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The White Heart of Mojave
An Adventure with the Outdoors of the Desert
Edna Brush Perkins
The End of the AdventureIT was April when we returned to Silver Lake. Spring was walking on the desert. The sand and the stony mesas were decked with flowers. Great patches of California-poppies bent on hairlike, invisible stems before the wind, little floating golden cups. Blue lupins, like spires of larkspur, glistened in the sun. A four-petaled, waxy flower with a shining, satiny texture spread in masses on the sand. Daisies with yellow centers and lavender petals clustered beside rocks. A little plant like the beginnings of a wild rose tossed tiny pink balloons in the air. The shoots of the purple verbena ran over the ground, sending up little stems to hold its many-floretted crowns. Even the thorny cactus bloomed with a crimson, poppy-shaped flower.
When we went on excursions to the mountains the bayonet-leaves of the yucca guarded tall spikes which bore aloft white, shining blossoms, and the grotesque branches of the Joshua palms were tipped with brightness like lighted candles. Everywhere high clumps of yellow coreopsis rivaled the sun. Beyond the dry lake at the base of the sand-ridge which had been so terrifying on our first drive through the desert stood stately Easter lilies hung with great white bells. Easter morning we went over there and gathered armfuls for our kind German hosts. Their house and ours were abloom during our stay, for we could no more resist gathering these amazing flowers than we could resist picking up the many-colored stones. Every dish and bowl was full and tin cans rescued from the dump were promoted to be vases.
The gallant little flowers in such a stern environment! They were touchingly lovely, blooming wherever they had the smallest chance and looking trustingly at the sun. It was as though we had never seen flowers before, never really seen them.
Indeed, until we went on pilgrimage to the White Heart, we had never seen the outdoors, never really seen it. How could we not see it when the outdoors is always on the doorstep? We had thought we saw it, we had talked about it, a place for pleasant dalliance when work inside the walls was done, or a sort of glorified gymnasium to make the blood race and the heart beat faster. The outdoors is the awe-full, magnificent universe moving along, inexpressibly fearful and beautiful!
And we might have seen it anywhere! The drama is always going on with its terror and beauty. The gentlest countryside is a part of it. Everywhere the grim touches hands with the fair, storm alternates with calm, flowers grow out of death, and the fairness, the calm and the flowers are the stronger. Poets and artists know this when they step across their thresholds in the morning—whence their unreasonable joy at being alive—but most of us have to be shaken awake before we can see what is in front of our eyes.
The desert shook us awake. We had come looking for mysteries and "terrible fascinations" and found only the mystery of the old outdoors and the terrible fascination of the old outdoors. Beauty pressing around sorrow—the desert is simply a very forceful statement about that.
For the adventure with the outdoors is the adventure with beauty. And when you have that adventure the jealous walls, however engrossing their contents, and they may be very interesting and amusing and serious and exciting, can never bully you again. They have doors and windows in them and beauty is around them like a garment. You and I, unaccountably split off from the vast drama and blessedly able to be aware of it for a little while, shall we let the din and bother inside the walls, the frantic lunging at the still face of time, raise such a dust in our eyes that we cannot see?
"Beauty is truth, truth beauty—that is all Ye know on earth and all ye need to know."
Every day while we rested at Silver Lake we looked the length of the barren lake bed to the bright mirage at the base of the black mountain that was no mountain at all, and northward over sandy emptiness to the enchanted pathway leading behind the Avawatz. Fourteen of the still, bright days of the desert were strung on the endless string before we had to say good-by to our hosts and to the Worrier.
Never can we forget any of the people whom we met during our adventure with the outdoors, neither the few whom we have mentioned in this inadequate telling of it, nor the many whom we have not. They were all unfailingly kind. It was very hard to part from our guide, and nothing reconciled us to it except his cheerful promise to act as Official Worrier again. Our hostess invited us to come any time and stay as long as we liked, an invitation of which we have gladly availed ourselves.
We piled our baggage into the automobile, abandoned so long at Silver Lake, and through a whole sunny day drove away from the White Heart. The dim road led past sinister little craters that long ago spilled ugly, black lava over the hills, through acres and acres of blue lupins blown to waves like a sea, across two ranges of enchanted mountains and down into and over the white Ivanpah Valley where the heavy sand made the engine boil. Several times we left the car to walk on the savage, torn-up hills made gentle by flowers. When the noise of the engine was hushed the silence was full of the singing of birds.
In the rose and orange of evening we reached Needles on the bank of the red Colorado River, and came out of the wild and lonely place onto the great highway that joins the Atlantic and the Pacific. The sand and rock trail follows the steel road of the Santa Fe. Transcontinental trains roar past and pennants flutter on automobiles from Maine and Florida, Michigan and Texas, Oregon and California. Dust clouds roll over the edge of Mojave as America goes by. Some travelers look at her curiously, some look longingly, some shudder, some pass with the window shades pulled down. All the time she is singing on her rosy mountain-tops and in her deep, hot valleys where the blaze of the sun is white.
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