatter punctuate the flow of the air. A hawk cries out like a rogue fragment. Growing up here as a kid, in the great and mysterious Mojave, I learned to read the words of the desert; I grew accustomed to its dialects of silence. It is only now, as I sit and reflect on just how much time I spent outdoors, that I realize the profound and lasting impact my forays into the wild have had on me.
My father and I would go on hikes, and I'd complain of the dead and grotesque surroundings—no overwhelming forests of green, no lush gardens, no deer or fish or wildlife, none of the countless things I'd been promised were “nature” by Disney movies or the Web. My father would always frown a bit and tell me that I wasn't looking hard enough. When we as a family all climbed into the truck and headed out to the mountains in search of fossils, I always strained myself searching for what my parents saw in the desert. They are rock-hounds to this day, desert lovers and dinosaur hunters. My sister, indifferent and unimpressed, attempted to persuade me that it was a sham and that the desert was really nothing special. I believed nothing totally: when we found neat rocks or the occasional fossil, I was floored; the remainder of the trips, I was bored out of my mind. As I grew older and more seasoned, my ear grew finer tuned. In school, I learned new things about geology, biology, and poetry; in the desert, I saw each play out: slowly, the history of these rocks—these grey-and-brown, cactus dotted mountains; the gravel beneath my feet—revealed itself as a form of art, the natural movements of the land over time acting out the stories of the earth.
Now, as I think about where I'd like to go for college and what I'd like to do with my life, I realize just how much this desert language has flavored my own thoughts. I like to fancy myself an artist of sorts—the word being my paint, the pen my brush—and, for a time, I worried I wouldn't be able to make it as a writer, that I didn't have the talent, the drive, and the experience to create something that anyone would find beautiful. In those moments of indecision and despair, I'd go out to the desert and take some time for myself. I'd listen to the silent song of the mesquite trees; the whistle of wind between rocks. I'd go out and listen to the stories it had to tell. Then I'd take out my pen and write them down, the desert's language my own.