Deer in the Desert: Scenes from the Sonoran and Beyond

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In the desert, everything awakens in autumn. I, too, feel my senses sharpen, my desire to leave the people world for the world of bewilderment. I am not to be found in the city on any given weekend, but prefer to spend my time traversing washes and slopes in search of new adventure. I become the kit fox that circles your campfire. I have a mind to run and roam, to kick up the dirt and steal some of your sanity, to lose my heart. Everything – from thistle to peak – burgeons, including my imagination and hunger for exploration and observation across the cooked basalt pavement and saguaro-laden ridges of my desert home.  This is a time of silence and recollection. There is something immensely sensual about the desert light in winter – the blues of a lover’s eyes and the painted doors of adobes – the pink hum of the mouth and tongue – the reds of embers and cool tiles – and the violets bursting through the robes of royals and the tapestries of a woman’s innermost thoughts. These colors keep me reeling in the beauty of what some people who have not experienced this home call stark. Austerity is a white walled room with no windows. Austerity is a false freedom we gobble up. There is nothing austere or dull about the desert… everything is in some form of changing light and shadow. Movement is slow but ever-present, and the landscape itself, comprised of grains and dispersed cholla, is alive with its shifting and yawning.

Lately, I have been perusing my photos from the past six years of living here in the Southwest. I feel compelled to share a sort of word journal and collage of imagination, of sites and sensual feasts, a poem to the land. Just by recollecting the moment my boots hit the entry point to a special wash or a hidden valley of water, I return. Perhaps this endeavor is also to share an intimacy of place with the reader who may never see or exist within the boundaries of this fevered land.

These are favorite moments, small time capsules and episodes of beauty that leave me forever related to this wild, immense dreamscape.

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Sunset on Babbitt Ranch, a place called Little Wild Bill… the air is starting to cool as I squint in the sun through the branches of alligator junipers. I look down to find a serrated projectile point, possibly archaic… antelopes run into my periphery, then into the horizon where something I want, an ache, awaits.

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A man walks out onto a granite lookout above Tonto Creek, near the Mogollon Rim. The black outline of rock and impending snow brings out the intensity of dark green and the hunger of deer. Who says Arizona is nothing but sand has never walked this place or seen the way a man’s shadow can look like a bird’s, like verdant hope.

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It’s July and the heat has settled into the concrete and breath of everything. I step outside to the perfume of queen of the night, those heavy moon-worshipers, illuminating asphalt, conversation and secrets. My collection of bones line the side of the house, a lovesong to death and the promise of something beyond this city, something creeping under highway metal and running towards home.

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Perry Mesa volunteer project … and down we go to the promise of an afternoon swim in the Verde River… the basalt boulders make for a wild ride as we ascend and descend, ridge after ridge. Beyond the clouds, the Mazatzals rise as stained purple tablecloths against this table of sand and time.

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Sometimes I need to drive. When everything collapses, there is the road and bad coffee, crows and absolution. Every night there are shots of whiskey and motels. What destination can find you when everything else has fallen into the sky?

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Recognition happens in a moment. I stand on an old tree stump, a cut for the coming tourist season. I look out at the river below and the climbing sacrosanct peaks of the La Platas. Snow still covers the northern slopes. The aspens are thick with their desire – those pale women stand together, afraid of being alone. I am only five minutes from my home, a little strawbale, but here is eternity and I want to become this place, these cold drifts and promises.

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This is a bad sign and I am an intruder… there are hexes and omens I ignore for a peek down into the trail. The turquoise water snakes its course, one thousand feet below. I could jump. I could be nothing. I leave but tempt the night with a quick look back, over my shoulder, to where people left for the journey of salt.

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There are times when the wild doesn’t want you. I arrive with my head full of questions, hellbent or perhaps just bent by the disease of being too much with the cacophony of hell. I did not leave it. I brought it to the top. I wave my arms and scream out from the gang of pines. There is no song for the impatient. I am a closed coffin of betrayal. The wild wants an opening.

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I am a little like coyote in my stone house with my curious eyes and smile that conceals. I am the dirt bath and the morning run through washes, behind carbon copied homes, threatening the babies of suburbia. I am not a friend. I may eat at your table and shit on your bed.

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Making fry bread and speaking of horses near Narbona Pass – this is the way to learn. There is always something to do or fix, but afternoons under the trees with my friends, laughing and preparing dinner… this is the work of women, the skirt of chance.

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There is fire. There is the immolation of this destiny. The woods will soon be gone. The animals have fled. I cannot help but stay with the anger until the ashes fall.

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I came here to know a peace. I came here to write the names of those who have come before, to gather or to bleed. I came to write poems but have been silenced many times. Already, the ravens are waiting, singing.

Returning Home

ImageI confess: when I am not out finding some new uninhabited place to become entangled, wide-eyed, and inspired, I am often at home… CLEANING. Yes, I just used the dreaded “c” word for which many woods-women like me try to avoid. But I do like to clean. Being a fine balance between nest-er and nomad, I find the ritual component of sweeping an old broom across the kitchen, wiping away layers of Sonoran desert sand and dust from the dressers, and folding freshly washed towels strangely satisfying.

I have often grappled with these disparate feelings — the urge to run unabashedly unorganized, hair and limbs akimbo, and my drive to be neat and orderly.  As much as I dislike packing all of my camping gear and checking things off a list, I get a good deal of contentment from putting it all back in place after dragging in, achy and full of grand adventures tracking wildlife or trying out a new trail.  Much like my time spent boondocking hither and yonder; there is a regaining of creative energy I experience while in the throes of my annual spring purge. I paint new colors over scuffed, white walls, combine vintage linens with French lace, bring out seasonal items that call to mind metaphor, symbolism, and the rituals of the ever-changing earth. I surround myself with the breeze of new March warmth coming through the screens and filling my nostrils with blooming orange blossoms. Indeed, this is a creative moment, a powerful opportunity to honor space, place, home, and even journeys to our favorite wildlands, as it is always in coming home that our journey most deeply resonates.

Cleaning is a nurturing act for others, but has deeper roots in self-love. Cleaning perhaps takes its most ardent form when in the cleaning, transforming, and healing of body, of self. A lot can be said of a person’s self-worth and awareness simply by the capacity for pleasure (or disdain) felt when tending to the changing of bed linens, the scrubbing of the bath, the gentle hand washing of delicate garments, and the details added to enhance the experience (soft lights, natural scents, herbal soaps). Whether one chooses this path of loving care or opts for harsh cleaners, deodorants, tweezers, and antiseptic sprays, much can be conveyed in our simple, daily chores. Again, where there is an opportunity for silent, aware, loving nurturing, there is ritual and a chance to return to our most beloved, natural selves.

Often while in the wild you will find me with a very clean camp, a tidy tent, and everything in its place. There are some valuable reasons why one should keep a clean camp – avoiding other critters interested in a free meal, for starters – and to practice Leave No Trace principles, ensuring minimal impact on the land. For me, it is more. I find home wherever I am. In my tent, I often have a few photos of loved ones, a focal point of meditation or symbolism, such as a piece of obsidian, my journals, and a good reading light. Home is where I am at the time. Home becomes the Gila Wilderness for the night, while camped next to an elk-worthy meadow. Home is Wet Beaver Creek and the cool plunge on a hot summer day, hammock in tow. Home is the back of my jeep while traveling through the Painted Desert, chasing the last crow to be lit by the purple and final light of the sun. Home is where I am from, yes. Home is where I happen to be right now.

Neatness may seem like a matter of inconsequence without further inspection. But the care and love we feel when tending to the ground beneath our feet, our surroundings, the objects and collections, and our own earthly body just may be an accurate gauge as to how we treat the earth, the wild home of other animals, of other cultures, of the unknown. In this knowledge and awareness, being home is always one’s state of being. And as Dorothy says, “There’s no place like it!”