Monday, December 26, 2016

Above thy deep and dreamless sleep the silent stars go by

We're spending a day in Borrego Springs before heading back to New York. Anza-Borrego was our friendly local desert when I was growing up - just two hours away across the Santa Ysabel mountains. It's there that I learned that deserts aren't desolate wastelands but laced with ecosystems of ingenious animals and plants, building usually nocturnal lives through expert use of every drop of moisture they could find. I learned to see every twig, every burrow hole, every track as a little triumph of survival. You may have heard about the miracle of Spring flowers, unrolled like carpets after rains. But the triumphant symbols of the desert community's savoir vivre are the ocotillo, whose spiny branches (twice as tall as a human being) will shimmer with delicate lobes of green if there's any water - we saw a little of that today - and glorious torches of red blossoms at top. I saw one set of buds today; perhaps there'll be more tomorrow!

Ricardo Breceda's oversize rusty sculptures of animals have arrived in Borrego since we were children, and are pleasing in their way - photogenic, certainly! But I include the picture above so you notice the sky, the last sun of day climbing over the hills in the distance. A few hours later the clouds will have sidled away, leaving a near perfect hemisphere of stars overhead. How to describe it? Malouf and Saariaho's "L'Amour de Loin," a lovesong to the sea, has this exchange:

Jaufré
(qui continue à s'agiter, et se penche au-dessus de l'eau) 
Pèlerin, sais-tu pourqoui la mer est bleue? 

Le Pèlerin 
Parce qu'elle est le miroir du ciel. 

Jaufré 
Et le ciel, pourquoi est-il bleu? 

Le Pèlerin 
Parce qu'il est le miroir de la mer!

It's a little pat, but I like it. And it's a little like what the night sky in the desert feels like, enveloping and not distant at all, stark and grand but somehow kind, and containing multitudes. Explaining the joy of living in New Mexico I used to quote a line from Willa Cather's Death comes for the archbishop - "Elsewhere the sky is the roof of the world; but here the earth was the floor of the sky" - but I'm feeling something more symmetrical, reciprocal.

How easy it is to forget the one house of being in which we all live, what a privilege (alas) to have the chance to be reminded of it.

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