My aunt moved to the desert from the Midwest when she was a young bride. She fell in love with its sparse beauty and never left.
There must have been many a dry hot spell when she missed the snow and the rain and the humidity and the green. But she rarely left the desert.
She had a big smile that might have been prettier with dental work but was beautiful as it was because it was enveloping. She would smile and scan the horizon and say softly, “I love my desert.”
My young mind believed the desert actually belonged to her and to my grandparents and to my uncles who did own a patch of it on which they ranched and raised turkeys before the snowbirds came to be the more prevalent of the species in that place.
I have been a recurring visitor to the desert. I find it quiet and subtle and if it is not too hot, nourishing. You have to get out of your car and examine the desert up close to see and feel its life. It would be easy, otherwise, to think it drab and dull.
If you are driving south from Tucson and look to the west you cannot miss the contrast of the brilliant white walls of the Mission San Xavier del Bac against the bright blue sky and the sand colored landscape. It stands out against the desert like the single and short-lived bloom of a cactus. Long ago, the mission drew the native people in and helped the Spanish acquire souls and land when they were building an empire. Though it is old and somewhat tired, it still beckons, a relic of the power of conversion.
My aunt was converted not by a mission but by the desert landscape. She left the elm trees and the robins and the abruptly changing seasons. She walked in the desert and saw beyond her dusty shoes and watched for the errant snake and the Gambel’s quail and the Gila woodpecker who lived in a tall saguaro. If she could slip away unnoticed at day’s end, she would go to the desert to find solitude and peace and grace and inspiration. All out her back door.
There are places that acquire our souls.
This was hers.
Where is yours?