From the Beginning

We live where people have lived
from the beginning

Where giants care for
and hold up the earth

Where spirits ride in
on whirlwinds

Where wind is their breath
and that’s what we breathe

Where we recall
the planet we came from

Where we sing to the dead
and guide them home

Their eyes open
to see a bright future

Where songs carry maps
of our desert

Where birds say their names
in the old language

Where we know the power
of feathers

Where medicinal herbs
call out, Here I am

Where sand shows the future
to snakes and lizards

Where tarantulas tell us
when to go to Gorgonio

Where stones are alive
because they used to be people

Where people can turn
into anything

Where shamans exhale
to send their words skyward

Where Coyote races Rabbit
across the Milky Way

Where a spider web holds
the earth together

Where the world’s spinning
keeps our hearts beating

I moved to the Mojave Desert in 2008. The most vital spiritual guide I’ve found to living in this region is Wayta’ Yawa’: Always Believe, a book of reminiscences by Serrano Indian elder Dorothy Ramon. This poem cites many stories told by her. According to traditional Serrano culture, their ancestors chose to come here from another planet; in addition, their ancestors were asked, and agreed, to become every visible thing in this world.

Not surprisingly, interspecies communication was the norm. Medicinal plants spoke and revealed themselves to the people who needed them; tarantulas told people when pine nuts were ripe on Mt. San Gorgonio, many miles distant, so the annual harvest could take place at the right time. Songs contained maps of the desert, and songs also guided the dead back to their planet of origin—the words “Their eyes open/to see a bright future” are from one of those songs.

These stories offer expanded ways of looking at life in the desert. They affirm our connection to everything in the landscape and to the people who preceded us—who thrived here for millennia and whose lives touch ours through Dorothy Ramon.

More often than not, the desert is feared and hated—and now, regarded as disposable, as massive solar farms are built and scant water resources are diverted to cities. The common belief is it doesn’t matter—“there’s nothing out there.” In fact, deserts are incredibly rich and complex ecosystems, teeming with unique species that contribute to the well-being of the planet.


Vandals trap the wild snake I love—
the rosy boa who lives out back—

and stow him in a clear plastic box.
He coils and clings to the side

like a starfish. Captors gone,
I try to free him, trip the latch

so he can escape without harm.
But the entire nature of the box

changes—his head stays stuck
while his body separates and

drops to the ground. Suddenly,
that narrow cylinder of muscle

and bone becomes a tunnel
of blinding light where I walk,

gazing at choirs of galaxies
stretched to infinity.

If this is death, I rest easy.

This spring, a dream came to me unlike any I’ve had before. The central figure is a rosy boa—a docile and especially beautiful desert snake. We feel honored to have them living on our property. Every year, as the weather warms up, we record the day when we first see a rosy boa. They are a federally protected species—designated as a species of special concern. They are also among the most ancient snakes still alive on the planet, dating back tens of millions of years.

What wisdom do they hold in their bodies? In my dream, the answer is all the drama of deep space—star nurseries, the source of life, and the glory of death. As I walked inside the body of snake/tunnel of light, the galaxies I saw looked like the spectacular photos taken by the Hubble telescope.

My daily devotional practice consists of reciting a litany of my own making—a prayer that names everything I’m thankful for in my life and that asks the universe for help in areas where I need it. One of my daily requests is to understand the true nature of life and death before I leave this body. The dream of the rosy boa felt like both an acknowledgment of this request and a teaching.

Nova by Cynthia Anderson, snake

About the Author

Cynthia Anderson – Since moving to the Mojave Desert in 2008, Cynthia has embraced writing about her new home. Her books include Mythic Rockscapes, Desert Dweller, Shared Visions I and II, and In the Mojave. She frequently collaborates with her husband, photographer Bill Dahl. Cynthia is co-editor of the anthology A Bird Black as the Sun: California Poets on Crows & Ravens, which features over 80 leading poets and is described by the Los Angeles Review as “a riveting collection.”

Her poems have appeared or are forthcoming in Askew, Mojave River Review, Inlandia: A Literary Journey, The Sun Runner Magazine, Phantom Seed, Dark Matter, and Whale Road. This year she has received poetry awards from the Palm Springs Writers Guild and the Harpa Concert Hall in Reykjavik, Iceland.

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