A Long Post About a Poser Wandering in the Desert (and Maybe Learning a Few Things)

There are times I think I’m the biggest poser on the planet.  This past Saturday was one of them, at least at first.  I had this compulsion to get out to Anza-Borrego Desert State Park and go on a hike through Palm Canyon to the palm oasis there.  I didn’t even want to do it as much as I felt like I had to do it, and that right there should have clued me in to the fact that the whole darn escapade was going to be a series of life lessons…

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Indianhead Mountain. Palm Canyon is to its left.

The actual hike is 3 miles round-trip, but when you tack on the walk from the park Visitors’ Center to the trailhead, it’s closer to 6.  But the weather was in the unseasonably-cool low 80s, and I’ve walked that kind of distance many times.  I figured I could get away with about half of the strongly-recommended gallon of water per person since it wasn’t too hot, so I tossed a few water bottles, my camera, and my journal in a backpack, and off I went.

The walk to the trailhead is paved all the way to the campground at the entrance of the canyon, and it’s marked with signs detailing what kind of flora and fauna you might encounter on your way.  Easy peasy.  And then suddenly, you get to a sign saying “Palm Canyon Trail” with a little arrow, and you launch yourself into a vast expanse of sand dotted with creosote bushes and ocotillo.

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I bet this jackrabbit knew where HE was going!

But what that sign doesn’t say is that you’re merely on your way to the trail, not on it yet.  You have to cross a campground parking lot and pass a toilet with no doors and apparently look lost enough that a passing park ranger rolls down his truck window and asks if you’re okay, and when you say you’re trying to find the trailhead, he looks at you dubiously and points, and says, “You mean where those 3 palm trees are?” and you just know he thinks your poser self is gonna die on that trail.

Just past those 3 palms I found another sign warning me that the trail is HOT and DRY, and PEOPLE HAVE DIED OF EXPOSURE HERE, and begging me to PLEASE TURN BACK WHEN YOU HAVE CONSUMED HALF OF YOUR WATER.  It might as well have said, “Abandon hope, all ye who enter here,” because there really wasn’t a marked trail.  All I saw in front of me were downed tree trunks (which I later found out were remnants of palms destroyed in a huge flash flood in 2004) and boulders strewn haphazardly across the sand.  But the canyon walls formed a V shape ahead of me, so I figured it would be hard to get lost.  And I assumed the trail would be pretty clear…hahahaha.  First life lesson time!

1. Sometimes you have to learn to see in a different way.  And usually, you’re in the middle of a completely unfamiliar, potentially panic-inducing situation before you figure that out.

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Most of the trail looked like this.

Based on past hikes, I assumed the trail would be clearly signed/mapped/marked.  It was not.  I had the hardest time even getting into the canyon, until slowly, slowly, it began to register that some of the rocks weren’t so randomly placed (TRAIL EDGES! HALLELUJAH!).  And some of the palm trunks seemed to form barriers (YO! DON’T GO THIS WAY!).  And, lo and behold, there were even a few, teeny-tiny, rust-colored arrow signs tacked here and there!  It felt like learning a new language by immersion, but I started being able to see the trail more clearly…unless I looked too hard.  Then I came to a standstill.  Life lesson number 2!

2.  In a life lived by faith, if you get too bogged down in the details, you lose momentum and bearing.  Keep your eyes on the prize.

I found it fascinating that if I didn’t think too much, my brain seemed to identify the trail with no problems, and I didn’t feel panicky from not knowing where to place my foot.  I heard the Lord whisper very clearly, “Just like following me.  Faith transcends your understanding and keeps you moving in the right direction, even when you have no idea where you’re going.”  However, life lesson number 3!

3.  Don’t get complacent.  That will get you off track, too. 

A few times, I found my mind wandering and then realized I’d lost the trail.  I had to stop, get my bearings, and backtrack.  I also had to revisit life lesson number 1.

Finally, I began to see desert willows, a sure sign of water, and soon there was an actual trickle of liquid in the creekbed.  I could see palm trees ahead of me, but I couldn’t figure out how to get across a very slippery boulder.  As I shot photos and thought, a couple caught up with me and asked if I had been to the palm trees.  I had to say no, that I couldn’t get across the rocks, and I turned to go.  A minute later, I heard the woman call for me.  Her boyfriend had been able to climb it, and they wanted to show me.  Life lesson number 4!

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The seemingly-insurmountable boulder

4.  Sometimes you’ll cross paths, however briefly, with people who can figure out things you can’t.  There’s wisdom in being teachable. 

He found a way around a side I hadn’t seen, and he offered to give me a hand if I needed it.  His girlfriend took my camera so I wouldn’t accidentally drop it, and we all continued to the palm grove together.

Eventually, the couple took off in search of a seasonal waterfall, and I sat in the cool shade and wrote in my journal.  Then I began to head back toward the trailhead, and that’s when I learned life lesson number 5!

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Palm Canyon Oasis

5.  Don’t think just because you’ve been somewhere or done something once, you’re an expert.  Stay humble, and remember past life lessons as you move forward.

I suppose it was silly of me to think getting back would be trouble-free because I did lose my bearings a few times.  Nothing ever looks the same coming and going; plus, I was getting tired and hungry, and I had to pee (guess I took enough water after all?).  But I did get back, and I had such a lot to think about.  I suppose I had felt like a poser because people are always telling me how adventurous/competent/in control I am, and I felt woefully inept on this hike, even a little nervous.  But as I trekked back to my car, the Lord whispered the clearest life lesson I heard all day:

6.  Courage is not the absence of fear.  It’s approaching full-on freak-out mode and going ahead into the unknown anyway.  It’s preparing as much as you can and then trusting Me with the rest.  Good job, daughter.  Go get a taco.  And drink some more water.  You need more than you think you do.

🙂

 

 

 

 

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Blooming in the Desert: An Uneloquent Post of Appreciation

The Lord’s kindness takes so many forms.

My 2018, so far, has been full of kindness.  My situation has not yet changed for the better, but it’s as if the Lord is determined to shower me, in the midst of all the chaos and unknowns, with sweet little reminders of his affection.

  • Random strangers shouted, “Bless you!” from across the street, two different times, two different places, as I sneezed.
  • A good friend has committed to checking on me once a week, until I no longer want or need her to.
  • Facebook friends and family were astonishingly generous with their praise when I (uncomfortably) posted a photo of me all dressed up for a night out to see Hamilton with my kiddo.

Small gestures, these, but I have felt them like water on a thirsty ground.  They are reminders that I have value.

Speaking of thirsty ground, one of my favorite places in the world has been offering up its kindnesses, too: the Anza-Borrego Desert.  I discovered it in the spring of 2017, during the superbloom that resulted from unusually heavy winter rains, and it was instant love.

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Superbloom in Anza-Borrego Desert

Its 600,000 wild acres of mountains, sand, canyons, and badlands seem to whisper to my soul.  I find I can breathe freely in its wide-open spaces.  (And the night skies, oh my goodness.  The tiny little village in the middle of the desert, Borrego Springs, is an International Dark Sky Community [more info here], so there are no streetlights for 50 miles in any direction.  You’ll never find a more perfect view of the Milky Way.)  So I get out there as often as I can, sometimes to stay the night, sometimes just to take my little Renegade off-roading, but always to hear the Lord and regain a bit of equilibrium.  I dream of building an artists’ retreat there someday – there’s a robust art scene in Borrego Springs – where people can come and be inspired by the harsh beauty of the land.  And, of course, I will use it, too.

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The Milky Way from Galleta Meadows in Anza-Borrego

I was wandering around the Borrego Art Institute last summer, and I began speaking with one of the ladies who worked there.  I found myself telling her about my artists’ retreat dream, and the next thing I knew, she was showing me vacant lots all around the area.  We had an instant connection, something that rarely, if ever, happens to me, and I came away from that day feeling the Lord’s hand over me like a warm shelter.  I looked for her on subsequent visits, but I always seemed to miss her – until this last weekend.  I had a tough week and drove out to the desert on Saturday, journal, Bible, and snacks in hand.  I spent some time writing, but as the sun began going down and the winds picked up, it got chilly, so I decided to go check out the latest exhibit at the Art Institute.  And there she was at her desk.  Her cheery “How ARE you?” led to me unloading about my life, which led to her and her coworker praying over me right then and there, which then led to an invitation to her home that evening.  And when I walked in her door, it was as if I had known her and her husband my entire life (in fact, her husband had said something similar when she showed him the photo of us she had insisted on).  Soon I was covered with cats and little, yappy dogs, and a fantastic conversation ensued.  By the end of the evening, this older couple had wrapped me in a cocoon of love and total acceptance, had opened their home to me anytime I should want it, and prayed over me again.  I think that night’s sleep was the best I’ve had since coming to California.  The next morning, I got texts detailing what a blessing I was to them.

Y’all.  I barely know what to do with all this kindness, but something deep in me is so hungry for it.  I, too, am thirsty ground, and here come the gentle, soaking rains.  It feels like I have things to learn yet, but they are not harsh lessons.  I can hardly believe that I might get to learn what it feels like not to be cracked and dry.

“And yet He did not leave Himself without witness, in that He did good and gave [me] rains from heaven and fruitful seasons, satisfying [my heart] with food and gladness.” — Acts 14:17, New Pellucere Version 🙂

I am so thankful for his kindness.