desert

Exit 97. This year I welcome the rain.

It rained hard last night.  It was windy too.  It has been dry so far today, at least since I woke up, but I noticed when I left for church this morning that my garbage cans had been blown over at some point since I had last left the house (which was late afternoon yesterday, to get the mail).  I’ve always told people that I don’t like rain.  I don’t like being outside and having to dodge this wet stuff coming from the sky, and I don’t like the cold, gloomy feeling that comes with gray skies.  Many people say that cold, rainy days are perfect for snuggling indoors with your significant other, enjoying a cup of hot chocolate while watching movies.  Yeah… like that’s something I can relate to.  That’s as relatable to me as a billionaire telling me that he loves weekends because he can go wherever he wants in his private jet.  Of course, that’s different, because I love weekends too, but still.

This year feels a little different, though.  California has been in a severe drought for the last several years.  California has very dry summers, so most of the rainfall happens in the winter.  Some communities get their water pumped out of the ground through wells.  The high elevations get large amounts of snow in the winter, and as the snow gradually melts through spring and summer, it flows into rivers, many of which have dams and large reservoirs trapping much of the water.  Over the last few years, the water in the reservoirs has slowly drained as the mountain snowpack has reached its lowest level in centuries, and overpumping of groundwater is causing part of the San Joaquin Valley to sink.  The drying pores in the ground may eventually turn this rich agricultural region into a desert (I have written on a related topic before).

Since last summer, long-term weather forecasters have said that an El Niño weather pattern in the central Pacific has a good chance of bringing a wet winter to California this year.  December and January brought much wetter winters than the last few years have seen, but February was dry, warm, and spring-like.  A spring-like period of a couple weeks in February is fairly common in this part of California, but this year it seemed to last a little longer, bringing the total precipitation and snowpack totals for this year back below average.  Last night was very wet, though, and forecasters are predicting a wet March.

All of this talk of drought has made me appreciate rain much more than I ever did before. I am actually enjoying rain this year.  It’s kind of scary to think about a possible future without enough water.  In previous years, rain in the forecast was a disappointment to me, but this year I welcome the rain.  And I still say that my computer can read my mind… I have my music on shuffle, and this came on as I was writing this.

Exit 85. In a desert.

For the first time since I started this blog, over a year and a half ago, I didn’t write anything last week.  Actually… that’s not true.  I meant to say that I didn’t post anything.  I wrote a post for last week, but the reason I didn’t share it was kind of embarrassing.  I was about to post it, I added tags to the post, and one of the tags autocompleted, indicating that I had written about this same topic before.  So I looked up to see what I had written before… and less than two months ago, I had written pretty much exactly the same thing that I was going to post last week.  Oops.  That’s what I get for being so scatterbrained and not paying closer attention to this blog.

Then an entire week went by, and I still didn’t write anything.  It was a pretty brutal week at work.  Never again will I collect a big project two days before report cards are due.  You’d think I’d have learned that lesson long ago, but another teacher who teaches the same class I do wanted to do this project with her students, and it seemed like a good idea.  In hindsight, it was, but next year, assuming I’m teaching the same class and on the same pace, I’ll assign it about a week earlier.  The students will already know everything they need to know to complete it by then, and that will give me more time to grade them gradually before report cards are due.

I also didn’t write anything because I couldn’t think of anything else to write about.  My brain has been mush from everything going on at work, as well as lingering frustrations about life in general.  My writing has been in a desert.  And that is a feeling I know all too well from other areas of life.

Last week, I met with the pastor of one of the two churches I’ve been going to the last couple months.  As I believe I’ve mentioned before, I don’t want to rule anything out at this point, but in September I decided to look beyond the church I’ve been going to for the last 10 years.  I’m not on board with the direction the leaders want to take the church, and I feel like I don’t really fit in there anymore, because of the whole Christian bubble thing that I wrote about a month ago.  Anyway, this pastor knows a little bit about my struggle to find my place within the body of Christ, and at one point he was asking me more about where I am with God and such.  I told him that I feel like I’m in a spiritual desert right now.  I don’t really have a community of fellow believers with whom I can share my life.  Because of this, I find it more and more difficult to make time to do basic things like pray and read Scripture.

I’m not sure if there is a solution here, other than to just keep on going.  I just have to make sure that I don’t use this time of being in the desert to isolate myself spiritually.  So far, I haven’t been doing a good job of this.  But I’m just going to keep going through the motions, trying my best to reconnect with God and with others, and hoping that the desert will come to an end soon.  Because at least two of life’s other deserts seem to be coming to an end, at least temporarily.  Here in drought-stricken northern California, it’s supposed to rain off and on for the next several days.  And I thought of something else to write about.  So I’ll probably write another post in the next 48 hours to make up for the one I missed.

Exit 8. Beautiful, in a desolate, dusty way.

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:

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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.

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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.