This past week, Henry and I took a brief few days of vacation together in Southern California. We spent time with animals at the San Diego Zoo, ate some delicious seafood, and sat on a cliff above the ocean, watching the waves roll in and out. It was good time for just the two of us to be together in a busy season, and I am grateful for the opportunity. I’m also grateful for a moment of conscious awareness that I experienced during the liminal space of our drive home.
I had my computer with me and planned to spend some of our drive doing work. After lunch, however, I found myself falling asleep over my work, so I put the computer away and took a nap. When I awoke, I was reluctant to return to editing. Instead, I felt the Spirit’s nudge to stop working, embrace liminal space, and be present to the moment.
Looking out across the hot, parched desert, I began thinking about the earliest human dwellers in this land, who managed to thrive here in what we would consider a “food desert” for many generations before I arrived. I’ve mentioned before about how they made full use of the bounty offered by mesquites and other trees. I remember learning as a child, in a cartoon book on cacti, about how these desert plants store water to sustain them during the dry months, and humans can tap into that moisture during times of drought.
I found myself thinking also of the miners and ranchers who arrived later, chasing dreams of wealth—and chasing out so many Native Americans in the process. American culture is so fixated on the idea of land ownership, and the fallacy that so much of the American West was “empty” before their arrival—which just isn’t true. I spent many childhood evenings sitting in the back of American Southwest archaeology classes my mom was taking at the University of New Mexico, doing my homework, but also absorbing a lot of information about the peoples who lived here before us. This land has never been “empty,” and we have work to do to address that theft of land.
Back to liminal space. So much of the stunning landscape of Southern Arizona is filled with hardy desert plants and a few scattered, ruined homesteads and mine tailings. I pondered how our predecessors on this land struggled to cross the miles we now whizz by so blithely in our airconditioned cars. Our six-hour drive to the ocean took people weeks to traverse just two centuries ago.
That recognition led me to a deeper stillness. Passing just a few miles of landscape a day, those who dwelt here before me would have experienced the land more thoroughly and deeply. They would have had plenty of time to marvel over the shapes of individual cacti as they twisted in response to circumstances or reached around rocks toward the sun.
It’s important to take time to be where we are, to notice what is right in front of us, instead of thinking ahead to what lies at the end of a day’s journey. I saw hills that once funneled fiery volcanoes and wondered what century-old saguaros have witnessed. I found beauty in layers of green that thrive in triple-digit summer heat. Empty sandy washes were peppered with occasional huge boulders. Black volcanic rubble was strewn across the landscape, as if flung carelessly by a giant hand.
When did you last take time to be present to the moment and not just focus on your destination? I invite you to enter liminal space sometime this week. Take time to sit on your porch or balcony, or at your window, or walk/drive slowly through an area near your home. Reflect on those who dwelt there in prior centuries and ponder what they have left behind. Give thanks to God for the patch of land on which you dwell and acknowledge those who cared for it prior to your arrival.