Desert Dream

The last time I drove through West Texas was in 2005 as I was in transit from Berkeley to San Antonio to begin my new life, post post-doc. My car was doubling as a moving van and was crammed full with personal belongings, leaving little to no daylight between the ceiling of my car and all that I deemed valuable enough to squeeze in there with me. I remember grumbling around east of El Paso at the radio stations, or rather the lack of them. The landscape to me looked barren and dry, completely lacking in life, and I wondered how anyone could live way out there. I don’t mean how could they make a living, although I questioned that, too. I mean I wondered how in the world a human being could live so far out in the middle of nowhere with nothing but lifeless silence surrounding them? I shuddered at the thought and I couldn’t wait to get back to civilization.

Something in me has clearly changed since then. A few days ago I succumbed to an overwhelming urge to get in my car and drive, of all places, West. I had been itching to get out on the road ever since I finally sent my old Corolla, running on three cylinders, to Car Hell (May it burn there. Sorry. Don’t mean to be bitter). To take its place I chose a happy lady bug of a car, a new cherry red Toyota Yaris. It not only runs on all four cylinders, but it has AC, that works. Since that day I drove away from the Toyota dealership with my new wings I knew that it was just a matter of time before I would launch out on to the open road. Three weeks later, I woke up and said “now”.

What is it about a road trip that is so liberating? I’m going to have to think on this and get back, but for now, I just want to say that something about this trip out West has either seen a new me, or the same me has seen in a new way. Or both? I am in love with the West Texas desert. It is not barren, but chock full of life, and not just any life – life that can kick butt.  And it’s beautiful. The bursts of color that can crop up from what looks like the most inhospitable terrain are beyond amazing to me. The skies at night are enormous, dotted with the  billions and billions of Carl Sagan stars that are just not visible back in ‘civilization’.  And the silence. How did I ever think of the silence as deafening, as unwanted? The silence of the West Texas desert is one of the most beautiful sounds I’ve never heard.

I have to hit the road again, this time to head back to home. But I will return, and I can’t wait. I’ll be back as soon as I can to kick up the dirt, watch the ants, wonder at the peace and calm of the desert night, and feel ever so small beneath the West Texas night sky.

On finding a way

I’ve recently taken up an old passion of mine. Gardening. It’s one of those activities that completely consumes me. As I dig, plant, cover, water, I get lost in my thoughts. Today, as I was planting the last bursts of color in my new garden, it occurred to me how there are times in our lives when we are like the spring flower. Life events, if taken as opportunity, can spawn growth spurts. They fertilize our roots and stimulate their growth, causing them to branch and spread. Epiphanies come like new stems and flashes of insight like sprouting leaves. The outcome of this new life growth is a magnificent blossom – or maybe, with the grace of the cosmos, several new blooms.

I completed my labor of love today on this note. With mulch laid and after a little indulging in self-satisfaction for my hard work, I turned to the much less pleasant task of weeding. I had spent the last couple of weeks establishing my new garden and, despite my best attempts to keep them away, those unwanted critters had cropped up in and around my beautiful flowers. After dealing with the undesirables properly, I turned my attention to the sidewalk that framed my precious space. There they were, too, in each and every crack of the sidewalk. I knelt down and went on the attack. But, unlike the weeds that surrendered easily from the soft soil of my garden, these guys were putting up a fight. I pulled, picked and pinched at them, only to get the tops of them out leaving behind what mattered the most, their roots. Without getting up the roots they would be back in full swing within a couple of days. I continued on in my mission using a spoon to try to get at them where it counts. Despite my best efforts, I was not enjoying a lot of success.

As I became aware that I might be on the losing side of my battle, I paused to assess my opponent. I put down my weapon and got off my knees to my feet. As I stood looking at the cracks in my sidewalk, and at their stubborn inhabitants, my frown softened as annoyance gave way to a feeling of awe. In that moment I was struck by just how truly amazing the Life Force is. Life. It finds a way, always -in the most unexpected places and under the most inhospitable circumstances. Here before me was its testimony. Regardless of a lack of soil, nutrients, and even water, this life had still found a way. And not only, against all odds, did these life forms come to be, they were refusing to leave.

I stood there marveling at the miracle of it all. And in that moment I felt an immense respect for those weeds in the cracks. I admired their determination and perseverance, their resourcefulness in finding what they need to survive amidst total lack. I looked down the sidewalk at the whole lot of them. There they were, in every crack. Squeezing, twisting, reaching, just to be.

I left them there, all of them. They deserve their place in the sun, even more than my beautiful flowers. After all, my flowers had life handed to them in a silver watering can. But those weeds in the cracks, they are survivors. And their tenacity holds a lesson for me, one that I want to be reminded of each time I tend to my garden. I will always love my flowers, their beautiful colors, and their sweet, sweet scent. They bring me so much joy. But while I admire the flower, I think I’ll emulate the weed.

Still

Today I saw a beautiful youtube clip set to Peter Gabriel’s Book of Love. The video was a collection of images of old couples. They were sitting on park benches, crossing streets, drinking coffee….just being. It was a moving collage of lives well spent. These couples were together, not because they didn’t believe in divorce, or because they had grown too old and tired to opt for the alternative, but because they were in love. Still. You could see it in their eyes, in the way she held his arm, the way he touched her hand. I was moved. These people, these beautiful melded souls of God knows how long, are they a dying breed? I wonder.

I hope not.

Getting back into training

I’ve done more half and full marathons than I can remember. If I have learned anything from them it is that you have to adhere to a strict training schedule to succeed. And you have to make sacrifices. Lots of them, But, if you really want to feel that adrenaline-endorphin cocktail at the finish line, this is what it takes. The pay off is well worth it, not so much because you actually did make it to the finish line, but because you proved to yourself that you have what it takes to reach a goal. It is definitely more an accomplishment about the means and less about the actual end.

I have in the past been able to translate this mentality to my personal life quite well. It was how I made it through my grad program, which is definitely more about going the mile, not finishing it. But that was some years ago and I find that I have, somewhere along the way, lost a bit of that. Just as in running, you don’t use it, you lose it. I have before me a whole new direction in life, a new chapter. Once again, I need to get serious. I need to make the decision to do it.

And I need to get back into training.

The first thing I need to do is to trim the fat. This means watch my diet of what I take into my life each day. Get rid of the useless distractions. The internet is famous for stealing your potential energy. I need to limit my intake. Certain people can also be a source of empty calories,  providing little nutritional value while draining your energy. The old saying of “don’t make someone a priority if you are only an option for them”. Following this old adage is an easy way to skim the fat off of the social life. In the place of these bad habits of diet, I need to be more mindfully selective of what I am feeding my soul. Seek out that which spurs growth and helps to sustain me for the long haul.

These are my thoughts for the day. They’re not deep, not especially insightful. That’s not the point. I’m setting an intention for myself this day to get back into training, training for life and its next chapter. Gather all that I know from my long endurance physical feats, and what it takes to succeed, and apply. The metaphor is spot on.