Twenty-nine Palms

I expected to love the desert.

I was born in Twenty-nine Palms, California which is part of the Joshua Tree National Forest. 

Robert Plant wrote a song titled 29 Palms. 

I feel the heat of your desert heart
(Feel the heat of your desert heart)
Leading me back down the road that leads back to you

We left that part of California when I was very small.  I have no memory of the place.  We did drive through the Painted Desert on our way back from Hawaii, but it was night and didn’t leave much of an impression.

Thus, I hadn’t seen my birthplace since a year or so after my birth. 

I had the opportunity nine years ago to go there and I did.  I have a photo of me at what was basically the Visitors Center for Twenty-nine Palms.  For some reason, they had a metal sculpture of Cinderella’s pumpkin coach. 

I am not making this up.

I have a photo.

The Cinderella Coach was the highlight.  Well, it tied with the small oasis. 

I had expected to feel a stirring in my soul. I had expected to feel spiritually attached to the landscape in Joshua Tree.  I had expected an epiphany.

I do not have a desert heart.

I didn’t hate it.  I simply found it boring and ugly. 


Devoid of beauty. 

Give me verdant mountains, streams and creeks, lakes and oceans.  Forests. 

I had a good friend who was a serious astrologer.  She wanted to do my chart.  Where were you born?  When?  What hour and minute?  I told her. 

“Ah, she said.  That explains so much about you.”

It does?  Really?  I can’t imagine what the desert has to say about me.  It is stark and minimal.  I am overdone and ornate. It is a dry heat and rattlesnakes.  I am the storms of a temperate rainforest seething with white-tailed deer.

But then I think of Georgia O’Keeffe.  I have 3 large prints of her art on my wall.  Colorful, bold, mystical, and mysterious. I didn’t see Georgia’s desert.  I saw something different. Perhaps I wasn’t there long enough. 

My mother said she hated Twenty-nine Palms until she didn’t.  And then she loved it.  Loved the weather, the heat, the landscape.  The lifestyle.

But then she also loved Hawaii – almost the polar opposite.  I think she just loved being out of Michigan. 

My traveling companions were in awe.  My brother-in-law Roy, who I nicknamed Ansel Adams for this trip, took photo after photo.  We stayed in a cabin, and he set up his tripod trying to catch the desert night sky.

I admit that was pretty spectacular, but it was no Milky Way at Green Bank with the peepers singing and the forest rustling with nocturnal animals. 

West Virginia is my spiritual home and I’ve been trying to figure out why since I was 14 and fell in love with the place in 1974.  Head-over-heels, irretrievably in love.    Gaga about it.

I have waxed poetic about West Virginia and Appalachia elsewhere.  I won’t go into it here. But remain puzzled that the desert which has inspired so much art and passion left me cold. Give me the green hills of Appalachia, especially in the spring.  I love this time of year – the greening – when all the magic springs forth and my heart is full.

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