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Lessons of the Desert

I recently had the most wonderful experience of hiking in the Texas desert, near the border of Mexico (divided only by the infamous Rio Grande). Big Bend National Park holds a history of cowboys and ranchers, frontiersmen, soldiers and a few surprises. It is a place of beauty and challenges, which reminds me of life and how the subconscious mind works for us (or against us at times).

Of Desert Real and in the Movies 

If you’ve ever seen the movie ‘Giant’ with Elizabeth Taylor, Rock Hudson and James Dean, you’ll know where I was hiking and exploring. The area of Terlingua, Lajitas and Big Bend have been the subject of countless westerns and other films – including ‘end of the world’ and sci-fi flicks. In the movies, it is dry and dusty and hard living – which it is, but not the extreme it’s portrayed. Without computer editing which can subtract fauna with a computer stroke, I can imagine how challenging it would have been in the past to make Big Bend desert look so bleak (I think they actually have to remove some of the fauna). What I mean is that there is a lot of life in the desert that doesn’t get shown on film. While I did see a dust storm, I never saw a tumbleweed (a required part of everyday life in the movies) – the tumbleweed would have been stopped by the agaves, yuccas, junipers, sotols, nolinas, mesquite… you get the picture. While there were real dangers (dehydration being the worst), there was life, in all its glory, there.

So the movies don’t tell the whole story – they focus on the harshness and possible death (which was there), yet exclude the lushness and opportunities that were plentiful in this place. How does this relate to us, to our lives and the way we cast and shoot our own movies? Are we creating the hard, terrible, desperate desert drama, or discovering the challenges and opportunities that coexist in the same place? If you could turn your mental camera away from the set it has been focused on, what would you see? What story would you rather be lead character in? Once you get this clear, reshooting your sequel might just get a little easier.

Of Wind and Water

All the major roads in the area followed a line of windmills – not the huge, white, modern ones which perched on the edges of buttes in the area, but the metal ones you’d imagine on a ‘western farm’. What’s so special about windmills, you might ask. One resource this area had, at times, was a strong wind. A needed resource that was more lacking in the area, was water.  The windmills were positioned over the springs of the area and pumped the water to surface oasis. Positioned every mile or two (imagine walking or riding rather than driving that distance), they would appear to nourish and provide a resting stop for travelers along the way. Because of the water present, shade trees grew and birds and animals congregated. All very interesting, but how does that relate to the mind?

The way I see it, something precious and scarce (water) was revealed by something that there was plenty of (wind). What do we have in spades that could assist us in uncovering something that we seem to be lacking. We often focus so much on what we ‘don’t’ have or aren’t good at, that we fail to realize that we have certain skills in abundance. Maybe we need a ‘windmill’ to translate – a person, some equipment, to help. For example, I have a friend who can eloquently talk your ear off about things that she’s interested in, but “she doesn’t write” and never gets her thoughts on paper. There are technologies that allow you to speak to a computer and the words are transcribed there – wind to water! And once that transformation is complete, the oasis appears…

Of Stars and Stories

The one thing about miles and miles of nothing (as well as great light management from the National Park Services) is that it can be very dark at night. I don’t know if you’ve ever experienced a really dark night with lots of stars – it is breathtaking. We were lucky enough to attend a ‘star party’ at the McDonald Observatory where we got the most amazing laser-pointer directed show of the actual sky with all the constellations by someone who actually knew the names of all the stars he pointed to!

I know Orion and Cassiopeia (who didn’t show herself that evening), but I learned of a vast number more that evening. Now my profession requires me to construct stories and metaphors to help people in the change process, and sometimes the threads that connect the story from the change are a little stretched, but I found myself challenged and delighted in trying to make three semi-bright stars into a dog, crab or other such thing. How daunting and marvelous that our minds can take such little information and make it into something complete and complex. Sometimes the ‘dots’ lined up for me – like Orion’s belt – yet sometimes I was a bit skeptical when they mentioned an intricate object in the sky. When do we draw conclusions or base stories on little to no information? When might it be best for us to trust the story and see the sights? We can be amazed by our constructs of stars, but I found that looking out into the vast galaxy was spectacular enough, giving me both a feeling of humility in my smallness, and a connection with something much larger than myself.

Of Prickly Pears and Ochatillos

I have a renewed admiration for cactus and succulents. They are amazing and, to me, can be life teachers.

Prickly Pear Cacti are lovely – they have flat pads that look like Mickey Mouse ears and, during the spring, have a delicate yellow flower. While lovely to look at, they are NOT delightful to hold. Their pads, which are a source of food and water, are covered with painful spines and thorns – some long and piercing, others small and painfully irritating. They defend themselves admirably, yet even if one of the pads is knocked off by an animal or weather, the prickly pear with regrow simply from the fallen pad lying on the ground – no special care or formality. How would we do as a prickly pear? Do we protect ourselves successfully when needed, yet transplant ourselves when situations change? I know that there are some skills of desert plants I need to bolster.

An ochatillo is a long, whiplike cactus studded with thorns. When there is a drought, they look brown and dead, but at the slightest encounter of rain, tiny leaves appear and they blossom with reddy-orange tufted flowers which are beautiful. They continue to do this depending on the weather, losing their leaves when the weather is dry and renewing them when there is moisture. To me, they are the epitome of resource managers. How many times do we ‘try’ to push through something that just exhausts us and depletes both our energy and self esteem? Maybe, instead, we can just ‘sit it out’ until there is more supportive environment where we can thrive. I’m not talking about opting out of everything, but might there be one situation in your life where, like a drought, you have no real control over it, and by conserving your personal core (physical, mental, and/or emotional)
you might emerge stronger or more quickly once the situation has passed?

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