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MYTHS OF THE DESERT
by Judy Goldstein Botello

The first time I lay beneath the astonishing stars of Anza Borrego, I slept little, waking through the night to the haunting call of the wind as it roared through the land like the voice of the desert gods themselves. But although I was awed by the power in that voice, I was unable to translate its message. Choral Pepper's guide to the myths and mysteries of the desert has reminded me of that magical night; and now I understand that the desert gods were reminiscing, recounting their fabulous tales to all who could listen and hear. Those tales, like all good stories, entertain us, divert us, amuse us. But a good story-whether it explains the mysteries of creation or the location of a long-lost gold mine-provides us also with something beyond entertainment and amusement. A good story provides us with a glimpse into another world beyond the confining world of "reality" that surrounds us daily. A good story reminds us that "reality" holds more than meets the eye, that the world around us is alive with wonder and mystery. A good story, in short, allows us to experience the world as children do: with fresh spirits and open minds, with eyes to see and ears to hear and hearts to believe.

In the world of myth and story, all things are possible. Animals speak; spirits fly through the night; old men are made young; and gods walk the earth. What seems at first to be an empty cave in dry sandstone may, in the light of legend, prove to be the door to the center of creation. And that door to the center leads us back to ourselves. When we suspend our disbelief, when we celebrate the truth of other realities, we open ourselves to a condition that theologians call transcendence. In other words, not only does the world around us shine with a new light, but our inner world also glows with new visions, new understanding. In spiritual terms, the enchanted world of myth and story is the miraculous world of faith. Throughout time and in all lands, the telling of tales has opened the hidden secrets of the universe itself, as well as of the human heart and soul.

In The Little Prince, that wonderful story of the human heart, the author describes a moonlit night in the desert thus: "I have always loved the desert. One sits down on a desert sand dune, sees nothing, hears nothing. Yet through the silence something throbs, and gleams . . . When I was a little boy I lived in an old house and legend told us that a treasure was buried there. To be sure, no one had ever known how to find it; perhaps no one had even looked for it. But it cast an enchantment over that house . . . 'Yes,' I said to the little prince. 'The house, the stars, the desert-what gives them their beauty is something that is invisible!'"

That is what the desert gods were trying to tell me that night so long ago. The myths and mysteries of the Southern California desert are what give it its beauty, its enchantment; and, through the grace of that enchantment, we may learn something of our own mysteries, as well.

 



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