A Desert Rat Comes Home: Finding the Meaning of Life
But it wasn’t just the cold that was the problem; it was also the lack of sun. The Sierras has a very thick forest with very tall trees. During the summer, that isn’t a problem because the sun is so high in the sky that my solar panels got plenty of sun. But by October it had dropped so low in the sky that it was below the tree-line and I was not getting enough sun to keep my batteries charged. I had fallen back to emergency power conservation, and that is not the way I want to live. I have become addicted to having plenty of power and hate being without it.
So we left there last Thursday and have set up our new camp on free BLM land just north of Victorville, CA off highway 395. The weather here is glorious! Our first day back the wind was blowing a bit but it wasn’t terrible. But yesterday and today were perfect! Temps are in the 80s with little or no wind and the nights are in the 50s; warm enough to sleep well but just a little bit cool. Days like today remind me how much I love the desert. I know there are many people who don’t like the desert but generally I think that is because they haven’t spent enough time in it to let it grow on them.
To me, there is something magical about the desert. At first glance you may think it is just barren and ugly, but if you slow down and spend some time in it, something strange happens: it changes you. If you will let it, you will become a different (and better) Person:
1) The desert is Patient and Timeless: Our modern world is so rushed and stressed-out, we are all running around acting like chickens with our heads cut off. We are the Instant, “I want it right now!” culture. Most Americans are deeply in debt because they can’t wait till they have saved some money to pay cash for something. Instead we buy it right now on credit because we can’t wait. We eat huge amounts of fast food because we can’t take the time to cook a healthy meal. We rush around the freeway at 90 mph to save 5 minutes on our trip.
The desert is very different from that. Time in the desert is not measured in hours and minutes or even weeks, it is measured in years, decades and centuries. My favorite example is the incredible wildflower bloom in some parts of the desert. The seeds for those blooms fall to the ground and wait for a year for all the conditions to be just right to sprout and ultimately bloom. But if the conditions don’t happen, if the Spring rains don’t come, the seeds just wait another year for the conditions to be just right. Then, if the Spring rains don’t come again, the seeds just wait for another, better year. Finally, one year all the conditions are just right and the desert explodes with gorgeous, brilliant colors. For a few brief weeks or months the desert is one of the most beautiful places anywhere on the planet.
If you will let it, if you will spend time in the desert and slow down and absorb it, that timelessness can get deep into your soul. I wish I were a poet and could put it into words that would express it, but I am not. I can only tell you that when Homer and I go for our walks in the morning and evening, every so often I experience moments of Timeless joy, of Stillness at the core of my being. At those moments I have a deep sense of “Everything Is Right with the World.”
When you live in the desert without a job or a schedule of any kind, you become tuned to the sun following its ark across the sky. You are not tuned into your watch; you are tuned into the suns location. When that happens, you are well onto your way to returning to your true nature as a human.
2) The Desert will also give you a perspective of your size in the world. The desert is a big place. Most often there are mountains in the distance so there is a limit to how far you can see, but it is still very big. At night, when the stars come out, it is stunning to go sit outside and stare at the stars. That will give you some sense of your smallness in a huge Universe. Every morning Homer and I pick a spot in the distance and start walking toward it. After we walk for about half an hour, we turn around and head back. My trailer sits in a bit of a valley, so when I turn around, I am heading back toward my trailer and I have it in sight the whole time. What always stands out to me is that it is such a tiny, white dot in the immense desert. That also gives me a sense of perspective. That trailer has everything I own in the world in it, it is my whole world, and yet it is so tiny and insignificant. That puts my true importance into a scale I can begin to understand. All I have and do are not going to mean much in the long run. The only thing that is important is my impact on others.
I have made it my goal, that when I leave this planet, the most people possible will hear about it and say to themselves, “I’m sorry to hear he is gone, he was one of the good guys.” If that happens, then and only then, will my life have been a success.
3) The desert teaches me that humans are terribly fragile creatures. The desert is a place of terrible extremes. It goes from deadly, fatal extreme heat to numbing cold. It ranges from dead calm to hurricane force winds. There are many wild animals, reptiles and insects that are ready to kill humans at the blink of an eye. The desert is a humbling place. If you will learn its lessons, and take your proper place in the grand scheme of things, everything in life will start to make sense. I firmly believe you will find peace of mind.
4) The desert can’t be stereotyped. Modern humans fall into the trap of classifying things and then losing sight of the individuals. We think of the desert as hot, barren, empty and lifeless, and there are deserts that are like that. But there also deserts that are just the opposite. Many deserts are full of varied vegetation, animal life and very cold in the winter. The desert around Pahrump, NV (my home base) is full of Joshua Trees, Yuccas cactus, sagebrush and wildflowers. In the spring there is even wild green grass! Almost every day that I have been there I have seen wildlife: coyotes, jackrabbits, lizards, rattlesnakes, desert tortoise, ground squirrels, and wild horses and burros. It’s a living, varied and wonderful environment. It can also be very cold. Every winter that I have been there it has snowed at least once.
So I want to encourage you all to break free from your stereotypes and come join me in the desert and see if it doesn’t change you and make you a better person. I really think you will be glad you did! Bob