Days of Oleander
There is so much of this flowered stranger that I am moved to christen late spring in El Paso “Days of Oleander.” The shrubs grow wide as trucks, cover entire lengths of fences beside tidy homes, and as we drive along the streets, Mom points them out. “There’s a pink one. And a white one. And then there’s the red ones,” she says, her chin bobbing as she takes in the color-bursts along the sidewalks.
So wanton and voluptuous are these plants under the 90-degree-plus heat, that I think Oleander must not require the rain for which I yearn every time I’m here. Maybe it’s like me in years past: lips, lungs and palms used to the desert’s baking temperatures. The heat that inspires a different kind of thriving, one that cleanses the soul of anything gratuitous, non-essential, except that there is nothing plain or modest about Oleander’s dense body or numerous flowers.
It is so unlike the desert plants of my youth – the elegant yucca stalks reaching to the sky, squat yellow flowers perched on rims of nopales. These lived in the same transparent shimmer of heat that was home to rabbits, rattlers and blue-tailed lizards. Used to be horned toads were plentiful, too, and once upon my childhood I cried when my mother made me leave behind the ones I caught.
When it rained, the desert cooled, offered the gift of scent in return – a lush creosote musk that filled my lungs. Even now, that singular aroma makes me want to lie face-down on the flat desert floor, pay homage to the earth where my soul is tethered because for the moment just being is enough.
Maybe this is the kind of miracle that I wish for even now. Like Oleander, perhaps my life has grown too big, too proud. It bulges with unnecessary things when all I really need are the simple moments – Mom’s smile as we walk in the evening, her fingers twined in mine, my husband’s voice on the phone. Moments like that one in which those horned toads slipped from my childish fingers to disappear against the cactus-studded sand.