Going to the desert

Jeff with our sons near Palm Springs, California, January 1990

Jeff with our sons near Palm Springs, California, January 1990

“Modern life is becoming so full that we need our own ways of going to the desert to be relieved of our plenty.”Thomas Moore

The first time we ever drove across the United States en route to our new home in California, we thought we were making pretty good time when we arrived in Texarkana, on the border between Texas and Arkansas.  Two days later we were still in Texas, after driving what seemed like forever through the parched landscapes on the way to El Paso.  Then through New Mexico, Arizona and California, the desert went on and on.  Jeff said “It’s kind of hard to worry about over-population after making this drive.”

Amid the traffic and crowds of the cities where we had lived and traveled, we had no real idea how much barren and unpopulated land still exists in America.  Of course we knew it was there, but the vast extent of it was something we couldn’t imagine until we journeyed through it.

In the same way, contemporary life tricks us into believing there is no escape from the noise, rush and demands of every day.  Routines our grandparents would have thought bizarre, such as being on call for dozens of people all our waking hours via cell phones and texting, have come to seem not only normal to us, but inescapable.  But there are still places of refuge from such urgency, and I suspect they are more plentiful than we think they are until we have learned to visit them.

As I write this, I’m feeling very overwhelmed by all the tasks I did not get done yesterday, or a week ago, or even father back than that.  My head spins as I try to sort out my thoughts and prioritize what must be done first.  Yet I can’t escape the nagging feeling that I might be more efficient if I could somehow clear everything away for an hour or two and just breathe deeply without thinking much about anything.  I’m not sure I could achieve that even if I tried.

But, I can do a few things today that might help.  I can allow myself to work on one task at a time, and not allow interruptions to de-rail me.  I can prioritize clearing away visual clutter to keep my eyes from contributing to the sensory overload.  Most importantly, I can turn down that inner voice that continually chastises me for being so far behind in the first place.  I can spend some time in quiet reading, prayer or gratitude, and “just say no” to self-imposed pressure.

What are some of your favorite ways of going to the desert?


  1. Mike Bertoglio

    Hard to find a desert in New York City.

    • In a literal sense, that is true, so it will have to be a figurative place. Some of the more private spaces I can remember from NYC would be the relatively secluded spaces of Central Park, some quiet corners in the museums, and even standing on the Staten Island Ferry looking out over the water. I’ve heard there are some lovey green places on Staten Island itself, although I’ve never had time to check them out. I do remember being surprised at how un-crowded much of Central Park is. I’m also guessing there are lots of quiet spaces in the New York Public Library and its branches.

  2. hilzonsix

    I have found in my desert times, I just have to do the next thing. Nothing else is required. Little by little, the job gets done.

    • I think that’s a great way to avoid feeling overwhelmed by everything. I’ll practice saying that to myself…”Just do the next thing.” 🙂 Thanks for the tip!

  3. Ellis Anderson

    Thank you so much for this one! Just what I needed to start my day, one with a daunting to-do list.

    • Ellis, thanks for being here! I’ve been missing you since you left. I’ll try to send you the photos and hope you’ll send me yours too (from your much better camera). Say hello to Anna for me! Best wishes for a very productive day!

  4. MaryAnn

    “Be still & know that I am God” Psalm 46:10 came to mind as I am pondering your query.
    Most of the words you used to describe your thoughts about tasks that remain undone could apply to me. So, I will adventure to the “desert” at least for a bit.
    Thanks for your encouragement! Prayers & love to “my” Dentons!!!!!

    • Thank you Mary Ann. I just wrote a post yesterday about stillness, never an easy state for me. Here’s hoping we both have a productive day! Prayers and love for you too. Matt is sitting here and he asked me to say “I love you Ms. Mary Ann!” 🙂 followed by his trademark “Awwww.”

      • MaryAnn

        OH! I love him so much: thinking about him all the time! He fills my heart w/ love & joy!
        What a blessing Matt is to me!!!

        • Yes, I think it was “love at first sight” for both of you. Matt rarely meets anyone who as just as crazy about life as he is, and he saw that quality in you!

      • MaryAnn

        I can close my eyes & see his tremendous smile that causes the room to shine!

        • He does have a beautiful smile, and it’s usually very easy to bring it out!

  5. Be your own best friend today Julia and do what pleases you! I tend to fret over not getting enough done too. I definitely could be more organized and/or make a list. Alys seems to be like a machine and her days are sooooooo full of completed projects. I hope some of that rubs off on me 😀 Yet, I talk myself into the comforting notion that I am a ‘multi tasker’ AKA ‘jack of everything/expert at none’ HA

    • Boomdee, during grad school for my MLIS, I used to joke, “Jack of all trades, Master of Library and Information Studies” because it seemed to me that librarians are sometimes the last remaining generalists — although even some of us are very specialized in training and focus. But I loved library school precisely because I am interested in almost everything. That makes for a fun life, but also leads to many half-done projects, loads of good intentions, more ideas than I can even write down, and a general mess if I do not relentlessly “just say no” to whatever catches my fancy. You seem to do better at completed projects than I do…I just got a gorgeous surprise in the mail that I could not have created in a whole uninterrupted week! Thanks so much!

      • Well, I am in good company then. Variety is the spice of life and we are ‘very spicy’ LOL

        I so happy you received the card and tiny gift. I wish I’d been a little swifter but life throw me that curve ball. I dearly hope you are healing and fond memories of your Pasha are floating into your day more and more. xoK

        • Thank you my “very spicy” friend – and I got the package exactly when I was meant to get it. Believe it or not, until I saw all those exquisitely personalized details, I had never even thought of his initial being “P” and I LOVED the bone-shaped paper clip! I still feel sad about Pasha at unexpected times when something in our day will bring back the realization that he’s not here – but then I quickly replace that mental image with an imaginary photo of his funny, eager, lively self and I know he will always be with us in our happy memories. Thanks so much for understanding!!

  6. Beth

    I miss the ability to read and hear only the words on the pages. The next best thing is to turn off my cell phones (work and personal) and unplug the land line. Find an older novel, a tart apple then read and munch away to my desert. Almost immediately one of my cats will curl up next to me and purr their approval.

    • Wow, Beth, this sounds great – I am trying to jump into that chalk drawing like on Mary Poppins! Decades ago a proponent of “speed reading” told me that the reason I read so slowly is that I “sub-vocalized” (said the words in my mind as I read) – something I didn’t want to stop doing, as I felt it increased my retention and comprehension. When I was in library school I found lots of research that validated my impression. There are really no shortcuts; alas! as my friend Ashleigh Brilliant says, “It’s hopeless! Tomorrow there will be even more books I should have read than there are today!” What a nice “problem” to have! Thanks for giving me a very pleasant mental image today.

  7. Jenelle

    Music and taking walks is my desert. I’m feeling the stress of school beginning and I don’t want to beat myself up on all that I haven’t done yet for the year when it hasn’t even started! Good grief. So when my stomach starts to roll with oncoming anxiety, I put on my ipod, shoes, and hit the sidewalk. Ah, how walking and music relaxes the soul.

    • I totally agree! Walking, especially with music, helps me keep my sanity. Re: school, I’ve always thought it creates a feeling of pressure and stress like nothing else does. I wrote this post about how I coped with my new-semester-panic, partly by realizing it’s an inevitable part of the process. I hope you will have a WONDERFUL year! Thanks for taking the time to be here.

  8. Sheila

    Julia, I was just pondering if there were a mute button to push, only to suddenly think of poor Salty, who had an allergic reaction to some medicated ear drops and went suddenly deaf. He never again heard our calls, our laughter, our praise; he lived in silence for a year. By this time of vacation season, it is rather exhausting. I think the hills of Tennessee are probably our desert, when this beachside community (that we dearly love) is just a bit much.
    We are the ones NOT on vacation. I’m thinking of you during this week of procedures and know there is strength in prayers. I feel Jeff is quite the fighter! Love, Sheila

    • Sheila, that must have been so hard to know Salty was unable to hear anything. Pasha got extremely hard of hearing during his last year of life, but never to the point that he could not hear anything. His vision was getting bad, too. We had some friends whose beloved dog went blind (due to a rare genetic disorder) many years before she died, but as with all disabilities, they all adjusted to the “new normal.” What part of Tennessee do you favor? Jeff is a native of middle Tennessee – and as you’ve probably heard, Tennessee is actually 3 states in one because the west, middle and east are all so different from each other. I think east Tennessee is the prettiest! We appreciate your prayers. We’ll keep you posted. Love and thanks!

      • Sheila

        East Tennessee it is! Bill’s Dad and also his brother and family live in Bristol, Tennessee.We’ll be going there next week. I remember that you had a friend close to Bristol, from a previous post. Thank you for your thoughts…guess we’re adjusting to our “new normal” now. I’m sure you know exactly what I mean. Sheila

        • Sheila, that’s right, I remember talking about Bristol before. I just fell in love with that town the one time I spent any time there. It was so cool to walk down the street with Tennessee on one side and Virginia on the other. Yes, the meaning of “normal” keeps changing…so I guess if it isn’t fairly new, it isn’t too normal! 🙂 I told Jeff, I think one of the most important traits we can carry into our retirement years will be flexibility (physical and otherwise).

  9. merry

    great picture. love your comments. I used to live about 50 miles from Texarkana. It was the “big town” for shopping and doctors. :}
    Of course, Georgia was my home state…

    • Merry, I know you told me awhile back you were from Georgia, but I don’t remember what part? I was born in Texas, but we moved to Georgia when I was too young to remember anything else. We lived briefly in Miami but I have no memory of that whatsoever. I might make some people mad when I say this, but my impression is that east Texas is prettier than west Texas! We lived in San Antonio and I just LOVED it, except for the heat. Hope you are having a good week! Thanks for being here.

  10. Nancy

    Naps are great “down time”….took one today after a job for a client and before the boys got home from school and the hullaboo inevitably starts. Actually, I try for a nap, even if it is just 10-15 minutes just about every day. I learned that art when James came at 2 days old and I had to go to work 2 days later. He was 18 months old before he slept through the night. I too loved San Antonio when I visited there a few years ago…Austin was wonderful too. Love you…Nancy

    • Nancy, I think any mother with three lively sons needs as many naps as possible! Seriously, I do think the quick “power nap” is very rejuvenating. I’m hoping I can talk Jeff into trying it sometime. I always fall asleep in the car when he’s driving, and sometimes when I am…hence my new habit of drinking lots of coffee before I make a long drive! Give our love to your sons, and of course, you too!

  11. Ha! If you’ve been driving two days and you’ve not left the state, you’re definitely in Texas! It was a shock when we moved here – that and the heat. I saw a cartoon the other day. It depicts God lounging on an easy chair with what looks like a wood-burning stove going behind him. An angel is there looking into the oven and says to God, “What are you cooking?” God absent-mindedly answers, “Texas. Why?” But, there is something to be said about not only the open spaces of the desert but also of the heat. I love the idea of being “relieved of our plenty” – almost like sweating out the excess liquid. Very good thoughts for today. Thank you.

    • Loolamay, since you mentioned the benefits of heat and sweating, I have to put in a plug for my favorite indulgence, my sauna. It’s what I miss most about our York home. I sit in it every night we are there, and for much of the 6 years we lived there full time. Nothing like an hour in the sauna followed by a nice bath to help me sleep better. I guess that’s the Native American in me coming out – my own “sweat lodge.” Glad you liked the post!


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