Wednesday, January 2, 2013

Floridians in California: Coral Reef or Cactus?

I've been intrigued by the desert Southwest for many decades.  I have this dream of doing a nuclear road trip:  we'd go to Los Alamos and the Trinity Test Site along with other sites and maybe a pilgrimage to find Terry Tempest Williams. 

My Christmas trip was not that trip, but it was still filled with captivating landscapes.  Even the flight from Ft. Lauderdale to L.A. was revelatory.  I could see the Grand Canyon from the sky.  Amazing.  I always forget that the desert southwest is so mountainous.  Even L.A.:  as we flew on the connecting flight from Las Vegas to L.A., I asked my seatmate, "What's that city down there in the foothills of those mountains?"

She looked at me as if I was crazy and said, "Honey, that's L.A."

I think of L.A. as a Brady Bunch setting, which in my memory is flat and filled with 70's houses, but we didn't do the television side of Southern California.  No, we headed for Palm Desert, a trip filled with many surprises. 

The first was the wind turbines.  Wow.

Can you see the rainbow in the shot below?

Now can you see it?

The shot above gives you a sense of some of the tight clusters of wind turbines.  In some places, it looked like a marching army of robots had taken over the landscape and rooted themselves in row after row.

The highlight of the trip for me was our journey to Joshua Tree National Park.  Amazing landscapes:  those rocks, the scrubby trees, the way you can see how the landscape was formed by plates of the planet crushing together.

As we travelled through the desert, I thought, now I finally understand why someone would major in Geology.  Those rocks and striations were seriously compelling!

As we continued to travel through the desert, I kept feeling haunted by the feeling that I'd seen all this before, up close.  Then it hit me:  the desert looks like the sea floor.  Look at the picture below:  coral reef or cactus?

It's a cactus, of course.  But the pebbles and sand and even some of the plants look so much like the seascapes I've seen when I go scuba diving off the Keys.

It makes sense.  The desert floor was once under water.

Again and again, I was struck by the harshness of the landscape, and how many people have crossed the continent across these landscapes, braving enormous odds, in the hopes of a better life.  I also thought about the poems of mine that have explored these landscapes, even though I hadn't ever been there.  Happily I feel like I got the details right. 

Now for future work.  I've got a poetry due date on Friday:  a response to Eliot's "The Hollow Men," which has some desert imagery in it.  I suspect my poem that I write will have some too.

Tomorrow:  What else we did on our California Christmas vacation.

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