From 2008 through 2013, my wife, Jane, and I served as volunteers at Big Bend National Park for three months each winter/spring. Today I came across a notebook in which I had written about a snow storm there in the southwest Texas desert. It follows:
I’m sitting here in the fire-blue Ford F-150 outside the laundry facility at Panther Junction in a snowstorm equal to any large-flaked, damp downfall I’ve seen in Ohio. Where the dry brown ground was warm enough to melt it and soak it up, the snow is not sticking. But in the grasses and beneath the scrub where the previous weeks’ sun seems not to have penetrated, about an inch blankets the desert terrain. The big black male Tarantulas that ranged across sand, rock and roads in search of mates weeks ago are deep in their holes. Rattlesnakes and the coral-colored Brewster County coach-whip snakes are coiled in their dens for weeks yet. As I wait out the laundry cycle, visibility is limited to several hundred yards.
Prickly Pear cacti that yesterday looked like nude sun worshipers, today have donned white scarves wrapped around their lobes by the wind. Creosote bushes have caught handfuls of white fluff and lack only the ability to transform their palmate leaf clusters into hands to be ready for a snowball fight.
The desert, in the space of a few hours, has transformed itself from a sun-baked playground where even in winter shorts and T-shirts were a necessity to a white wonderland that makes you wonder why you left your cross-country skis back home. Once again this fierce landscape has pronounced itself ‘unpredictable.’ It has once more spoken to say, “Your being here is on my terms.”
Far be it from me to question Edward Abbey about the desert, but I wonder about his insistence that “… the desert says nothing. Completely passive, acted upon but never activating. The desert lies there like a bare skeleton of Being …” While the desert may well say nothing, it is not mute. If it is passive, it is a passive aggression, in which its own indomitable self shakes our shoulders insisting upon being taken seriously.
Need I mention that I miss that conversation, sitting here this morning viewing the dreary, rain-soaked sameness of an Ohio Spring.