I recently drove across Inyo County, California for the first time. If you don’t know where that is, don’t worry; a lot of Californians don’t know where that is either, and many who do have never been there. There really isn’t a lot there. It’s pretty rural and desert-like. I stayed on the main highway (395), so there were lots of other parts of Inyo County that I didn’t see, mostly mountains. Most of what I did see from 395 looked like this:
I thought It was beautiful… in a desolate, dusty way, but still beautiful.
Most normal people don’t think of deserts as beautiful. Deserts are hot, and dry, and dusty, and there aren’t enough trees. I get that. But deserts have their own sort of beauty. Sometimes it is amazing that there is life at all in harsh environments such as this. It says something about the resilience of nature, as well as the resilience of humanity that there is a human population here, even if it is only 18,000 people for the whole county. Being outside in such an environment, with no sound except for the wind and, when close enough to the highway, an occasional passing car or truck, brings about a sense of humility. Highway 395 runs through the Owens Valley, one of the deepest valleys in the US with mountains on either side that are, in places, almost 10,000 feet higher than the valley floor. Mount Whitney, the highest mountain in the US outside of Alaska, is on the western border of Inyo County, visible from some points of my trip. Being around that has a way of making you feel small.
How did deserts get to be that way? Were they always like that? Sometimes it is a purely natural process; it is believed that the Sahara Desert has been dry for thousands of years. Sometimes humans can bring on deserts themselves. I had a recent conversation with a fairly new friend who is the child of San Joaquin Valley farmers. She was talking about how in this time of drought, farmers are drawing more groundwater to irrigate their fields, and it is believed that the land may reach a tipping point where the groundwater will never replenish, turning the productive farmland of the San Joaquin Valley into a desert. And sometimes deserts can be forced upon residents by outsiders being jerks, which is what happened in Inyo County. Until about 100 years ago, the Owens Valley was productive farmland and ranchland, until Los Angeles manipulated and deceived them out of their water, leading to the same result that my friend described above.
Life is full of metaphorical deserts as well. Sometimes things just dry up. Every life has good times and bad times, periods of abundance and periods of drought. Sometimes things go your way, sometimes they don’t. And just as it is with real geographical deserts, the metaphorical dry spells of life can form the same three ways. Things could fail to go one’s way by chance. Things could get difficult for someone because of their own poor decisions. And life could get rough because someone else is being a jerk.
It is in the dry times that some start asking questions along the lines of “where is God now?” The truth is that God didn’t go anywhere. No one can have everything go their way all the time. If the Owens Valley gets some of their water back, Los Angeles will have to go without. Hard times are a part of life, and going through hard times makes one appreciate the times of abundance all the more. One can only become strong and resilient through enduring hard times. In difficult times, one learns to trust God. There are no beautiful lush coastlines and forests to admire, but God’s creation and handiwork is no less evident in a desert. There are still mountains and rocks and canyons. And in the metaphorical desert, God’s handiwork is there as well. It may not be what is expected, but you and I are not God, and sometimes what we expect isn’t what should be.
Being in the desert also teaches patience. For several hours, the landscape changed little from the picture I posted earlier. But when it finally did change (in the next county to the north), it looked like this.
Waiting is part of life (the hardest part, according to a certain musician). After an extended dry period of life, it puts the abundant periods in the proper perspective and helps one remember to be thankful and count one’s blessings. So hang in there. If you’re in a desert in your life right now, look for the beauty and be patient. You’ll come out stronger in the end. You got this.