Permanent Acquisition


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?

104 thoughts on “Permanent Acquisition

  1. What a gorgeous place! I think every place I’ve lived took a piece of my soul so that i still feel at home when i go there. Though no place has yet to ensnare it the way the desert did your Aunt.

  2. I have taken hundreds of pictures of that church, but have never captured it like you did. Totally wowed! Especially the dome surrounded by the blue sky. Did you use a filter or colorize that?

  3. I love that your aunt had an enveloping smile–I love that description. The shot that took my breath away here is the second to the last…through the archway.

    Where is yours?

    Without a doubt, the Highlands of Scotland.

  4. Dear Bella, these are so beautiful photographs… Fascinated me, especially these church photographs… Thank you dear, where is mine… should be in the Aegean region and at the Mount Ida, for me… With my love, nia

  5. Your beautiful photos and story bring your aunt and the desert to life. Somewhere in the Pacific Northwest, maybe around the Puget Sound is home to my soul. But anytime I go to the desert, I feel at home there. My soul is partial to both – maybe I’m a bit of a wandering soul for now. Someday, I’ll probably be one of those Washington birds that migrates to the Southwest for the winter.

  6. I just adore this and your aunt sounds like a wonderful woman. To know such a person…. Beautiful photos too. I don’t know where my soul belongs to be honest. I know my heart does not sing where I live now. It’s high desert, and indeed so beautiful in many ways, but my heart just does not sing, like it has before. And that is a hole that just bores into me. Great post!

  7. “She had a big smile that might have been prettier with dental work but was beautiful as it was because it was enveloping.” That made me smile and get a warm fuzzy. The simplicity and genuine nature of a natural smile.

    Your words are wonderful, and the pictures are stunning, Bella. I love the white against the blue.

  8. Your pictures are stunning, I am particularly amazed with the deep blue colour in the sky. Your grandmother seems to have been a person with much wisdom and insight. The place where my soul is connected? I don’t know, I have been to too many place I feel connected to, to actually be able to pick one.

    • Thank you Munchow. I think some souls are connected to exploration……and if that is the case with you, I am glad you share part of it with us through your beautiful photography.

      • Thank you for the lovely words. And your insight about what may connect a soul. I think you are right, I am never tired of exploring – be it life or places or facts or … When something becomes routine, I am on my way to the next project. Some will call it restlessness or even irresponsibility, but that is how I am.

  9. Loved your photos and they helped you tell the story of your Aunt’s choices. I can see why she loved it so.

    My heart still wanders through the prairie sage on my family farm, one 5 generations have called home. I love to put my face into the wind and feel the dry, lonely air kiss me hello …

    Your writing took me right there; thank you.

  10. Lovely again, Bella. Your photos of the cactus flowers are exquisite.

    I have made a few sojourns there myself, mainly to take pictures (albeit nothing like yours) and just to take in the ambiance of that vast artistic canvas. Also been known to drag along my golf clubs since desert golf is among the most picturesque of all.

    You must have been disappointed when you found out your aunt didn’t really “own” the desert. But it’s nice of God to let you come back to visit.

  11. buddhafulkat has the same response I do. I have deep roots in the PNW and unspeakable depths of love for its mountains, water, forests and plains–a place of seemingly infinite variety in the relatively small size of a single state–but I have fallen equally deeply under the spell of a number of other places, from city to country and from rugged to refined. I think I would wither if I had to choose only one! Your aunt was so fortunate to find a place that held such power over her and filled her with such a sense of rightness, and I think you captured much of the reason why in your photos and text here, so clearly you understand that same deep affinity. Aren’t we fortunate that it’s such an astoundingly rich Place, this collection of infinitely diverse places, our world? 🙂

  12. Lovely. I have never been to Arizona but will go someday. I think I would love the desert.

    I love where I live. Central California. My father was in the Army so we move a lot. Family came from Calif. and whenever we would come home to visit, it truly WAS home to me. That is why I live here now and can’t imagine loving anywhere else as much.

  13. I think my favorite out of all the great photos was framing the church in the arched doorway. I felt like I was sitting on a step, watching the day turn into afternoon. Thanks for the trip.

  14. Gorgeous photography. The heat radiates off and warms me up a bit here. I love the desert, too. I could live there easily.

  15. An altogether beautiful beautiful piece, Bella!
    The place that arrests my soul isn’t one, but many. I’ll name though just one…stand among the ancient redwoods…on their ancient needled soil that cushions your footsteps, swallows all sounds…hear the sacred hush, breathe the breath of those majestic soaring red-barked trees and you’ll have just received a blessing that never leaves.

  16. Lovely pics. The first time I saw the desert was shortly after we moved to California – I thought of a desert as nothing but sun and sand dunes and when we visited Joshua Tree, I could scarcely believe how much diversity of life I found there. I’ve been enchanted by it ever since.

  17. Beautifully done. Great post. I hope all my comments are some how similar; but in reality all your posts contain so many beautiful photographs and words that, nothing else comes to my mind after going thorough your posts. 🙂

  18. I love the green of the cactus, the blue of the sky, the white and gold. I always love the feel of traveling west, crossing the hill country, the mountains in the horizon, the white sands, painted desert and meeting all the varied land forms. I can see why your aunt claimed the desert. Beautiful photographs.

  19. Your pictures lately have been so stunning that words seemed to be unneccessary, yet yours are once again poetic. Places definitely speak to me and I’m so glad to hear that your aunt found hers.

  20. The deep blue clear skies in contrast to the pure white walls are just stunning. The different cactus in bloom, just beautiful. No wonder your Aunt never left. It’s a special place that will hold you spellbound. Thanks for today’s inspiration.

  21. I am fascinated by the saguaro cactus. So slow growing and stately! When we are driving towards Phoenix, we always keep an eye out for the first big saguaro along the highway. If I remember correctly, it is fairly near the sign for Bumble Bee Arizona.

  22. I love how you put that! That’s just what I say – that I left part of my soul on a little island, covered with scrubby trees, in the middle of a pond, in the middle of the mountains in the Connemara region in Ireland. It’s the header picture on my blog, but my picture doesn’t do it justice.

    Wish I had the equipment and the talent that you showcase, oh so prominently, in your beautiful pictures.

  23. The place that speaks to my soul is the Caribbean: the translucent water, the coral heads, the colorful fish. I thought your photo of the mission was so perfect, it looked “fake” and I don’t mean this in a rude way, but so crisp clear. Funny how different locations can speak to people in different ways.

  24. The mountains, hands down. I ♥ the San Juans in particular, and the Rockies. I’m from the midwest and have been in the desert for 16 years. If we weren’t so close to the mountains, I’d really pitch a fit to move out of here. The desert doesn’t call me like it did/does your aunt, but for me, the siren calls from the mountains………..

  25. Beautiful images, and a beautiful memory of you aunt! – My mother moved, as a young bride, to the Rockies from the East Coast over 40 years ago… She stays because it is where we, her children and grandchildren remain… But she still would not call the mountains beautiful – grand, aweing, magnificent… but not beautiful. – Isn’t it fascinating how we experience the world?

  26. As you know, Bella, I love the ocean and always have. But one time we drove from San Antonio to San Diego and drove spent the night in Tucson. The next morning we got up early, before sunrise, to head west again before the heat of the day. We stopped to have our picnic breakfast by the roadside and watched the sun come up over the desert, and I thought then that the desert was as beautiful and peaceful as my ocean. Loved this post of yours.

    • I can understand how you love the ocean… is a big draw for me too. I am glad you shared your memory of breakfast on the roadside at dawn…….sounds wonderful. Thank you, always, Comingeast.

  27. Once again and always your writing and your photography are breathtaking! I don’t know which place has captured my soul, but your blog certainly has.

  28. Winsomebella, I think your blog is phenomenal and that you should collect the posts to have printed into a book. I would buy the book immediately – really. I have been given the Versatile Blogger Award by Kate Kresse of Believe Anyway, and because I have such a strong feeling about your work, I am passing it forward to you. The details are in my blog post called “Promoting Pride in Blogging.” Even if you don’t want the award or you have received it numerous times before, this is another way I can tell you how impressed I am.

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