Wow! I cannot believe that I am almost done with my dreaded qualifying exams. Tomorrow is my orals, which means I will sit in a room with a handful of professors and they will determine whether I pass or fail. Whether I continue in the program, or not.
The last few weeks have been difficult, to say the least. I’ve woken up and read and taken notes until I can’t any more. Gone are my mornings writing, and in the evenings when I get home, I’m too tired to do much besides make dinner and brainlessly watch Netflix, like a hunchbacked zombie bent over my bowl of spaghetti.
There are a few things that have pulled me from this state. A few weeks ago I got to visit Joshua Tree while the dessert flowers were blooming. We holed up in a little cabin down a long, dirt road that intersected with other long, dirt roads with celestial names like moonbeam or stars. Dried out shrubs and little homes dotted the rolling landscape all the way to the mountains. When night fell, celestial bodies came out in full glory, the stars as bright as clear as strings of beads. I managed to build a fire in the pit outside the house, terribly pleased with myself. (Now, I realize that it was probably the desert air that did most of the work for me.)
Nineteenth century explorer John Frémont called the Joshua Trees “the most repulsive tree in the vegetable kingdom,” which makes me laugh a bit because they are not especially graceful. Joshua Trees look like they were a fringy tangle of arms designed by Dr. Seuss. I don’t find them repulsive, but a bit strange. I’m glad we have the park, which was designated so in the mid-nineties, but the true rescue and preservation work was performed by Minerva Hamilton Hoyt, a woman so moved by the desert that she shipped plants and trees as far as New York and London to help people understand the beauty here.
Driving through Joshua Tree National Park revealed pockets of trees and yucca, cacti, and flowers in bloom. We made our way to the cholla cactus forest in the center of the park, where I was surprised to see dead, dried out branches on the ground that revealed the cactus branches to be spotted with even holes and hollow, like sponges. Despite being so different, there are many plants in the desert that remind me of ocean flora.
I made a little time to write too, at the picnic table. I’m still stuck, or at least reluctantly making my way through a romantic scene. Enkō and Ayame are on their date (still), but since the last blog post here they have stepped off the bridge together beneath the blooming cherry trees.
One of my favorite charms in my collection is an eggplant with a golden frog inside when you unscrew the top of the eggplant. It’s meant to be a pun. Eggplant is pronounced nasu, which can also mean to eliminate, in this case to eliminate bad luck. The frog is a pun on “to return” and his golden color refers to wealth and good fortune. Eggplants are not in season, but there seemed something oddly fitting about this nesting charm for this post, for right now. I’ll take it with me to my exams tomorrow.
The second break in the exam preparation came today, on Easter. Last night I stay up until midnight making croissants, because I could, and I was rewarded with hot, buttery pastry that shattered when I bit into it. I then washed my hands and went to sleep, to wake and go to church, to the farmer’s market and lunch. I had a table-full of chocolate and vegetables for lunch. One of the chocolate eggs when broken had a white chocolate chick inside, and it made me think of all the ways this season is about nesting. Both the nesting of birds and their eggs, and the nesting of meaning and finding unexpected things.