In Chilliwack, we have so much water that we often don’t even notice it, and when we do, it’s to complain about it or boast about it. So we talk about how much it’s raining, or how good the snow is in Manning, or how high the river was running, or if the lake is too cold for swimming yet, but we don’t talk art all about how amazing it is that we actually have this rain and snow and river and lake. Sometimes a more balanced perspective can be had through contrast. I recently came back from a trip to the deserts of the southwestern US – California, Nevada, Utah – where they have all those things, but very differently from here.
Deserts are places where it fundamentally doesn’t rain very much most of the time. When the rain up here has lost its magic and the snow just seems like slush you wish would go away already, going to the desert adds some mojo back to these things. In the southwestern deserts, rain and snow fall in the high mountains and flow down as streams and rivers through vast sandstone ramparts into low valleys where they sometimes just dry up and vanish without ever reaching the ocean. In other places they made dams and drowned their cathedral canyons under stagnant, silty water. Here we have a top to our forests; there their forests have both a bottom and a top, like a bathtub ring of trees between the high alpine and the desert lowland.
All that might sound a little critical. Really I’m just setting the scene. Deserts are dry, and dry often means sunny, which encourages you to get outside. And going outside in the desert can sometimes really be more like going inside – into canyons. They sure have a lot of canyons in the desert. Carved by water and blown through by wind, abraded by sand and mud, they crawl through plateaus like snakes, with their tails high in the mountains and their heads in the valley bottoms, with scaled and unscaled arches and bridges and hollows of all kinds along their sides.
So we flew down to Vegas and rented a 4×4 and drove into the desert. We slept under the stars and on
the slickrock and drank water from bottles and hiked down canyons and squeezed through holes and clambered over chockstones. We shot the shit with bats and jackrabbits and scorpions and coyotes and lizards and ravens and owls because there weren’t many or any other people around to talk to. And we woke up when the sun rose and slept when it went down and didn’t make campfires because wood is precious and valuable down there. We were there for two weeks and hiked until our feet were sore and then some more. We got sand between our toes and up our noses and in our hair and also in some other places best left unmentioned. We didn’t bathe much and we wore shorts by day and puffy jackets by night and our lips cracked and our skins burned a bit and our smiles grew and grew and we got stinkier and hairier and less and less civilized. And then we went into town and ate pizza and drank beer and drove back out into the desert for another couple days and did it all over again.
Really it was the water there, or lack of same, that made it all possible, and it made coming back here, where it rains a lot and where our rivers run all the time and the lakes are clear and blue, that much better.