October 11th, 2010

His practice stroke swung high, then he stepped toward the tee. Adjusting his stance with small steps, hips rocking in a salsa-esque dance, he paused for a second, then in one, swift motion the tension released with an oddly satisfying thwack. He sent the golf ball hurtling down the green.

Adjusting my feet on the balcony rail, I took another sip of coffee. He dropped the club in the bag and sped after his ball, the quiet whine of the electric cart disappearing. It was 7:00 in the morning and carts were spaced out on the course like inbound airliners at an international airport. Though the shadows were still long, everyone was trying to beat the oncoming heat, forecast at 104 degrees.

It was September 11, my birthday, and I was in Palm Springs, California, one of my least expected places to be on this day. There are things we find in our partners, in our relationships, that we never knew we wanted but when we have it we realize what was missing. Maybe it’s the small pleasure of coffee in the morning, a small treat in our lunch bag at work, flowers on the table, or a sink scrubbed sparkling clean. The details, as Lu says.

I never knew how much I would appreciate a surprise birthday trip. I like planning. I want to know where I’m going, what I need. I want to be informed. The contradiction, is I also like surprise and the unknown. I’m ever searching for balance. What I appreciate about these birthday trips is the thought Lu puts into them and how she works to keep it affordable, and a surprise. Last year was Aspen, half in a condo, half “roughing” it. She smartly rented an economy car, hedging on the bet that they’d only have larger cars. We slept in a Ford Explorer for the price of a KIA Rio.

This year, it was a condo facing a golf course and climbing day trips Joshua Tree National Monument. It was a secret until the gate agent said, “Final destination Palm Springs?” Lu did it with air miles, a companion ticket, and a donated time share condo. Yes, I’m talking the luxury of Corona’s by the pool at 10 a.m. as the day’s heat pressed down.

On the surface, Palm Springs is golf courses, strip malls and walls of gated communities. It is oppressively hot. Lu reveled in the heat, and I worried my climbing shoes would delaminate in the trunk. Scratchy eyes squinted, even through sunglasses, and my lips desiccated and cracked. I drank liters of water and never had to pee; I was a walking humidifier futilely pumping moisture into the desert air. It was beautiful. It was the summer Seattle never had.

Palm Springs is also canyons and open desert. It rests at the foot of San Jacincto, a dominating peak with a vertical relief of nearly 10,000 feet. Residents park on dead end streets to hike the barren slopes in the evening shadow. To the south lay palm oasis with Native American artifacts and short trails across a landscape of creosote and sage.

The earth is laid bare; it is desert, and the geology is exposed. Alluvial fans spread from ragged gashes in the mountain’s flanks. The walls are a twisted layer-cake of metamorphosed sedimentary deposits. The fractured bedrock was twisted in uplift, heated, and deformed by the granitic batholiths; rock from deep within the earth that bubbled up, cooling and crystalizing as it rose.

Over a mountain range, 45 minutes from Palm Springs, is Joshua Tree. There, rough boulders lie scattered loosely in valleys of oddly shaped trees, like chicken feed might in short grass. These rounded domes are deceivingly tall, as much in the desert is. Without visual reference, eight meters only looks like two. Even at 70 mph, the horizon won’t change.

The domes are also deceivingly difficult to climb, especially to our out-of-shape hands. We were off season and discouraged by the heat (90 in the shade), but our trade off was the ability to soak up the landscape and appreciate the blanket of silence unique to the desert. Very few people were there. It was a stillness broken only by the inconsistent breeze rushing through the quills of the Joshua tree. It also gave us a chance to try and create something artistic.

Novel, fun, and intimate experiences shared together. This is the real birthday gift. That’s something Lu brings to my life. Including all the details.

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  1. […] she took me to Palm Springs, we spent some time at Joshua Tree–not climbing. We walked between the towering stones and […]


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