The word oasis is apparently of Egyptian origin and refers to a place in the desert where water is present. An oasis means life and fertility: permanent plant growth and the possibility for human settlement, drinking water, and enough moisture to grow plants and trees. An oasis can vary in size, from an ooze in cracked mud to a gurgling spring, to a pond or spring system so large it can hold whole cities. Natural oases occur in artesian basins or in deflation hollows, where dunes and sediments have been removed by wind, thus exposing an area that is at groundwater level. Nearly one hundred places in the United States are named Oasis, including the town of Oasis, California, the Oasis Reservoir in Colorado, Oasis Pond in Montana, and Oasis Lake in Texas. Another sort of oasis can be found in polar deserts—an ice-free area in an icebound landscape. Pearyland at the top of Greenland is one. Historically, the word oasis has been used to refer to the dark spots occurring on Mars. But most often an oasis is an island of aquatic relief. It is the place where lives are saved, and, figuratively speaking, refers to any calm center. The piece of foam that holds flower stems in a floral arrangement is called an oasis; it too, represents an island of security, but one that sits just under the water’s surface. As a topographic feature, an oasis is life; it is a gathering point, a sanctuary, and a feeding station. It is the desert’s umbilical.

Gretel Ehrlich