I drove a few days back, with a friend I had not seen for years, through the Pinto Basin and into the Chuckwalla Valley. She drove, which afforded me an unusual opportunity. Living alone except for Heart I am usually the one behind the wheel. On Saturday I had the chance to gawk at the desert through which we drove.
There were wonders. The Pinto Basin ocotillos are in fine bloom, and psychotropically magenta flowers blaze from every clump of hedgehog cactus, and the roadsides were lined everywhere other than the pits of washes with desert senna blooming yellow like wallflowers in a cottage garden.
The palo verdes bore sprays of blossoms, translucent yellow veils showing uninterrupted blue sky beyond. Even the desert ironwoods outside looked greener, their usual washed out olive drab leaves and charcoal trunks a bit less washed out drab.
I looked past them all to the bunchgrasses, the big galleta grass overflowing from the washes. Near my house, where big galleta is the third most common perennial plant after creosote and senna, each bunch is maybe a foot tall, with a dozen or fewer new flower stems per bunch. They bring me joy, to watch them knitting the desert together, but it is a special kind of rarefied, austere joy, the feeling that seeps in to fill the void when you give up, at long last, on disappointment.
In the Pinto Basin, though, the big galleta is lush and green, fair billowing across the smoketree-studded washes, and I fell into place with a click so profound I looked at my friend to see whether the noise had startled her.
My life is good these days. I have frustrations and sadnesses in full measure, fears and regrets, and yet I think when I look back at the full run of my life from some vantage point toward its end, the weeks since last autumn will be one of the highlights, one of the stretches of which I will say “that. That was the entire point of this exercise.”
A few weeks back I walked in the Oakland Hills, along trails I once knew well, and counted one wild plant species after another that I had not seen in years. The weather was perfect, the company even more so, and I had a moment of unnerving split perspective, like the one provided by the bifocals I have finally relented to wearing: I was suddenly seeing the world from two perspectives at once. I was in my old haunts but looking forward to future happiness, no Marley’s Chain of memory and regret dragging behind me. I was home at last and yet I was away from home, a long haul over the Tehachapis between me and the thin joys of big galleta.