Post- Magazine

deserted [feature]

on heat, home, and my hero

On my ninth birthday, my Grandpa Bill gifted me a copy of The Little Prince. I remember the cover with the blonde boy who stood amongst the stars, but I didn’t read the story until recently, when Bill sent a letter that reminded me of the image.

The Little Prince is from a planet called Asteroid 325. When he arrived on Earth, he met a snake, who informed him that he was in the Saharan desert where “there are no people.” 


The Little Prince reckoned that one must be “a little alone in the desert…”

But my grandfather never was. 


I remember the mountain drives to Palm Desert. When I was little, I hugged my knees to my chest so that the sharp car turns thrusted me left and right, making me giggle. I remember getting out of the car and hearing the faint sighs of the wrens, the fountain grass that rustled softly amongst itself—the pursed lips of all things. 

Grandpa Bill loved his desert home. From a regular brown belt he macgyvered a fanny pack for his neighborhood walks, attaching to it plastic bags for dog poop, a pouch for his phone, and maybe a case for glasses, with rubber bands or strings around the leather. He strolled in weathered running shoes to Palma Village Park where “those younger people,” as he termed children, dawdled in awe through the shrubbery.


Each morning, after a peach-flavored yogurt at home, he would head outside again for an “exercise walk.” He carried five-pound weights and wore a t-shirt with the sleeves cut off—a homemade tank top, of sorts—that would dampen a darker gray as he meandered. Then noon arrived and he went back home and napped. Awakening again, he’d greet the puppies and the concrete and the neighbors and walk once more, as the dusk started to make everything a bit more yellow. 

His backyard was my favorite; I loved the fan palms and the pool that looked like the sky. I remember watching Lilly forage the small hill furnished with green, greeting aloe vera and barrel cacti whose beach ball–like shapes must have fooled her. She returned with dozens of clear needles puncturing her nose’s slimy leather, grinning with her tongue out. 


It was in the desert that the pilot met the Little Prince. The pilot’s plane had broken down, and he hardly had any water, only enough for a week. The first night, the pilot fell asleep on the sand and felt more isolated in this desert than “a castaway on a raft in the middle of the ocean.” But then a little voice woke him up. 

“Please draw me a sheep!”

 The small fellow seemed to the pilot neither astray, nor fatigued, nor hungry. He wore green velvet. 

“What are you doing here?” the pilot asked. 

“Please draw me a sheep…”

The Little Prince came from afar, curious about the planet called Earth and the “grown-ups who lived upon it.” Within each planet he had visited before Earth, he met adults like the vindictive King, the perturbing drunkard, the materialistic businessman, and the vain old man with an orange hat, none of which impressed the Little Prince. 


My father would shhhh us upon the hawk’s arrival above. He would always spot it before we did during the hike up the Bump and Grind trail in the San Bernardino National Forest. Everything is already tan in this desert, but the Cooper’s Hawk is of a mightier shade. I am not sure what is more striking, the brown of the wings that is like freshly watered topsoil, or the white cotton-like hunks speckling the chest. In my thickset blue and purple sneakers, I watched its kingly flaps, wanting to dig my soles into the ground and bury myself up to my ankles and become immobile. Creatures so vast render human beings into nothing—at least if you look at them for long enough. 

To Percy Shelley, the desert is a “global stage,” upon which an entirely new reign of life on Earth begins. He describes the “immeasurable sand[s]” and the “shrill chirp of the green lizard’s love.” In other, more negative poems of the era, a desert landscape suggests tyranny, but Shelley’s desert is one of a different kind—a place of death and rebirth all at the same time. Indeed, the jackrabbits and great horned owls find life in this death land. Owls flutter their throat region to evaporate water and hydrate themselves, while the ears of jackrabbits are made of many blood vessels, which release heat when in shady locations. 

There was a jumping rock positioned perfectly by the deep end of my grandpa’s pool—a mountain all for me. The pool helped the humans adapt, too. My dad and I would tread water and play catch with a miniature basketball; my sister begged my mom to buy blow-up rafts shaped like sea horses, atop which she’d try to balance, then fall off. My grandfather would even take his puppies in for a daily “happy hour,” attaching ropes to plastic rafts so that he could keep a hold on them, as they floated. 


Before the Little Prince met the pilot, he met a fox, who he thought was quite pretty. The fox offered friendship, but only if the Little Prince would tame him, for if the Little Prince did, he would be “unique in the world.” The next day the Little Prince returned and tamed the fox, which bonded them, making the Little Prince devastated to leave, wondering why he forged the friendship with the fox in the first place. 

“Goodbye,” said the fox. “Here is my secret. It is very simple: One sees only with the heart. What is essential is invisible to the eye.” 


We gathered in the jacuzzi at night, and my sister and I would run in circles, creating a whirlpool set afire blue by the backyard lights. When we got a little older, we started asking Grandpa Bill who, and what, God was. Grandpa explained that he was supposedly the father of Jesus Christ. But that God is also in the rocks that look like jagged teeth, and the heat that makes the pavement sparkle, and the Joshua trees that bend in a permanent “hello” to the shrubbing ocotillos. And that he is in everyone’s imagination. 

Grandpa Bill’s office faced the backyard and had bookshelves that went up to the ceilings. It was a place where you could find practically any book in the world, and he would be able to tell you everything about it. Every Shutterfly calendar my mom has ever made is there, my sister and I posed in front of gardens and theme park entrances. My uncle is there in a photo, at seven, as is my grandfather’s sister and brother at their favorite Cayuga Lake. That office was everywhere and everyone all at once. 

Grandpa Bill doesn’t live in the desert anymore. He now finds home amongst the folding hills and cinnamon ferns of Barbourville, Kentucky. Yet it’s not the same. I miss the amethyst verbenas that stand bravely against a tawny backdrop, I miss the ever-present shiny, scaly green. I miss his mismatched decorations, the plaids and the toiles and the weaves, the horse paintings that once adorned his Los Angeles home, the giraffe figurine on the coffee table, and the lamps with textured torsos. But maybe I still see these things with my heart, and maybe that is enough. 


The Little Prince had a flower back on his home planet. A single flower that he loved, and that grew among the small volcano-like mounds that came up to his knees. The Little Prince nourished the rose with a watering can, and when she came to resent the air currents that made her bend, the Little Prince placed a glass sphere around her, for protection. 

The Little Prince was not the only book my grandfather gifted me. Indeed, each year on my birthday I received a “birthday letter” of many pages, bound perfectly in black, supplemented with further reading material. I remember the Queen Elizabeth-themed letter, the one called “Being a Writer” and the 100 Speeches that Changed the World—how each letter topic, in some way, connected to my own particular world at that age.

At one point, I thought each letter was an instruction manual, filled with tiny lessons I’d wrap around myself before stepping into the world—the glass around the rose, protecting her from the winds. Now, I think these letters were like the Little Prince, each one inspiring the exploration of new planets, of new possibilities. My grandfather’s final letter, sent to all four of his granddaughters, was titled “Flying High.”

Powered by SNworks Solutions by The State News
All Content © 2024 The Brown Daily Herald, Inc.