Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Praying for Rain

Gorgeous shot at Dead Horse State Park, Utah

On our way to a family reunion in Yosemite, my husband, kids and I camped at Dead Horse Point near Moab, Utah. Despite the beauty of the painted rock and the gravity-defying geological formations, it’s still in the desert. It’s still a monument to deprivation.

When we arrived at the campground late that afternoon, it was 102 degrees under a cloudless sky. Everywhere we looked, there was more rock than vegetation. The sun had bleached what little grass there was. The only shade available was inside the visitors’ center and the outhouse, or beneath the tarp my husband strung up against the sun.

After we set up camp, we joined a ranger and other campers for a short hiking tour of the area. The temperature had dropped into the low 90s. The ranger reminded us we needed to drink a gallon of water every day to keep adequately hydrated. With an annual average precipitation of less than three inches—compared to Longmont, Colorado, which can expect about fifteen—it’s a wonder there’s enough water for everyone who visits.

Yet in this apparent scarcity, there is grace. I had camped in the desert before, but this time I began to understand why so many holy people retreat to the desert. The desert is always at prayer, because it is always in need of relief. Praying is more natural there.

And the prayers are being answered. A species of mouse has adapted so that it never needs to drink water. It gets all the moisture it needs from the food it eats, also in short, but sufficient, supply. The slick rock is pockmarked with tiny depressions that become oases for the animals when it does rain. As the ranger described them, I thought of angel hands cupped expectantly, waiting to be filled with whatever goodness comes their way.

That night we didn’t bother to put the rainflies on the tents. We needed every whisper of air we could get. As my body worked hard to keep cool, I slept restlessly and worried I wouldn’t be fit for hiking the next day. Around four that morning, a cloud moved over the campground, loosing a fine mist of raindrops. I rolled onto my back to expose my skin to its cool blessing before falling into a deep, grateful sleep. A raven’s fractious call woke me a couple of hours later. Back home I would find it hard to function on so little sleep. Under the desert’s spell, it was enough.

Growing up in the land of plenty, I’m accustomed to a certain amount of excess. I doubt I would ever choose to live in the desert. But I do like to visit. Camping there reminds me that I can stand the discomfort of a little want.

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