Click here to listen to Harry Thomas read this poem.
Above the lower tree line in the desert northeast of San Diego, where I'm from, in land mapped out abruptly by the sun, you'll find a spreading growth of pinon pine, juniper, branching nearly to the ground, lilac and sage, and scattering white pines. Even in the driest months of summer (in some years summer lasts through late November) where there are seeds and insects there will be birds and small, ground-dwelling, furtive creatures too. Hummingbirds nest in the cactus scrub; woodpeckers bore homes in the crazy yuccas; meadowlarks shelter in the slender reeds; lizards slip in and out of rock crevices, panting and scurrying on the hot sands; coyotes prowl all night for a square meal.
Everywhere life goes on against the odds.
You stand in the middle of a riverbed
that wind has driven down since there was wind
and like as not, three feet below the surface,
rimmed with a crust of alkaline deposits,
or where there's mesquite or a clump of bunch grass,
there's water left from last year's winter rains.