Friday at 6AM I receive a phone call. It’s a wrong number, so I roll over and try to go back to sleep. I think of how many times I’ve had to get out of bed at this hour and shuffle off to work, before this new retirement gig kicked in. Such a blessing now to watch the almost full moon sneak past the skylight as I lay in bed. But soon I get to thinking that I should get out of bed anyhow, since I’m awake, and have not touched this journal for a week. So much life can slip by in a week without me hardly noticing or paying attention. I forget that keeping a journal helps me stay focused and remain engaged with the land of the living.

My wife and I spent a week watching two dogs for friends who live in the southern California desert, Rancho Mirage–just east of Palm Springs–to be exact. I thought that I had spent time in Palm Springs in my younger days, but when I arrived there last week it all looked new to me. The town of Palm Springs looked somewhat familiar to me, but I don’t remember the big mountains. And I don’t remember so many palm trees. I remember the hot wind blowing dust into my eyes for several days and me wanting to go home to the beach. This past week was much different. We stayed in a large home while we watched the dogs. The over-sized home sits on a desert hilltop in a locked-gate community.

Only after gaining entrance through a courtyard gate and the heavy, mission-style front door did I get to see the grand rooms, the large abstract paintings hanging throughout the house, and a lot of luxurious furniture and decor. I preferred, however, to stay out in the backyard of the house. The October air was exotic. Temperatures in the high 80s and low 90s during the day, with a view from the covered patio acrossed an infinity pool that reflected the Santa Rosa and San Jacinto Mountains. I am so accustomed to being outdoors, and when I found the weather that agreed with me, I saw no need to be within. Besides, the house was full of stuff, and in my more recent years I have been trying to rid my life of stuff. I have emptied my own house so that I might feel more free from the material universe. Dishes, pots, vases, rugs, towels, books, wooden boxes, flowers, tables, lamps, sculptures, statues–just so much stacked deep and everywhere with little restraint–makes me feel like I’m living in a second-hand store rather than in a refuge from the madness of the world.

I spent most of the week close to the pool and to the outdoor natural gas fireplace. It was where I belonged. In the mornings and early evenings I would sit by the fire and watch for coyotes and bighorn sheep that might be walking around on the mountainside. I never did see any big animals. I saw a lot of moon, setting sun, brilliant sparkling Mars, and when in the dark I could watch the Palm Springs tramway going up and down cables from the summit to the valley. The first day that we arrived we rode the tram. I had heard that the view was fantastic and I did not want to miss it, so we paid the twenty plus dollars each to ride. As the tram slides up the mountain, the car in which I was standing would slowly rotate so that I could see in all directions. From on top of the mountain, I could see the Salton Sea and all the little towns along Interstate 10 that comprise most of the population of the Coachella Valley.

We toured some of the art galleries of El Paseo in Palm Desert. The paintings I saw made me realize how much more conservative the galleries are in Carmel. These were mostly abstract, on large canvases, with bright colors, and seemed as if they had been painted not to provide comfort and delight, but to be shocking and sensational. They were fun to look at, but would be tough to live with. I recognized the work of one of the artists because I had seen several of his murals hanging in the bar and lobby of a large hotel in San Francisco, where I had attended a conference in April. I don’t think these paintings are meant to be hung in people’s homes, but in public places. Looking at them made me want to take up my brushes once again. I would like to paint the desert pastels.

Also in the town of Palm Desert, I visited a garden of extensive design, which included zoo animals and a model train town. The place is called “the Living Desert”. I could spend all day there, just looking at desert plants from around the world, but three or four hours of walking in the heat made me weak. I find cacti and desert succulents to be so interesting to look at because of their odd shapes, which are so much different than what I see in the redwoods. I want to return in the spring when flowering is more intense. The Baja section of this desert garden reminded me of adventures in Baja in my younger days, when I would drive down to the Sea of Cortez to camp and go sailing. It’s nice to know that you are relatively safe from harmful critters as you go walking through these cactus lands in the park.

The drive home from Rancho Mirage is nine hours. The freeways of Southern California move the traffic better than I thought they would. I am glad I do not frequent my days on them, however, because the amount of heavy population in the area makes me feel both tiny and rushed. Once north of the Grapevine, the long mountain pass that confines the growth of Southern California, I breathed a little bit easier, knowing that I would not get caught in any major traffic jam.

Yesterday I awoke to rain. I didn’t like the feeling of rain after being in the hot desert. It was a comedown for me. All day in this land of the gray I thought about sunny Rancho Mirage, and wondered when I might return.

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