Tag Archives: solitude

Dawn in the Desert

cacticm51-23nv16_p1030216bWe’ve just spent a week in desert areas of southern Arizona, and it has helped me appreciate again the great variety and diversity of life on this planet, as well as the nature of our own growth.

When I was a boy, the Walt Disney company released a fascinating and beautiful film called The Living Desert. It taught a lot about the life we don’t see when we gaze out over a landscape filled with sagebrush and cactus—about the insects, reptiles, plants, birds, and other creatures that go about living in an interactive ecosystem.

By day, deserts look very bleak and forbidding. But dawn or sunset shows things in a different light.


There is struggle here for life,

challenge on every side,

and peril in the living things,

both plant and predator.

Thorns and spines protect

hardy plants and tenacious trees

sucking scarce moisture from the earth.

applesrx-23nv16_dsc00986bOnly on penalty of pain

can hungry desert dwellers

taste green succulence.

Venom, claws, and tearing teeth

are survival tools

for animals born and bred

in this environment.

There is no ease here

for any living thing.


So, too, for humans.

Some choose desert places

for their solitude,

or for opportunity

to do and be freely,

without dictate

of strict society.

Others choose luxuriant habitats

where thorns and spines,

venom and ripping claws

are seldom visible.

Rarely do we look, and understand,

that every environment,

whether place of choice

or of inevitable destiny,

has its frightening perils,

some obvious to the eye,

some disguised as pleasure.


A dawning in the desert

or the setting of the sun

put new and clear perspective

needlesrx-23nv16_dsc00989bon spikes and thorns and armor

and the life that these protect.

What endures here is hardy,

prepared for constant struggle,

magnificent in strength

and ability to thrive,

beautiful in resolve.


Blessed are the wise

who can see the beauty.


Lessons from Solitary Roads

S Ut Fb15_1010363

It is easy to feel dwarfed by the landscape in some of Southern Utah’s red rock canyons.

Utah State Highway 95 on a bright February morning would have to be one of the less-traveled roads in the country. In 30 miles we met only one car and passed none. It seemed we had the beauty and majesty of the area almost to ourselves.

The road is solitary—but not necessarily lonely. As we drove through the cedars near Blanding, climbed up over Comb Ridge, appreciated the view across a canyon, there were magnificent vistas around every bend in the road. There were also the inevitable traces of humanity—notably in the multiple white jet contrails crisscrossing the bright blue sky, like some gigantic game of tic tac toe. And there were ghosts.

We found the ghosts at a small Indian ruin just off the highway. Once a family or a small group of families lived there in the dwellings whose ruins still stand, and apparently used the kava for worship. Somewhere among the nearby cedars they planted maize and other food crops. It is easy to imagine small children playing around the walls of these dwellings while a mother grinds corn nearby. How long ago? For how many generations? Were the people here part of an extended family—relatives, perhaps, of the people who lived at another site about a mile away?

S Ut Fb15_1010353

A hole carved through solid rock leaves a natural bridge, one of many in the area.

A few miles farther on, we came to Natural Bridges National Monument. It is an area worthy of years of study. And yet in only an hour on its scenic loop road we had the opportunity to appreciate dozens of nature’s wonders—huge natural bridges and other sculptures in stone. What might we gain by spending time here among the work of eons—by slowing down the pace of our lives?

Farther along, we crossed the Colorado River at Hite, on a steel span arching over the river’s deep gorge. From the scenic overlook a few miles beyond, the bridge down in the canyon looks almost like a toy.

At the overlook, we met a couple giving their retirement years to charitable work. The trailer behind their pickup was full of donated items to be distributed to needy families and children in small towns and settlements of Southern Utah. We had to admire the way they are using their time in this life. It gave us the opportunity to reflect on our own efforts to help others: Are they equally useful?

Cap Reef Fb15_1020364

Ancient etchings on a canyon wall obviously were meant to convey information. Was it a story about a hunt?

S Ut Fb15_1020418

Three generations of schoolchildren etched their names into this boulder behind the Fruita School.

In Capitol Reef National Monument, we were once more dwarfed by towering stone monuments. Here, too, we found traces of humanity from generations past, in ancient Indian petroglyphs etched on canyon walls, apparently telling the story of some long-ago hunt. We saw the human touch in the names of schoolchildren etched on a boulder behind a rural schoolhouse; their etchings are dated between the beginning and the middle of the last century. Rock etchings were social media long before there were Internet sites and smartphones—a way for people to record their passing, their temporary inclusion in this landscape.

Somehow we found comfort in seeing the world on this scale—on a scale where we were only very small parts of a much larger scene. There was enjoyment, and some fascination, in meeting a few of the people who cling to a vanishing lifestyle in lightly populated places like these. Some have deliberately chosen to take themselves away from the congestion, from the more hectic lifestyle, from the intellectual and spiritual impact of urban areas.

And we had to wonder: Are we, living in the state’s most densely populated, most frenetic area, more in touch with the real world, or are they?