A road trip from Phoenix to Las Vegas offers the opportunity to observe and appreciate the desert’s resilience, to think about Gordon Lightfoot’s music, and to consider the persistence of good and evil, respectively.
Are we driving beside water?
Straining my neck to see the GPS device atop the dashboard, I find that the sun glare makes the screen all but unreadable from the back seat. Certainly I can’t see whether it shows that ribbon of blue it uses to denote a body of water, still or flowing. The Big Guy and the other big guy riding shotgun look at each other in some surprise, but check the screen to confirm what they already know.
Nope. There’s a slight pause while they decide, with that inscrutable, silent communication between brothers, which one will pursue it.
Why do you ask? The Big Guy has stepped up.
I gesture left, down the hill, at the ribbon of green more or less paralleling the highway.
On our road trip from Phoenix to Las Vegas, I have spotted a bright green streak in a landscape that is otherwise all sage greens and sandy browns and tans. Previous stays in the Phoenix area have taught me that such a strip of green means water: a river, maybe, or even just a stream. But here we have the green without the blue, as it were—a small puzzle to be shelved.
But unlike the great, intractable mysteries of life—like why CBC announcers now say ‘djunta’ for ‘hoonta’—this puzzle doesn’t stay on the shelf for long. Monday generates the puzzle on our outbound trip; a few days after our return, Saturday solves it on my tour of an ‘engineered riparian preserve,’ a water reclamation area and bird-and-critter habitat in the Town of Gilbert. The tour includes a walk alongside an artificial streambed—a replica of what the tour leader calls the ‘ephemeral streams’ that dot the desert. Much like Prairie coulees, desert washes channel rain run-off and the rest is history. Well, okay, botany.
The plants don’t seem to mind that the stream is here today, gone tomorrow. Once established, they conserve water so well that they can hold out until the next rain brings them their next drink, even if that’s months away. And so the washes become a tangle of growth that is lush in context.
As life’s resilience sinks in, I find myself thinking happy metaphorical thoughts every time I walk along a desert wash or see a ribbon of green through the car window. Thoughts of the persistence of good in people and in society, and of how little it takes to keep it going. Thoughts of the untold positive downstream results of any thoughtful supervisory intervention. Thoughts of the lives saved by a kind word or action: the drink of water that came just in time.
Wow. I am calmed. I am uplifted. I am inspired.
It can’t last.
Walking along the natural wash that is now serving as a drainage ditch for a new development near our rented Gilbert house, my subconscious pipes up. What’s that? I can’t always hear her the first time, but like the killdeer whose endless, piercing piping punctuates their bob-and-scamper along the edge of the wash, she won’t shut up.
Ribbon of darkness, she says cryptically, channelling Lightfoot. Let me translate.
Sure, goodness persists in our world with what seems like very little encouragement; so does evil. Sure, thoughtful actions as a supervisor may have a lasting impact, but what about thoughtless ones? And if lives have been saved by a kind word at the right moment, have lives also been lost by a cruel word at the wrong moment?
Sigh. And dagnab it. I mean, who asked her?
So it looks as if I can’t have the free lunch, revelling in the persistence of good without acknowledging the persistence of evil. But if I can’t deny the ribbons of darkness, I can sure appreciate the ribbons of green—the actual and the metaphorical—wherever I find them.