Desert Floors

As we pull off a highway near Phoenix, hazy Superstition Mountains looming over us just west of the horizon, I point out the car window off the road and ask, “Grandma, what’s that tree called?” It’s waxy bark the color of pea soup, it’s trunk curves slender and smooth and graceful.

“Palo Verde,” she answers. “It’s the Arizona state tree. Green stick.”

For the few days I’m able to spend with my grandmother for the weekend, I’m still amazed that this landscape has any vegetation at all. Arizona is a desert. Underneath rough shrubs is red dust, cracked and dry. In metropolitan areas, what they haven’t paved over, they’ve covered with similar colored rocks and gravel. Yet even through that something lives.

Large-pored fruit sags from locals’ fiercely green orange trees, the star-shaped blossoms  saturating the air with their sweetness. Bright fuchsia Bougainvillea flowers grow thick in brilliant clumps, tender, but capable of recovering from both frost and drought.

Even the cacti with their crisscrossed spines awe me, towering with thick limbs lifted up into the sky. Many plants have the means to preserve water in such a climate, but the cactus knows how to be more hydrated than the soil it’s growing in. When rain comes, new roots shoot out to absorb all they can hold, but when the soil runs dry, the roots break off. It has to disconnect itself from the soil in order to not lose its nourishment to it.

There is a quiet beauty to the desert. It’s full of subtle color–warm and always changing in every light and time of day. It’s here I’ve come to get away, to spend precious time with my grandmother, but also to be alone. Maybe to recover. To understand the wilderness I’m wandering in.

I echo the cacti’s version of survival. Looking for but also fighting solitude, I’m aware of how I’ve closed myself off. I struggle with the guilt of the relationships I’ve distanced myself from, mostly due to my own thirst, everything I can’t presently afford to give. I’ve broken myself off from the soil I’ve known because it’s proved too costly. And I’m bleeding myself dry.

But there is rainfall even in the desert. There is cleansing that is so much more treasured when I’m in the drought. For the people, the words, the blessings, the God that pours into me, I stretch out every palm and reach for every drop. My desert floor is cracked from cancer and death and failed friendships and suicide and broken families and too little time. But even on that barren dirt, the rain still comes. Through the cracks, plants grow, flowers bloom, and they suck in every ounce of life. I’m stretching along with them.

And I am alive.

 

Coming Home

Here’s the conclusion I’ve come to. My college, my dorm room, even the beautiful city surrounding me is not my home. Because my college, as wonderful as it usually is, will only be my college another year. My room that holds my homemade quilt and desk full of sticky notes will be empty by May. My roommates who share that room with me, the girls I call two of my closest friends, will eventually move out, get married, live their own lives just as I hope to.

Ultimately, I refuse to refer to my current address as my home because I refuse to let my home be temporary or conditional. And I don’t think I understood that until I realized how much I ached for the rest and stability that only comes with the place that my family is.

Here’s what my home looks like.

My home looks like my mother driving an eight hour round trip to bring me back with her. Me crying thinking of the Winne the Pooh quotes and yellow balloons she mailed me last week. Her taking me back to a green-roofed farm house with a dog and cat waiting between the white columns of the front porch she’s always wanted.

It looks little sisters jumping out from behind the couch to surprise me when I walk through the front door, the rough glitter from their cards collecting under my fingernails, my brother letting loose the comebacks and witty insults he’s been saving up for this exact opportunity.

It looks like pushing me and my sister’s twin beds together so we can watch Netflix under her flannel blanket and me rolling on top of her in her Batman onesie to wake her up in the morning, her groaning and whining and laughing all at the same time.

It looks like me riding shotgun in my dad’s pickup, the two of us driving through the trails behind the house, searching bare, blurring trees through the open windows, not even minding the country air hushing in. He parks the truck when he reaches the back corner of our 60 acre, snow-sodden meadow. When he slides out, I follow. He is walking, studying the slender dips in the snow left by deer, and I am close behind. Carefully placing my own boots to echo the manure stained prints his have left.

We don’t speak. There is only the rough scratching of his carhartt coat and the crinkle of wild grass being crushed further beneath our feet. The pine and January air making breaths sharper in my nose. We don’t hurry. We just take in the openness that, for now, is our own. The uninterrupted sky that’s started to dim, this overlooked landscape that has kept its stillness for decades.

This here is our moment. This land is our land. And in this place, in this time–everything about it is my home.

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Photo: Emma Sweere