Love in the Time of COVID-19
I have started multiple blog posts - mostly about the move that Lupe and I made at the end of January and the ensuing nightmares but, in light of the current worldwide crisis, all that seems like minor bullshit. Suffice it to say, don't believe everything your real estate agent tells you. The good news is that I am going to start creating a California native backyard since our property is so large. I also will keep my citrus and avocado trees which was the advice of the native landscape consultant. If we can get through this pandemic I am actually very excited about making our little parcel of land a wild haven - in the midst of suburbia. I also LOVE our new neighborhood. So, all's well that ends well and I look forward to entertaining family and friends and you soon!
I also want to complain here about canceling trips and the lack of baseball but then, come on, we are currently all healthy and that is what is important today.
My thinking on this blog post is that it will be a bit of a stream of consciousness while we are shut in and trying to avoid the horrors that we are seeing right now, for example, in Italy and even in New York City. There is a reason many of us geezers suffer from anxiety and are overly careful - we've seen what the world can do...even in the best times. So, on that negative note let me just say that I hope that everyone reading this can find some joy and hope in each day going forward and that we navigate this difficult time with grace and cool and good fortune. It would be grand if my few words and photos could provide some respite from the mess of the world right now. I believe writing these posts will do exactly that for me. The other night I had a Zoom meeting with my friends from Insight LA and it is crucial we continue to reach out and connect...here's my attempt to do just that...
There is so much fear and worry out there right now...try to remember to breathe.
I've been revisiting some of my old photos and trips and I thought I'd start by sharing a few of those. Perhaps, this will provide a tiny bit of succor from the self-quarantining ennui. I've been throwing them up again on Twitter and that's been fun, too. Thanks for letting me share. Through these words and photos I hope to send out a bit of love during this harrowing time. I'm not sure how else to go about it.
This first photo is from a trip I took to Pinnacles National Park back in 2015. I took this photo on the Bear Gulch trail and was practically alone for the entire hike. That has changed in the last few years as the National Park status has elevated awareness of the Park.
The next photo is of the Smith River in September 2016. I got up very early each day to take photos in this spot in Jedediah Smith State Park.
This next one was taken on an early morning drive along Highway 89 between Sedona and Flagstaff in Oak Creek Canyon. It remains one of my personal favorites over the last few years.
Here is a photo of nearby Santiago Canyon where I used to ride my Triumph Thunderbird regularly.
This next photo is framed and sits above our dining room table. It is of the train track, trestle, beach and pier at Gaviota, north of Santa Barbara. It is a place that I return year after year and have grown to love despite the sometimes gale force winds.
And here is another of my favorite California spots - it's a sunset view of Mugu Rock from Thornhill Broome Beach which is north of Malibu but feels million miles away from everywhere...
Now this is one of my favorite photos from my home away from home in Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument.
The next photo is of a fiery sunset in Yosemite National Park in September of 2017. This was a meaningful trip as it was the last time I went with my long time pal, Jack, who passed away last year. How blessed I was to be able to spend that few days with him.
Here is another from that trip. It's from a misty and quiet morning along the magnificent Merced River.
One last one. This is an iPhone photo of Quitobaquito on the Mexican border in Arizona. It is currently being ravaged and perhaps entirely ruined by a needless wall. Enjoy this image...it's one of the most special places in all of the West.
I have a dream I'd like to tell you about as I end this blog post. It's a simple dream but it seems awfully challenging these days. My dream is this...that everyone who reads these posts regularly and is a friend who shares my love for the land will meet me one day on the road in one of these remarkable places. I'll make the fire for us to sit around and talk about how we all survived the terrible pandemic of 2020. And how, after surviving it, we feel a little more grateful for all that we have and have had. And how life seems a bit sweeter than before.
Much love to all. I'll be back in a few weeks with a few more words and photos.
There was a popular song, written in 1927, called "My Blue Heaven", that my mother would sing to me as a child. Maybe you've heard it. One of the lyrics went:
"Whippoorwills call, evenin' is nigh
Hurry to my Blue Heaven and a little nest nestled where the roses bloom. Just Molly and me and the baby makes three."
The song is filled with imagery and I pictured it in my mind's eye as a young boy. The words and my Mom's pretty voice soothed me and I remember asking her (she would have been 80 today) to sing it over and over again. I hadn't thought of this song for many, many years but on this latest trip to Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument the song jumped into my head and the words naturally changed to my green heaven. The last several years now I have traveled extensively in the West and I've seen magnificent places but there is no place on earth that I feel more at home or connected to than Organ Pipe. The air itself is different. The earth feels differently below my feet. Edward Abbey served as a Park Ranger there and he loved the area too calling adjacent Cabeza Prieta the "finest desert wilderness in North America" and said this:
Transparent and intangible as sunlight, yet always and everywhere present, the desert lures a man on and on, from the red-walled canyon to the smoke-blue ranges beyond, in a futile but fascinating quest for the great, unimaginable treasure which the desert seems to promise. Once caught by this golden lure you become a prospector for life. -
Cactus Ed was right. I'm a "prospector" for what remains of my life.
The Sonoran desert is very different than other deserts in North America. Since there are five seasons; winter, spring, summer, monsoon, and autumn, and two of those can see quite a bit of rain (winter and monsoon) the desert is truly alive. The last few years I've experienced some rain during January visits to the Monument and the beauty and smell of that experience is indescribable. On this trip it was warm and sunny which made for poor photographic opportunities but maximum recreation and relaxation.
Another thing about this trip - I turned 60 recently and this damn birthday stimulated more than a few hours of introspection and reflection. As I look back I have many beautiful memories but I have also endured my share of pain: losing my parents to cancer and Alzheimer's too early, I was diagnosed with glaucoma at an unusually early age with all that entails, I faced appalling and dishonest injustice instigated and condoned by people I liked and trusted, I've lost several dear friends to death, suicide and the vagaries of time. Of course, I also extensively pondered all of my own terrible mistakes and sins which are too numerous and odious to count.
While contemplating it became clear to me that while life has been, at times, profoundly joyful and fulfilling it has also been deeply sorrowful and painful and often seemed impossible to endure. But, endure I have. I know I've been foolish on occasion but I've gained some wisdom and I've hung on even when experiencing abject hopelessness. It seems clear that I am, if nothing else, resilient, and so it is with the desert. I love the sea and the mountains but, as I get older, and come to terms with my own mortality, my respect and affection for the desert grows more deeply every year. Life is hard, for sure, but the cacti, the creosote, the bobcat, the roadrunner and the lizard thrive against the odds in an often harsh and exposed existence. The resilient Sonoran desert not only gives me solace it inspires me to live my own life more fully and with fewer complaints. Wherever I go it will always remain my own true home.
Remarkably, in this desert milieu live 850 plants and animals. Barren, brown desert? Not by a long shot. An example is the ocotillo (or coachwhip or candlewood). Talk about resilient. The ocotillo looks like an unassuming pile of dead sticks for much of the year. Then, if and when it rains, it becomes a brilliant green. It is a glorious transformation.
It is a long drive (9 hours) out to Organ Pipe for me. I determined to simply relax and meditate on my first day. Perhaps I'd just hang around the campsite in the sun and maybe go for a short hike around the campground. When I woke up I had far too much energy for such sedentary activities. I jumped in the truck and drove to Ajo. I got my permit to travel in the Cabeza Prieta and Barry Goldwater Range and chatted with the BLM folks. I then decided to drive into the Cabeza Prieta and come back to camp via the Bates Well Road and Pozo Nuevo in Organ Pipe. The weather was warm and I drove with the windows wide open. I stopped and talked to whoever was around (except the Border Patrol who were parked in too many places). I met some eccentric and intrepid travelers out there. The desert does attract us oddballs. My people...
In the middle of the day my old bones began to tire after two days of solid driving and several hours of being jostled on rutted and rocky dirt roads. I arrived at Bates Ranch in the northern portion of Organ Pipe Monument and took a few photos. If you find Bates Ranch as interesting as I do you can read more about its' history here. Despite being in the boundaries of a National Monument the ranch didn't actually stop operation until 1976. There is something about old West ranches that seems to ask for black and white photos.
I also made some color photos of this fascinating place.
The next few days I did get some of that sweet relaxation in. For the first time in many years I did not drive out to Quito Baquito but went on several short hikes in the Monument. I found some small hills to climb and meditate on. I studied the scenery. I sat in the slim shade of Saguaro and Senita cactus. I ate snacks in the cholla gardens. I stopped worrying. I listened to the crying coyotes each night. I made a few photographs but it was not a priority. I chatted with my campground neighbors. I relaxed out of my separation from the land. I visited with the Park Rangers. I slowed down. I heard the cactus wren and the ravens. I experienced each moment as fully as I could. I had a damn fine time.
I saved, for the last day, a late afternoon and twilight drive through the Ajo Mountains. I rolled down the windows and crept along the road. A desert breeze blew through the cab of the truck. I occasionally stopped and got out to take photos and take short walks. I immersed myself in the desert. I thought of my children and wished they were with me. As I neared the end of the drive I started missing Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument and I hadn't left it yet.
I'd apologize for the mawkish tone of this trip review but it wouldn't be sincere. I may wax tritely and in cliche riddled phrases but I'm at a loss to describe my love for the Sonoran Desert and if it sounds maudlin so be it. If you do get a feeling for my love of the place then I'm pleased. I encourage you to read Abbey, Bowden, and Krutch. They get closer to doing this slice of "green desert heaven" more justice than I ever will.
I count the days until my next visit. Thanks for coming along.
This last photo of dancing Saguaros is one that I enjoy. May you all be healthy, happy, safe and at ease. Until next time...
This will mostly be a journal of my travels. I may include other items that interest me. Feel free to join in.