Joshua Tree National Park is 790,636 acres of desert located in southern California. It is known for being the largest collection of its namesake flora, the Joshua Tree, in the world. These trees are of the genus yucca and of the species beviflora. These are simple facts about the park that you can find on Wikipedia, and I promise *spoiler alert* there will be more, because I love learning and sharing new, interesting facts – especially about places that we travel. But there is another thing, just as integral as factual knowledge to truly appreciating travel and that thing is the experience itself. Our experiences are why we write this blog. There are moments and stories that happen for me when I am in these spaces – and ones that happen for Spencer – that are so magical, they demand to be shared. I want to share with all of you these moments, these stories. I particularly want to share this one with you, as it has been a special one for me.
Most people – many of you – may already be aware of the Joshua Tree and Joshua Tree National Park. And you may also know of its reputation for some as a spiritual place. I was aware of this belief thanks to friends from SoCal and never understood, but was always curious about it. I had basically no knowledge of the plant and little of the park before visiting and Spencer was of little help there either. In fact, I acquired most of my facts and information after making the trek (I’m a blogger, not a journalist). In retrospect though, I’m sorta glad it worked out that way.
Entering the park, we made our way through the desert. Much of it was small under-brush but scattered sporadically throughout were the parks namesake: the Joshua Tree. We approached the larger ones to collect photos and marvel at how they towered over the nearby shrubs and sand. At first, I felt almost shy around them, wanting to maintain this perceived solemnity – as though I were obligated to show respect in their presence. We approached the largest we had seen in the park. As I snapped shot after shot, I eventually ended up in very close proximity to the monolith. Feeling confident now, I allowed my hand reached out and I softly rested it on the trees rough skin.
Some of the trees are thousands of years old, a fact I didn’t know but could somehow feel through the plate-mail of woody bark that covered its trunk. I felt its strength,its resilience, but I didn’t know the story of these trees. How did they come to live here and how did they manage to stay alive for so long in a climate where few things can? My eyes could only ponder possible explanations, an answer to this ancient riddle, striving and thriving in a seemingly impossible area for life. I could see the tree, but not the roots. The roots are the secret of the Joshua Tree because they can grow up to 36 feet. They force their way through sand and even stone and they find water – they find life.
“We are solely responsible for finding a way to survive and thrive in the deserts of our life, like the mighty Joshua Tree.”
Now, it is my opinion, that experience and knowledge are equally important. They are a kind of yin and yang, each with its own offerings, each somehow a perfect for foil for the other and a pair that are sorely imbalanced without the presence of one another. It was in learning about the life and science behind these trees that their true wisdom was imparted to me. They offered me a universal truth, one which Haruki Murakami put best when he said, “Pain is inevitable. Suffering is optional.” We are solely responsible for finding a way to survive and thrive in the deserts of our life, like the mighty Joshua Tree. We choose whether or not we succumb to our conditions or we seek out the a way to carry on. The universe gives us what we need, we simply have to find it and use it as best we can. We accept things we cannot change and we change those that we can. Greater understanding and meditation on this is what the forest, and these hallowed trees gave to me.
Many religions believe in physical places that are holy. For some native american tribes, much of this area is sacred ground. I don’t personally know where I fall in regard to that general idea, except to say that I can only logically explain the facts and my experience, both of which inspired something powerful within my mind and my heart. Call it spiritual, call it a personal perception, but by merely sharing space with these ancient beings, I was provided with a renewed energy and simultaneously a serenity. The world was calm and clear for a few moments in time, a gift so often hard to come by.
It wasn’t as though the entirety of the park was a cruise on a placid lake of zen in a boat of made out of koombayas. There were the usual obstacles and also new ones, as always, but the moments of pure peace and introspection made them fade out of focus like a blurred photograph. I don’t know if any of this validates the belief that there is something metaphysical happening on here in the Mojave Desert or confirms some ancient magic within these trees. I also don’t know that your experience here will be anything like mine, but I guarantee that if you come, you will certainly have an experience and it won’t be one soon forgotten.