For most people, the desert does not call to mind a sense of lushness. It is even contained within the meaning of the word: from early 13th century, meaning wasteland, literally “a thing abandoned,” a meaning taken from the original Latin deserere—“to forsake.”
The original meaning does not allow for the lushness of this desert after a monsoon, an incredible six weeks where dormant plants darken and green, burst flowers forward, like a second spring—and that’s not to mention the interesting quality of light, which shines with summer clarity, illuminating our greened mountains in every direction.
It is this misplaced understanding of the word “desert” that I find the most poetic interest. Diction is, after all, among the first choices we make as writers, and within our choices, are the meaningful experiences of language. That is, I like to think of diction as the poet’s toolbox; we come to the page with the words we favor—maybe because of how they sound, or how we first encountered them, or even that our mother used them—and these words are then layered with the meaning we impose on them. In my own writing, I have become more comfortable naming my preoccupation with writing the desert, mainly because of a lifetime of experiences watching the ways this desert behaves.
Due to modern conveniences and technologies, I have not been forsaken or abandoned by the desert, and so am able to marvel at the lushness of this brief period of time where monsoon rains awaken everything, without the fear that I will not be able to drink water in the coming months. My love of the desert, of the monsoon, is colored by my experiences: these weeks of impossible green, the relief of an afternoon storm, the heavy scent of creosote in the wind predicting the rain. For those who know the words in my toolbox as I do, there is no need to name or define my words. But if I seek for others without these experiences to know this sense of lushness, to know a different definition of the word “desert,” I can use my writing to complicate our taken-for-granted meanings of words.
We can employ diction as the desert employs a monsoon: with quick energy, to their full effect, and with ease. After all, a desert knows how thrive in moments of opportunity. If a desert is “a thing abandoned,” it can also be a thing allowed to grow in whatever wild ways it wishes to.