The challenges of writing a blog on Thanksgiving are obvious. If I write about all of the things I’m truly grateful for, it will be cliché. If I go the humorous route, it will seem flip. I briefly, for example, considered laying bare my very real life-long obsession with the wives of Henry VIII. During this crappy year, I’ve been deeply grateful for the incredibly bad, soft-porn, and remarkably inaccurate Showtime series based on this Tudor chapter. The abject lunacy of casting hunky charmer, Jonathan Rhys Meyers, as the syphilitic, morbidly obese tyrant never got old. Each episode distracted me from my woes for a full hour. It was like cinematic vicodin.
In general, I am good at being grateful. It takes practice. And I learned how during the late eighties when I lost a lot of friends to AIDS. I have never stopped feeling damned lucky that I have lived this long and that I have lived well.
Two of the newest things I’ve added to my mental gratitude journal are the high desert and knitting. Knitting deserves its own blog, but I’d love to share a little about my newfound love: the high desert.
Two years ago, we wanted to get out of town for a for the boys’ spring break. The snag was a familiar one to our family of four. We had virtually no money in the bank. Roughly a month before that spring break, in a preemptive attempt to stop our financial bleeding, Pat and I had voluntarily closed all but one of our credit cards at a substantially reduced APR. So whatever we chose to do, we had to be able to cover in cash. Fiscally smarter people would have forgone the family adventure altogether. But Pat and I have come by our challenging financial situation honestly. We’ve earned it -- by consistently placing a higher value on fun and togetherness than economic security. I am aware that it’s possible to achieve both and this will be our mission after the ridiculously ill conceived, but totally awesome, trip to India.
Pat and I trolled the Internet, narrowing down our options for the couple of weeks leading up to spring break. We asked friends for suggestions, all of which were too rich for our blood. A spa at Ojai? Not if we wanted to sign the kids up for soccer in the fall. A couple of nights in downtown Santa Barbara? Not if we wanted to replace the queen mattress that kept poking Pat and me in the ass every time we rolled over in our sleep. Then Pat had a cheap and brilliant idea: A national park.
Joshua Tree National Park is a couple of hours from our home in Los Angeles so our beater car could most likely survive the trek. Pat and I had been there before we had children, and had found it beautiful but we hadn’t explored it thoroughly (we probably explored the hotel Jacuzzi more). We thought that the boys would love climbing over the monolithic rock formations and looking out over the arid landscape inhabited by hundreds of freaky Dr. Seuss-like trees. Not to mention jack rabbits. The campgrounds were full up, but Pat found a cheap rate at a joint called The Safari Motor Inn, and booked us for two nights.
Then, nine-year-old Spencer loved categorizing pretty much anything. When he walked into our room at The Safari Motor Inn, he cheerfully declared it, “Definitely third class.” The window faced a fence of corrugated tin, there were a couple of mustard packets left in the mini fridge, the bathroom faucet yielded only scalding hot water, and the thin walls did nothing to dull the sound of four migrant workers sharing a room and a couple of bottles of tequila next door.
In other words, it was perfect. The room, and the fact that our transmission crapped out on the drive home, will become parts of the story that will be embellished and retold by all of us for years. I know this because I grew up with such stories. My parents were teachers overseas, intellectuals deeply suspicious of money, who thought nothing of holing up in a basement room of an ersatz hotel in Amsterdam (where were the other guests?) while spending our days visiting Anne Frank’s house, the red light district, and four star restaurants.
The room, the motel, and its environs were their own brand of incredible, but it was Joshua Tree, itself, that took our family’s collective breath away. I had loved camping in the Sahara when I traveled on my own to visit Keir a year earlier. At night, the sky endless, black, and sparkly -- making me feel completely safe and profoundly connected to millions of years of existence. Joshua Tree is more habitable, as evidenced by the plentiful animal life and tufted trees. But it has its own majesty. The Sahara had made me feel small and perhaps that’s why I had felt safe. My existence, after all was puny and therefore unimportant to whatever punishing forces might be loose in the universe. In contrast, Joshua Tree made me feel significant. A part of everything. I got strength from the rough terrain. Climbing the boulders and breathing the sharp, clear air, I felt capable. Renewed. And, yes, grateful. Now, I go there whenever I can.
There can be great literary jeopardy in attempting to explain what is essentially ineffable. So I will leave off rhapsodizing any further. I am foolish about many things, but when it comes to writing I know that my reach should not exceed my grasp.