Life in the desert

This week I’d planned to post the third and final piece about In Transit / En Route, the art installation I created in the woods at Glen Villa. I will post it, but not today. Instead, I need to write about where I am today, which is California. Visiting friends in Palm Desert, I find myself overwhelmed by an unfamiliar landscape, vegetation I can’t name, and questions I can’t answer.

Is life in the desert this?

A golf community in Palm Desert: a manicured course, green greens and water everywhere
Or this?
Joshua trees in the Mojave desert

An obvious answer is, both. Plus many more things that don’t offer as stark a contrast.

I’m finding it hard to get my head around life in this part of the world. The dry spareness of an untouched desert landscape appeals to me, as does lounging by the pool. Gardens that use only dry-climate plants are a challenge. I want to like them but in truth I find them prickly and a bit off-putting. Is it only because they are so unfamiliar? They certainly make me understand the underpinnings of Islamic gardens. And it isn’t even hot here now.

In the garden at Sunnylands, formerly the home of the immensely wealthy Walter and Leonora Annenberg and now a public garden, the cacti are beginning to flower. I’m told that the whole desert blooms after a rainfall. I haven’t seen that — the sky has been the shade of cloudless blue you find only in technicolour films from the 50s. Who knew it could be real?

It’s easy to criticize the irrigation systems that make golf course life possible, yet easier still to enjoy the benefits.

The local economy seems to depend on tourists and the visitors who buy the houses and spend the cooler months here, away from snow and slush farther north.

I’d like to understand the balance. I’d like to think there is one. But I’m not sure what it is.

A natural balancing act