Desert Child

I am a child of the desert, and it is in the desert that I am happiest. This is one of the reasons I have found myself enchanted with life here in Outback NSW. The country speaks to me. I frequently find myself stopping while working and just looking around, a smile spreading across my face.

In many places here I can see for miles, the landscape spread out before me. The dirt here is a wonderful red color that is so different from the brown of the Mojave. The iron stone is an even darker red, almost the color of dried blood. The scrubs and bushes and trees are an amazing assortment of greens. The grasses are a bright golden that shines in the sun. Twisted and sparse mulga trees dot the landscape alongside leopard bark and other eucalypts. The rocks and boulders that cover the few hills add a bit of white and black, and make the terrain even more rugged. The colors are amazing.

The sky goes on forever, a huge expanse of the most beautiful bright blue that fades to almost white on distant horizon. It’s the kind of sky one could loose them selves in. Clouds of all types come and go from day to day. Sometimes they are the fluffy white clouds that make you want to lay on your back and stare at them while matching their shapes to objects, like I did when I was a kid. Some days they are the thin wispy clouds that are so similar to the ones that come to mind when I think of my many drives through the southern California desert. Some days there’s nothing but grey as the thick clouds fill the sky, and some days there are none at all, and the sun shines in all its glory.

All of this beauty pales in comparison to the desert sunrise. Nothing I have ever seen can rival its majesty. The black of night slowly gives way to dark blues, and bright oranges. As it gets lighter the orange gets lighter and lighter as the sun gets closer to rising. The dark blue is chased away by the light blue of day as the sun begins its ascent. If there are clouds in the sky the oranges are joined by bright pink. The colors are spread and magnified as they are captured and reflected back. Dark outlines of trees dot the dark landscape, giving it texture and a sense of depth. It is a majestic scene that is beyond my words to describe. Even the pictures we take do not fully capture the beauty. One just has to see it to truly understand.

At night the sky is just as pretty. From horizon to horizon the sky is bursting with stars. The constellations are clear and the Milky Way is a bright splash across the black canvas of the night sky. Often we lie out on the grass, a blanket covering us for warmth, and just stare up wards at the heavens. It always makes me feel both small and some how connected to the greater world. In those silent moments I can almost feel the worlds energy pulsing through me and with me. It is pure magic!

The desert here seems so alive. At night the frogs and the geckos come out to eat, their long tongues shooting out with lightning speed to catch their prey. They crawl across our windows and hop across the kitchen floor. Huge moths and other flying insects clatter at the windows trying to get to the light emitting from within. The praying manta and other carnivorous insects come out to hunt as well.

During the day the kangaroos hop slowly around the country, some times bending over to eat the stubbly grass and some times standing up tall, their ears erect, surveying their domain. When they decide to move, they are amazingly fast. Their tails straight back and their body weight forward, they leap and bound with spectacular grace and agility. During the warmest parts of the day they can be seen laying in the meager shade of the scrubs and trees. They look so relaxed, so at home, like a creature that is exactly where it is supposed to be. It always makes me a little jealous. The emus strut their way around as well, their heads bobbing up and down and back and forth. Their tails and side feathers bounce like a frilly skirt when they run. Though they look so ungainly they are amazingly quick and agile. They are also perfectly colored. They blend in amazingly well with the surrounding desert, and are often difficult to see when not moving. Occasionally a rabbit or a family of feral pigs will pop out of the bush and sprint away from us.

Two of my favorite sights here are without a doubt a pair of birds that look like they belong in the rain forest. The Gallah is a short beaked, round headed parrot-looking bird with a white back and a bright crimson belly. The contrast between the colors is both startling and gorgeous. They often fly by in groups ranging from two to a hundred. They are beautiful birds. The other is the Major Mitchel Cockatoo. It looks similar to the sulfur crested cockatoo we all picture, with bright white feathers on its head, back, and wings. Rather than a bright yellow crest, the Major Mitchell has soft pink feathers on its belly and the under side of its wings. They can often be seen sitting in trees in twos and threes or flitting about near the roads. They are a marvelous bird, and unlike their more common cousins, do not have an ungodly shriek of a call. Many other small birds dart and flit about the house, eating bugs and building nests.

There are numerous birds of prey that inhabit the daytime skies. The wedge-tailed hawk can often be seen almost hovering with its wings spread wide as it uses the wind to stay aloft, its wedge shaped tail moving like a rudder. Though all the birds are big, with the exception of the emu, they are all dwarfed by the massive gold and black-feathered eagles that call the area home. The first few times I saw one I thought I was hallucinating. The creatures are big when standing or perched in a tree, but when they spread their wings and take flight they are down right massive. They are both amazing and a little scary to watch in flight.

Of course the desert has its difficulties. The weather can be unbearably hot in the summer and can be both hot and frigid in the winter. Dressing from days where the temperature can change from bellow freezing to above 90 in the sun can be a challenge and having to put on sunscreen constantly can be a huge pain. The wind can frequently rip through the dry landscape kicking up clouds of dust and grit that gets in your eyes and mouth. The dirt here is amazingly fine. It gets in everything. It is notorious for clogging the air filters on cars and damaging engines. When it does rain, the dirt turns into the stickiest mud I have ever seen. For a couple days after a major storm the roads are un travelable and mud pits lurk for weeks waiting to snare the unwary driver. It has snared our truck twice and we almost lost our boots trying to dig ourselves out. Water is always a precious commodity and one often has to be careful to conserve it. The heat and the cold and the dust and drought can all be major problems. Despite the challenges, to me the desert is still an amazing place.

To many the desert is an ugly, sun-scorched land. To me, the desert is home, a place of warmth and happiness, whether it be here in the outback or back in California where I spent my youth. In my mind, there is no place as beautiful as the desert.


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