I GREW UP in the suburbs of Washington DC, surrounded by trees and greenery. When I was 16 my father retired from his government job and relocated us to Utah, where he and Mom had grown up and where most of our kin lived.
Utah was not only a cultural shock to me, it was also an environmental one. Beyond the cities and towns where settlers had planted trees and tended lawns and gardens, the place was so… barren. Dirt, rocks, dirt, stunted bushes, dirt, rocks, prickly things, dirt… Yes, there were trees up in the mountains, but even they seemed harsh, off-putting to me. The land seemed to be telling me to stay away. So I did. Friends talked about going into the desert, by choice, for fun, and I concluded they were insane.
After college I fled to Los Angeles. It was one of the hubs of my chosen profession, it was hip, and it seemed so green. The drive there took me through some truly desolate places, but I saw the Mojave Desert as the price of entry into the Promised Land by the Sea. Once I settled in I became ocean focused. Ah! The beach! The water! Paradise! Again, friends talked about going into the desert, by choice, for fun, and, again, I concluded they were insane.
After 20 years in California I needed a change, brought on by the death of my marriage, the death of my father, the death of the company I was working for… So I accepted a job in North Carolina. It was like being back in my lush, green childhood environment, but with grits and NASCAR. Somewhere in the ensuing 18 years — maybe after the third weekend in a row raking leaves — I realized I was living in the wrong place. The eastern half of the country was not for me. It was not my home.
But where was my home? I eventually realized if I lived in a van I could travel all over the continent and maybe discover my true home. To my surprise, I’ve discovered it’s the desert. Why?
I can finally breathe without feeling like I’m drowning. Dryness feels clean to me. Mold, mildew, and rot aren’t problems. Sweat actually evaporates like it was designed to.
The sky is huge.
As The Who sang, I can see for miles and miles and miles and miles and miles. I feel claustrophobic after a few minutes in a forest. Where’s the sky? Where’s the horizon? Where are the stars?
It’s and introvert’s paradise
It’s so easy to get away from crowds, from the annoyances and troubles of civilization.
It’s a lesson in minimalism
The desert demonstrates how little is necessary to sustain life, even to thrive. If mammals like deer, coyotes, rabbits, pumas, peccaries and coatimundi can live here, so can I.
Since the desert is sparsely populated, there are fewer people to tell you what to do. That’s why it has long been a haven for eccentrics, visionaries and other nonconformists. You can be yourself and either no one cares, or they salute your oddness. But even if you don’t want to build a sculpture garden of toilets or host naked midnight drum circles, there are so many places you can just plop down and be, undisturbed.
Tell us why you like the desert. And if you don‘t, tell us why not.