Monday, September 5, 2011

A Dry Desert Place

Edge of the Mojave  8" x 10" Oil on Canvas Panel
Earlier in the year I went to the desert near Littlefield, Arizona to paint. This is a different kind of desert for me. Just up the bank from the dry wash I was camped beside, I set up my 8" x 10" pochade box and did the painting shown above. Here is my set-up for that day:

Just off to my right were these awe-inspiring dry mountains. Someday I'll have to return and try to paint them:

In the two days I spent there, I explored nearby stands of joshua trees:

Joshua Trees, Cholla Cactus, and Many Other Desert Plants.
There were more varieties of cactus there than I have ever seen anywhere in the wild. Many were in bloom.

Other desert plants were also in bloom.

As fascinating as they are, several of the plants in this area are pointedly hostile. I was careful when I took a closer look at them. Even the joshua trees aren't very cuddly things.

A Joshua Tree and Me
Exploring up the alluvial slope, I walked through the joshua trees, past different kinds of cholla, barrel, and prickly pear cactus. Lizards and small birds were the only wildlife I saw. It seemed to me that the birds and lizards were also interested in me, judging by the way they seemed to watch me. Climbing down into the wash, I hiked the dry wash back toward my camp. During my return hike, I saw a curious thing in the wash ahead of me.

When I reached the out-of-place thing I found it was a warning sign.

Water? What water? Did I miss the undrinkable water? Was it not here yet? Did this sign come from somewhere else, carried down the wash by a flash flood? Flash flood not safe for drinking! I suppose if someone were out here for too long without water, a lot of things become not safe. Hallucinations not safe for drinking!

I could afford to entertain myself with such thoughts. I had brought enough water - this time. It was a lesson learned the hard way the first time I came to the arid West from a water rich eastern state in 1982. Back then I had tried to climb a mountain without enough water, without knowing where to find water, and with no comprehension of just how dry it is out here. By the time I staggered back off of the mountain, I felt weak, my knees were wobbling, My mouth was so dry my tongue stuck to the roof of my mouth and I couldn't spit. My speech was slurred. When I came to a public water fountain I drank for several minutes before finally beginning to feel less thirsty. People stared. I didn't care.


Tiana said...

I am a friend of Lora who gave me your blog link. That sign is so funny and way out of place. I love your paintings and the one with the trees at the end of the road. Tiana

James Gunter said...

Thank you for commenting, Tiana, and welcome to the blog! Coming across that sign in the wash really did cause me to stop and wonder. I wish I knew the whole story.

Thanks for commenting on my painting, too. I'm glad you like them!