Several years ago I visited Death Valley National Park in California. I had been to the Southwest as child, to Arizona, on a couple trips with my parents. I hadn’t much liked the harsh, empty landscape then, the reddish brown dirt and rocks, mostly barren of trees and shelter, and the almost painful blue brightness of the open sky above.
But I hadn’t seen anything like a real desert yet, or at least what in my mind I’d imagined that word entailed. I found one there in Death Valley, with its golden sand dunes, chalky salt flats, and seemingly endless, wide-open spaces stretched between mountain ranges, with little to interrupt the horizon line from one peak to another.
When I first saw the landscape there, I felt a strange mix of awe and wonder and desolation. I had never been to a place that felt so alien, so empty, so alone.
I soon learned the desert was not empty. Life was simply different there, and you had to look a lot harder, or closer, to find it. Under the glare of the sun and lack of rainfall, few living things grew tall or got big. Animals, insects, and plants had evolved to match their environment (as you would expect them to), and they marched to a different drummer in such a unique place.
Although I can’t say I would want to live there, I would like to go back some day. When I look at the pictures now I remember how much I came to admire the difference of it, the clean spareness of the terrain, the rainbow of shapes and colors painted by the abundant sunlight.
Just like people – and so many other things – different can sometimes seem too different at first. Until you spend time there, see it up close, stand and listen, with open ears, to the story it alone can tell you.