California has been in a devastating drought for the last few years. The wildflowers in the desert love the water, but because of our drought, for the longest time, the spring bloom has been sparse. This year, the rains finally came. This year, they said, it would be a record bloom.

I’ve always wanted to see the desert in bloom. I live only 2.5 hours away from Anza Borrego, a wide and shallow desert valley surrounded by mountains, and one of the best spots in California to see desert wildflowers. But I’ve never made it out there, never made the time to step away from work or the kids’ sports schedules or even my homebody laziness. Even last spring, hearing that the flowers were coming, I thought about it for a moment, then remembered that Dragon wouldn’t be with us. I refused to think about it again. This year, when my friend Mary mentioned it, I suddenly wanted to go.  I surprised myself.

After we went to Las Vegas last November to support Daniel, who was running the Las Vegas Half Marathon, when we got home, I thanked our friend Maria for taking care of us and showing us around. “It was fun, following you and Kara around and watching the marathon,” I started, “but it was hard as well.”

“That’s right, I didn’t even think about that,” Maria responded. “That it would be hard to make new memories without Dragon.”

I hadn’t thought about it that way until Maria said it. But she was right. It was hard, making new memories without Dragon. We had never taken a vacation with one child and not with the other. To go somewhere now just the three of us seemed awkward, foreign, incomplete. If Dragon couldn’t be there, I didn’t want to see beauty. I didn’t want to acknowledge sunshine. If Dragon couldn’t be part of our adventure, I didn’t want to make new memories without him. Every place was verboten: if we had been there before with Dragon, then I thought about what it was like with him back then. If we hadn’t been there before with Dragon, I didn’t want to experience it without him. Why should I get to go on, when my son cannot? It was easier to stay at home, where the stabs of pain passing by his room or seeing his empty place at the table were predictable and familiar. Plus, if we didn’t leave home, maybe no one would be killed.

So when I heard that Anza Borrego was expecting the biggest bloom in a decade, I didn’t expect to be tempted. I thought I had put away my adventure hat. I was resigned to never wanting to go anywhere ever again. But for some reason, when the desert called this year, something within me responded. Maybe it’s because the desert has no tall trees.

I convinced Daniel and Hannah to go. We left early in the morning. We got out to Anza Borrego, where we saw fields of yellow, purple, and white. We admired the teddy bear cholla. We hunted for magenta cactus flowers. We wandered among the yellow desert sunflowers and the purple sand verbena. I brought my camera and Hannah brought her camera, and we had fun taking photographs of the stunning landscape and of each other. Admiring the desert in her beautiful dress, I sat down in a field of flowers, and Daniel came and sat down behind me. Together, we missed our son while watching the joy and wonder of our daughter.

Driving around the little town of Borrego Springs, we stumbled upon a fire breathing dragon who had made his home in the desert sand. When I told my friend Mary about it, Mary who inspired my trip to Anza Borrego, she commented, “Perfection. A Dragon rising up out of the earth. So meant to be.” It was a magical day, elemental, full of heat and sun, fire and water, sky and life.

Driving home, we passed a grassy field of grazing cows. Their white and black silhouettes beckoned to us in our car. I instantly thought of Dragon, and how he never failed to open his car window when we passed by a field of cows during our many car rides up north or through the Southwest or anywhere. He’d pop his head out and moo at the top of his lungs at the grazing bovines. MOO! MOO! MOOOOO! He did it for years. It made me laugh every time.