Desert Scent


(Yeah, I don't know what gets into me this time of year, either. I never ever finish, and don't even post here between Decembers, but for some reason I'm always sucked back into the Holidailies fold. It's like my own personal windmill, and I have an atavistic need for periodic tilting practice.)

Last night, a friend and I went to the annual "Las Noches de las Luminarias" event at the Desert Botanical Garden. The sun was getting ready to set as we waited outside the garden gates, admiring the parts of the Chihuly glass exhibit that we could see from where we stood. The first set blended so well into the desert plants around them, we weren't even sure at first that they were made of glass. Only up close could we see the transparent tips that gave the entire sculpture a luminous glow in the light of the setting sun. Just inside the gate, we could see a fiery tangle of glass that made it seem, for a while, that there were twin suns setting in the desert.

When the gates opened there was still enough light to appreciate the shapes and colors of the garden vegetation: cacti in every imaginable shape, flowering plants in a range of hues, sweet and musty herbs growing low to the ground. There was also enough light to sidle comfortably up to one of the conveniently situated bars and order a drink. I went with a Sonoran Cider (spiced rum and apple cider), while my friend ordered a glass of Shiraz. Near the bar was a burbling harp, and I must say that the combination of art, music, drink, good company, and natural beauty felt like the most supremely civilized way ever invented to spend an evening. (And aftewards we went out for margaritas and excellent Mexican food, thereby adding yet another layer of perfection.)

As the light fell, the luminarias became more than a decorative element: they lit the way up, down and around the meandering paths. Through the herb garden, where carolers in Victorian costumes warbled holiday songs to an as yet empty courtyard. Up the hill, where a lone artist played haunting Spanish guitar music, the city lights sparkling below him. Past the rockers and the jazz musicians, in and out of the hall where a local church showed off its bell choir, past the singer who bore a disconcerting resemblance to Santa Claus and sang plaintive cowboy songs in between plugs for his CD. (That last was a low point.) The lighted paths led us past a pond full of large, blue-illuminated glass "rocks," a canoe filled with magically multicolored glass balls like a boat from Narnia run inexplicably aground in the desert, past wigwams and tables set for later diners. The sky above was somehow both dark and bright, a sliver of crescent moon accompanied by two perfect, brilliant star companions, with the mountains and saguaros in crisp black profile. It seemed too stylized, too saturated in color, to be entirely real... and yet there we were.

The best part of our stroll, though, was the perfume. The chaparral scent that fills the air after a rainstorm, blended at intervals with a woodsy incense that made us want to breathe as deeply as possible. We spent long minutes just standing on empty parts of the pathway, luminarias glowing around our feet, staring up at that amazing sky and breathing the air, realizing that everything else is kind of superfluous.

This is where I live now.