One time I saw a tiny Joshua tree sapling growing not too far from the old tree. I wanted to dig it up and replant it near our house. I told Mom that I would protect it from the wind and water it every day so that it could grow nice and tall and straight. Mom frowned at me. “You’d be destroying what makes it special,” she said. “It’s the Joshua tree’s struggle that gives it its beauty.” – Jeannette Walls
I am about a mile away from my car in the Lost Horse Valley in Joshua Tree National Park. Joshua trees are scattered around me, each one seeming as if it’s pointing in a different direction. Are they trying to confuse me? Perhaps it’s their cruel joke. As the sun gets closer to setting, I hear a group of cactus wrens start to raise a commotion about one hundred yards to my right. What has them riled up? Ah, a coyote is trotting along the base of the hill. I wonder if it sees me? Surely it does–they don’t miss much. I can hear cars driving by at the head of the valley, their passengers unaware of the story unfolding out here in the valley.
Over the last week or so I’ve spent quite a bit of time out in the Mojave Desert. During a spring following a wet winter, the flowers in the Mojave can be quite spectacular, however this year things are depauperate to say the least; in southern California we’ve gotten less than twenty percent of our normal rainfall totals this season.
Despite the bleak wildflower viewing, the Joshua tree bloom this year was reported to be the best in recorded history, with trees blooming across their entire range; whether you were in the Mojave National Preserve, the New York Mountains, the Chocolate Mountains, or Joshua Tree National Park itself, the trees were adorned with beautiful white blooms. Mojave yucca were blooming in profusion in places as well, and of course cacti dotted the hillsides with lovely splashes red, pink, purple, and yellow.
Unless something major like a Joshua tree bloom or the once-in-a-decade wildflower bloom is happening, the desert doesn’t get much press. Still, life here persists. Understanding the beauty implicit in the struggle of not only the Joshua trees but of all the plants and animals who live here gives a greater appreciation for the display they put on for the quiet observer. Is there a metaphor here for our own lives I wonder?
After the sun goes down I shoulder my backpack and start walking back to my car. Despite the hot April day, darkness will quickly drain the heat from the dry air, and before I get back to my car I am ready for a sweatshirt. I don’t see the coyote any longer. If it did see me, it certainly didn’t pay me any mind. Crickets are starting to chirp, bats are flitting over my head, hawk moths are visiting the opening evening primrose, and the calls of the cactus wren have been replaced by a poor will in the distance.
Life here persists.