The Joshua Tree

A deeply spiritual place, Derek and I walked thru The Joshua Tree with our dogs Taylor and Tucker. I walked with my inner voice. I prayed silently as we walked the trail. I prayed for my dad who had just gotten out of surgery. I prayed for Derek’s mother who had gotten out of surgery a couple weeks ago. I prayed for my cousin who is battling cancer half a world away. I prayed for all my family and all my friends and their families, for their spouses, their children, their parents, their brothers and sisters, and their dogs and cats. I prayed for everyone. It seemed like the right thing to do. With the trees themselves outstretching their crowns and branches like arms held to heaven, it’s easy to pray here.

The Joshua tree is referred to as ‘the tree of life’. Technically, it’s not even a tree, but rather part of the yucca species. Almost every part of the tree is used by other desert dwellers – people from back in the day and animals even now. It’s used to make baskets, sandals, and mats. Squirrels, birds and deer eat the creamy white blossoms. Fruit from later in the season and its seeds provide food for antelope. At the end of its days, a fallen tree provides respite for lizards, scorpions and ants. Finally, termites eat it down to provide enrichment for the next Joshua tree sprout.

Joshua Tree National Park is comprised of two distinct desert environments – the Mojave and the Colorado. We were mostly in the Mojave, higher in elevation, where the Joshua trees reside. Joshua ‘forests’ intermingle with immense boulder formations. We spent most of our time at Barker Dam Nature Trail and Keys View, with a short stopover near Cottonwood Spring.

We are sitting on a rock now halfway thru the Barker Dam. In the distance, we came upon eight rams. Careful not to make any noise, lest they charge upon us, we snapped pictures. Barker Dam was built around 1900 to hold water for cattle and for mining. These days, the dam provides a small reservoir of water from the rains to feed the wildlife. Save for a few hikers here and there, we are the only ones here amidst this massive desert. It’s so quiet, save for Taylor’s panting. We are in the middle of paradise. Boulders magically appear from the ground, standing tall one stacked upon the other precariously balanced against each other. The sun beats down brightly. It’s warm but it’s not hot. It’s quite pleasant. It’s beautiful here, a different kind of beauty from the beauty of Northern California.

After the Barker Trail, we drove to Keys View, where we left the dogs behind, both extremely tired from the midday walk. At 5185 feet in elevation, we come upon a majestic view of the Coachella Valley. While the haze covered much of the distance, it created a wonderfully imbalanced view of the different peaks of the horizon. To the left was the Salton Sea, in front of us Palm Springs, and to the right, the San Jacinto Mountains. I saw a painting in my future; in fact, that’s all I’ve been seeing all day.

I laid on a rock, and stared as far as my eyes could take me. I saw both everything and nothing at the exact same time. I thought of everything and nothing at the same time. It was deeply spiritual. It was indeed magical. It was so quiet, so much so that every sound I did hear was magnified a hundred times. I could hear the music of the quiet breeze. I heard a car in the distance, and further still the low hum of a plane. And sometimes people. The quiet was peace in my heart. The quiet was peace in my soul. It was wholly welcomed and I immersed myself in it for a long time, deep in my thoughts of everythingness and nothingness.

My shoulders and my upper and my lower back feel no pain. That’s amazing to me, as pain is a constant companion. But today; freedom from it a welcome respite from my normal day-to-day. As I laid on the rock, I felt myself floating away, and soon fell asleep as I once again practiced my breathing. I live for the days that I am pain-free. And because it’s few and far between, those days, this very moment is one that I will cherish forever. I didn’t sleep long. I floated away and then came back into my body as I woke up refreshed. Happy.

By 5p, the sun had dropped behind the mountains, its yellows brilliant against the blues, with hints of pinks, reds and violets behind us. We would stop an hour later, in the middle of nowhere near Cottonwood Spring, pitch black save for the stars above. It reminded me of looking at the stars above Yosemite.

And so we left, leaving a little piece of us back there, taking a little piece of it with us. I thought of my family and my friends as I laid on that rock; and how I’d follow my family who are friends and my friends who are family to the ends of the earth. So that’s what I did today. I followed them thru The Joshua Tree.

“I can’t live
With or without you…”

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