“Can God spread a table in the desert?” When God struck the rock, water gushed out, And streams flowed abundantly. Psalm 78:19-20
In the lovely book, Out Here: Poems and Images from Steens Mountain Country, Ursula Le Guin writes that “out here, there is another way to be. There is a rising brightness in the rock, a singing in the silence of the tree. Something is always moving, running free…” The bigness of the land is a presence, both fearsome and welcoming. Junipers and sage dominate, but aspens, willows and cottonwoods gentle the watered spaces. Antelope, deer and wild horses find remote hideouts, seldom seen. Cattle permeate the landscape. Even though my distance vision is limited, I struggle with the binoculars, locate birds I can’t identify, but are in every way beautiful: egrets, herons, sandhill cranes, ducks, meadowlarks. A lone coyote crosses the road and lopes into the tall grasses, safe momentarily from trigger-happy ranchers. Quail line up, cross our campsite and disappear into the sage until morning. A long-eared desert hare feeds in the grassy campsite next to us.
Most memorable and impossible to describe are the varied vistas in every direction. At 10,000 feet, on a clear day, you can see Idaho and Nevada, the Sheepshead, Pueblo and Trout Creek Mountains. The Alvord desert shimmers in the valley below. Immense gorges cut apart the fault block slopes to the west, one of them housing the Blitzen River which eventually flows into the Blitzen Valley, where it provides habitat and irrigation.
Above all, I obsess over the rocks, mostly volcanic basalt left over from the lava flows of millions of years ago. The Diamond Craters erupted as recently as 25,000 years ago. Huge boulders still roll off the ridges.
Moses led the Israelites into a desert much like southeastern Oregon. Barren as it seemed, water and nourishment were present. Whining, the Israelites wanted more, so God provided gushing water and manna. The pre-history people of the Steens had plentiful water, game and desert foodstuffs. They lived with abundance thousands of years before we claimed their land.
“Out here, there is another way to be.” It was clear to Kathy, Lorraine and I, as we spent a week in the Steens, that “being another way” nourished us and gave us abundant pleasure. Being in a remote place where people live a very different kind of life than our own, strengthens our faith and sorts out our priorities. Watching the super moon rise over the Steens, then the sun rising before moonset, gives a new dimension to time. It isn’t surprising that three tent-bound ladies broke into songs of praise early in the morning.
~A reflection by Judy Jerberg