In two weeks, I am headed home to the Sonoran Desert. I call it home, because it feels like home, and it was once my home. I have lived on several different continents, and often for periods of time that stretched longer than my life in the desert, but finally, home is, at least in part, where we feel most at home in ourselves.
I go back to the Sonoran Desert with, at least some, trepidation in my heart. I feel a little silly about the superstitious nature of this trepidation, which comes from, I don’t know where. Not knowing its provenance, I have absolutely nothing to back it up. But still it holds weight.
Here it is. I remember hearing once, that people go home to die. Home is where the heart is, you can always go home, you can never go home, home sweet home, home is where you go to die? Is that a thing? In his book about the American Southwest titled Blue Desert, Charles Bowden’s first sentence begins “I have lived in the Sonoran Desert since I was a boy and unless I get unlucky, I will die here”. Incidentally, or perhaps not incidentally, Bowden died in 2014 in Las Cruces, New Mexico. If my geography is correct, Bowden died some 400 miles from the Sonoran Desert, albeit in the midst of another desert. Whether or not Bowden would consider this a lucky death, I’m not sure.
When soldiers die abroad, great effort is expended in transporting their bodies across oceans so that they might be buried at home. When a plane goes down at sea, we send divers into the deep, a fool’s errand it would seem, to find their lifeless bodies and send them home. There is something about closing the circle, a circle that begins at conception and ends with death, the physical journey of one corporeal iteration begun and completed.
When I was a little girl, I watched the salmon run up Capilano river with my grandmother. I watched through a fence, my cheek pressed against the chain link, my toes butting up against the metal where it penetrated the earth. I watched as the salmon chugged upstream, their bodies beaten and tattered and covered in a quilt of scars and toughened patches. Atlantic and Pacific salmon journey annually to the place of their birth, to spawn and then to die. The circles closes. Perhaps this is where I got this idea? Perhaps this day is etched in my memory. Or rather, perhaps it is etched deeper, somewhere in my DNA, a relic of my own antediluvian past.
I was conceived in the desert, albeit not in the Sonoran desert but rather in the basin of the Mojave Desert, in a little place called Las Vegas. The Sonoran desert is the place where, as a young adult, I went to live on my own for the first time. It is the place where I fell in love with the man I couldn’t or wouldn’t marry and it is the place where I fell in love with another man who couldn’t or wouldn’t marry me. The Sonoran desert is the place where I published my first piece of writing, where I climbed a mountain, where I watched 20,000 Mexican free-tailed bats woosh over my head at once, spilling into the Tucson sky like Indian ink.
Moving to another country can be lonely, we know this-just think of all the books and movies that have been made about homesickness. But it can also be incredibly freeing. Whether or not it was the desert that set me free, or simply being 27 without responsibilities and with a student line of credit full of cash, I’ll never know. In any case, freedom and the desert will always be intertwined in my mind.
Edward Abbey, keeper of so many desert secrets, writes that the ‘comparative sparsity’ of this ecosystem is part of its mystique. He says that in the desert life is not crowded together, and that each bush and tree and herb and animal are given a ‘generous gift of space […] so that the living organism stands out bold and brave and vivid against the lifeless sand and barren rock”. I can relate deeply to this desire for space. I’m an introvert extrovert; long on the social skills but equally desperate for space. Sometimes at parties I lock myself in the bathroom and sit on the edge of the bathtub waiting for time to pass. I feel confined, constricted, trapped, squeezed by the social requirements and constant communication demands of this world. I crave a generous piece of time and space in which to stretch out, undisturbed.