Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Part I--A perfect day--Desert Poetry Workshop in Deep Canyon

A few weeks back I was invited by my friend Ruth Nolan, an English professor at College of the Desert, to attend a poetry workshop at Boyd Deep Canyon Research Center in Palm Desert.

Many people think of Palm Desert, with its golf courses, fancy resorts, and El Paseo shopping district as Beverly Hills east. There's more to the city that butts up to the San Jacinto Mountains where Highway 74 winds down from scenic Idyllwild.

Boyd Deep Canyon Research Center is part of the Natural Reserve System (NRS), created by the University of California, one of 36 living laboratories and outdoor classrooms that represent our state's rich ecological diversity. Here, scientists from all over the U.S. conduct research and field study in the canyon's pristine, undisturbed environment. Students in grades K-12 explore the canyon on guided interpretive hikes. Groups of lucky writers are occasionally invited to participate, too!

At 8:00 AM on a Saturday, a small group of writers and I met up in Palm Desert with Ruth and Dr. Cassandra Nunez, Education and Outreach Coordinator for the center. The weather was perfect, a still 70 degrees. We caravaned down a road that wound through Bighorn Country Club, through a series of locked gates, into Deep Canyon, hidden from the highway.

During a brief orientation, Cassandra told us that the center was named after Philip L Boyd, the benefactor who donated the original plot of land that now spreads over 17,00 acres. She pointed out a quail shelter where the birds are being studied. Several miles later, at the end of a dirt road, we arrived at our destination--a series of small bungalows located at the canyon's mouth facing east over the Coachella Valley to the far-off Little San Bernardino Mountains.

We set up camp on picnic tables covered by an overhang, took out our pens and notebooks, and got to work. That morning and afternoon, Ruth gave us prompts and we wrote poems inspired by the desert setting. The other writers and I went around and read what we'd written. In an exercise, I jotted this postcard:

Yellow brittlebush blossoms
bright reflections
a mourning dove in the canyon
the twittering of nameless birds

a hummingbird swaying
on a wisp of palo verde
blackened teddy bear chollas
that perished in the frost

taste the sky like artesian water
hidden wells beneath my feet

(Photos 2008, Boyd Deep Canyon Desert Research Center)

Check out Part II for our hike into Deep Canyon...

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