Mojave Desert writing workshop heals after coronavirus pandemic – San Bernardino Sun

By Ruth Nolan | Contributing Columnist

“And then, just past that moment when the desert has become the only reality…” – Joan Didion, from “Slouching Towards Bethlehem”

It’s hard to tell, when looking out across hundreds of acres of pristine Joshua tree forest and rocky hills in a cherished Mojave Desert place on a warm October morning, that the world has been shaken to its core by the ongoing coronavirus pandemic. In a social landscape that’s been so radically altered in less than three years, there’s something about this setting – the panoramic from the floor to ceiling windows of the Joshua Tree Retreat Center’s Friendship Hall, a mid-20th century architectural stunner designed by Lloyd Wright that both challenges and soothes.

And here we are, a small group of writers gathered on a Sunday morning for my new community-inclusive, cost-free “Scorched Earth: Monsoon Eco-Poetry Writing Workshop.” Among us, there are a few longtime desert locals from Joshua Tree as well as two new residents moved recently from Los Angeles. Others have come from as far away as San Bernardino, Inglewood, and Washington. It’s amazing and a bit overwhelming to gather in person to write and share our poems and bits of prose, instead of online on Zoom.

It was windy earlier, and now it’s not. A Santa Ana wind was predicted, but it has calmed. The pink and rusty tones of the many rocks in this building murmur as the morning light warms them; all the rocks in the Retreat Center’s many buildings were gathered from a quarry nearby, and so they are as much a part of this desert place on this lovely morning as we are. Similarly, we are here to imbibe in the transformational powers of the desert to mine for words to help us create poems that touch comfortingly on the familiar and bring us safely into the here and now.

Ruth Nolan grew up in the Mojave Desert and now teaches creative writing at College of the Desert. (Photo courtesy of Pablo Aguilar)

We are all forever changed, and the desert is too. Epic drought in 2020 brought record-breaking heat and a wildfire destroying 43,000 acres of pristine Joshua tree woodlands. In this past summer, weeks of flash flooding ravaged washes and roads, bringing soothing rain and a rare fall wildflower bloom. From ongoing grief and loss to unimaginable renewal and beauty. How do we process it all, and how do we find our footing again? The Mojave Desert, experienced viscerally in all the glory of its needled light, and creatively as a poetic device with agency to invigorate and shed meaning on the inexplicable, offers us tools to do so.

We will take our cues from samples of excellent desert writing:

John Steinbeck: “…And there are true secrets in the desert. In the war of sun and dryness against living thing, life has its secrets of survival.”

Sylvia Plath: “We swelter like firedogs in the hot wind…”

Beckian Fritz Goldberg – “No matter which way / I turn, the desert stretches out, / content….and the whole pillow exhales its creosote / its turpentine bush, / and even moonlight full of strange silhouettes and valleys.”

Pen to paper, and time to write, following brief introductions and acknowledgements of the disruptions and losses and changes inflicted by the pandemic. The circular building we’re gathered in nourishes and holds us in a supportive cradle that’s complemented nicely by the energy of a jagged desert wilderness a window’s width away.

This, from participant Cindi Anderson: “Desert summer. Yes, these are dog days: too hot to move. And yet the nights come alive. But all nights become day again. And the swelter begins anew. The circle continues.”

And these words penned by Ricardo Chama: “Estaba solo, reflexionando en el medio de la nada, imaginando atardeceres, observando el horizonte que lentamente se retraía frente a mis ojos.”

Cindy Rinne wrote, “Great-horned owl / Twists neck / Spikey heat / Cactus words.”

Source link

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *