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The Joshua Trees

The Joshua Trees

The road out of Las Vegas, toward California, traces through the Mojave Desert and sashays across the pan flat floor of Death Valley. As I drove it with my husband and children, we were one week closer to the cold side of spring. All around me green arms rose from the mesas of the desert. The Joshua trees, the largest of the yucca cacti, live only here, and “Ta-Da!” themselves proudly mile after mile.

Picture a long lean monkey in a Road-Runner cartoon. Picture its gyrations of escape and escapade, tail swollen and swishing high. Now freeze the monkey in mid-pose: The Joshua Tree.
At the base of the San Gabriel and San Bernardino mountains they preen above sands springing with desert gold, notch leaf, desert star, panamint daisies, and poppies – all unfolded and in full hula with the slight breeze.

We drove on and something began to build in my chest. It continued hours later, the desert long gone, as we drove past the groves of oranges, the vineyards of grapes, the fields of cauliflower and broccoli barely above dirt warm and steeping. I tried to let the know of it move from my center to my head so I could speak it. I was remembering something and could almost hold it in my hand like a young lemon rolling palm to palm.

We climbed over the oak filled hills and came down toward the central valley, my children chirping about the young sheep beside their mothers at the summit. And I felt for a moment that we were in The Sound of Music, all green and song and solid cliché. I’d forgotten about lambs for the winter. Forgotten about the chins of sheep skimming the fields, rising to chew like slow men, falling again, nostrils pink and filling with their own steamy curls of air.

Green was all around me and I shot to a picture from childhood: a horticulturalist taking us on a tour. He identified and described and showed us petals. He grasped the long neck of a Bird-of-Paradise – a thin, leggy, graceful flower that is almost a bird, almost a giraffe, almost a gentle parrot. The flower was not in bloom, rather a pod, slim and contained. He opened his pocket knife and slit the length. Then he used his fingers to pry open the slit, reached in and yanked the orange and purple spread of the flower into the air. It should have blinked then, or shivered. It looked unready, shaky. I turned away and the image never left me.

After that, for several years, I tried to force open the blossoms on our walnut trees. I’d use my finger and thumb to peel the green away, try to spread the flower. Each time the petals slipped to the ground like tiny new cards lost mid-shuffle. They’d fall away from their own center and scatter. I could never make it work – the rushing of blooms.

And so it is that I came slowly to the recognition. In California, amidst the lamb-green-snap-dragon-giddy-pony-over-open-field-frolic of spring, the feeling building in me was for what had not yet risen to the rabbit-brushed high plains of home, of Colorado.

Desire does not move spring closer. Imploring haste in matters of the heart, the spirit or the changing of seasons will only leave you with the “Is it coming?” sense of peeking around corners, of pulling your head quickly back in, before peeking again, of trying to bite hard on the “EEE!” squeal holding at the tip of your throat. “Is it here yet?” Drunk on anticipation we suffer.

We passed the Joshua Trees again on our way home. Their flowers, bell shaped and drooping like low sounds lolling slowly over hills, were silent. Each tree stood in pose, arms outstretched and pointing upward. They seemed to be heralding something – seemed to be saying, “Wait, wait. It is coming. It’s almost here.”

This day, all around the world, knees are bending. This month, all around the world, arms are upstreched in the sway of prayer. Even now, this moment, the Joshua Trees stand herald in the desert, arms spread up and out, all puffed round in green fronds. They sway also, as something passes: Spring has risen and is heading east toward Colorado. Happy day.