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Joshua Tree Rocks in December

Snow and cactus celebrations


We are in Joshua Tree National Park on the Solstice. The piles of rocks and boulders, some perched at peculiar angles, seem like an appropriate Druidic place to be. Sand, bristly plants, and cacti surround us.

I am reminded of New Zealand — not because of the landscape and flora, but because the landscape and flora are so different. We don’t need to leave the boundaries of the United States to find someplace remarkably distinct from home — wherever that place may be.

Joshua Tree, Palm Springs, and the Coachella Valley are among the warmest places in the country right now. Since I spent most of my Decembers in Minnesota — two feet of snow on a primary layer of ice as hard as the concrete it covers — it’s second nature to feel smug about warmth and sunshine in December.

Our rental car stinks.

Instead of the ubiquitous pine tree air freshener, this car has a scent diffuser hanging from the mirror.

The scent diffuser in the car reminds me of Aramis, a men’s cologne. The diffuser reeks at nose level and swings like a pendulum. We untie the hemp string and put the diffuser in the glove compartment, where the fainter smell is tolerable.

I realize after shopping in the arty tourist shops that they all are scented, everything is scented: cars, stores, Air B&Bs, and landscape. Candles, bundled herbs, diffusers, $12 soaps contribute to the aromatic stores. The desert itself smells…clean, but with a note of high-season cactus flowers. Which aren’t blooming.

A three-year-old granddaughter is on this family vacation, a cactus Christmas. We see Santa Claus, at a light-filled Christmas event, with several tons of snow trucked into Palm Springs. Trucking snow into one of the few places without it this year seems highly ironic.

Santa is engaging and smiling and Ho-ho-ho’s heartily.

The magic in my granddaughter’s eyes is Christmas — awe, excitement, a little fear, and a running hug for the man who will bring Christmas toys.

On the whole, this warm weather Christmas seems more pagan than most and is still filled with the rituals of the season. We have more twinkling lights than those sitting in an unheated apartment with a can of cold soup, or those with rolling power outages.

Too many are experiencing the holidays this year with coast-to-coast snow storms in the United States and Canada. Are radio stations still playing “I’m Dreaming of a White Christmas?”

I speak to a friend in North Dakota, who says it is like the Decembers we remember — howling ground blizzard and sub-zero temperatures. I’m somewhat cynical about the new weather practice of naming winter storms, and describing them as bomb cyclones.

This series of storms sound raging and relentless and doubtless have screwed up the entire transportation system. But I’ve yet to see the pictures of snow drifts to the rooftops and utility lines and poles a foot above the snow, as in my Dakota childhood.

People in the Midwest and Northeast are driving on shoulders, hoping to find traction, avoiding a game of caroms on the highway. Regardless, there is misery aplenty strewn with the sleet and the snowflakes.

Christmas comes, sprinkling emotions or blowing them at blizzard speed across our inner landscapes or granting us a warming sun. The outer landscapes sometimes match, like my 80-degree day.

We need our holidays, whichever ones we observe, to celebrate or mourn or memorialize or party. It’s all part of the All.

Happy holidays.

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