“When I moved to the desert almost a decade ago, I didn’t notice the trees at all. I noticed saguaro and cholla and prickly pear and agave and creosote. I noticed the zigzagged slopes of the Catalinas rising violet against the sky. I fell in love with the landscape, but to me, that landscape was not about trees. In Louisiana, trees grow gigantic, impossible to ignore; you put a tree in the ground and it grows. In the desert, what appears to be a stick or shrub could be a burgeoning tree. In the desert, care is required for trees to take root and thrive. But the desert also teaches you—if you are willing to learn—that it is bountiful in ways that, on first glance, you could not have imagined.”


“What I want you to know is that the water took more than property. The water took people, the water pulled them underwater or rushed them far away from home. The water took webs of community spun over decades, over generations and swept them completely away. The water was merciless. The water took it all. I want you to know that what was lost cannot be accounted for on insurance forms, what was lost cannot be measured out in FEMA funding. I want you to know that this is the kind of loss one never fully recovers from. I want you to know that we are not okay we are okay we are not okay. Some of us are more okay than others. Some of us are no longer here.”


“Many of the youth at the detention center are facing tremendous obstacles: ‘Issues of abusive parenting, issues of neglect, drug issues—either the children or parents or both—mental health issues in the family,’ says Young. ‘Many systemic problems. Some of these kids have a parent in jail and another parent struggling to make it … There are income issues, resource issues.’

Two of the essential inputs that go into the gardening project are time and attention. ‘With the gardening, it’s about being with these kids and showing them that we care,’ Young says. ‘I had one kid ask me whether I was paid to come back to the garden and I said, ‘No, we like coming back here,’ and he asked, ‘Why?’ I said, ‘We enjoy working with you.’ We’re not here to make a paycheck; we’re here because we enjoy being with them and that makes a huge impression.'”

Sign up to receive updates from Lisa M. O'Neill


“The best writing makes us feel something, and it makes us feel something because we understand—through narrative, through language, through a connective thread between us and the story being told—what it means to be human.”