Monthly Archives: July 2009


A quarter of my life I’ve lain here in these rocks and thorns, watching Orion’s cold shoulder wheel through the late autumn sky, or waking a few hours into a summer night to watch the bleary Pleiades ascend.

The great bear circles warily in the north.

A quarter of my life, or more, and thus I’ve known this place longer than any other I’ve thought of as home. I lie awake with this notion for a time. I know each crevice, each crack in the cleft quartz monzonite, have watched the great granite blocks sink slowly into the mineral soil below.

How odd: this is my home as much as any place has been, and mine alone: it is not fraught with memory, or at least not many.

Rain has fallen within the last few hours. The crickets woke to drink, and they are stridulating. A bright light streaks the sky, burns out, and then another.

All of my life collapsed in upon itself in those years, until what little bit of core I had showed plain.

This place seemed permanent at first, as permanent as Orion, I thought, Orion walking his dog in perpetuity in the cold southern sky, before the fires washed over the desert and disabused me. Even Orion changes. In the years I have watched him here, his red giant — Betelgeuse — has shrunk significantly, collapsing toward a fusing core growing rich in nickel and iron.

Come the culmination, perhaps with my eyes still here to be dazzled, a million times this moonlight will sear the night sky.

The Gettysburg Address, by Sarah Palin

Four score and seven, eight, years ago — it was some time ago, anyway, in the days of our forefathers. And the forefathers… they brought forth in this American country a new nation, America. America’s life began at the moment it was conceived in Liberty, and dedicated to the prop… proposal? They had this idea — they were very wise and god-fearing men — that they all, all men, were originally created equal by their creator.

Again, my understanding is we are engaged in a great civil war, proving to the world and all the foreign countries. I want all Americans to grasp what is in store for this country of America. I am all about America enduring, enduring into the future and beyond. And unfortunately, that is the road that America is finding itself on in this field, a battlefield, on the land border of the boundary we share with our great neighbor to the South. We have come to dedicate a portion of that field, as a final resting place for those who here gave their lives that that nation might live. That’s a heck of a lot more than a whole lot of Senators and Congressmen and Representatives have done for us in Washington.

But, in a much bigger kind of a larger sense, we can not…we can not cultivate this ground. The brave men, living and dead, who struggled here, good public servants with servants’ hearts and astounding work ethic… they are America’s success! What I think the world at the end of the day is going to be able to go back and look at track records and see who’s more apt to be talking about solutions here, and wishing for and hoping for solutions for some opportunity to change, and who’s actually done the ground-consecrating here. It is for us the living, rather, who are still alive and unkilled, to be dedicated here to choose to finish the unfinished work which they who fought here died before it was finished. If I have learned one thing: Life is about choices! Life is too short to compromise time and resources… it may be tempting and more comfortable to just keep your head down, to dedicate yourself to the great task remaining before you — that from these honorable dead guys, our boys in uniform, and some girls too, and to take more and more each day and increased devotion to that cause for their devotion that they measured last, here in the Keystone State. We could highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain, but that’s the worthless, easy path; that’s a quitter’s way out.

[Thanks to Jesse for the writer’s prompt.]

Watching the trains go by

A quick note from out in front of the Nipton Trading Post. Sitting here with The Raven seeing the storms roll across the valley, a promise of rain so far unkept.

It rained here yesterday but good. The road washed out a little up toward Mountain Pass, and evidence of flood in the parking lot here.

It feels as much like home here as anywhere does to me these days.

Soon we’ll head to Searchlight for supplies and then spend the night beneath the desert stars.  The moon is a thin waxing crescent, an accessory to the sunset.

Carnival of the Arid #6 coming up

The sixth Carnival of the Arid, the blog carnival devoted to the deserts of the world, is coming soon. However, the deadline is a leisurely 8 days away, which means you still have time to get your desert-related blog posts, podcasts, photo essays, ruminations, rants, screeds, and sobersided somethingorothers submitted.

As is traditional, here is a quotation of the canonical Carnival of the Arid mission statement:

Submissions should have something to do with a desert somewhere in the world. (If you’re not sure whether your work is desert-related, check out this definition at Wikipedia, and if you’re still not sure, send it in anyway.) Submissions can be scientific in nature, or history, or travelog. Images are welcome, photographic or otherwise. Discussions of culture and politics are welcome if they’re desert-related. The one restriction, other than geographical, is that — at least when I’m compiling it — paeans to destroying the desert probably won’t make it. (Developers and ORVers take note.) Paeans to preserving or protecting the desert are fine, as are alerts of current pressing issues.

So spread the word. Submissions can be linked here in comments or emailed to me at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)
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. If you know of someone whose work might qualify, let them know, or let me know, or both. Retweet and email and link from Facebook and send telegrams.

See the first sentence of that second blockquoted paragraph? So why are you not spreading the word already? Thanks.


I do not remember the person I was back then. I recall the basic outlines of my life, but the memories replay by rote as tales told me long ago by someone else about another’s life. The dates are clear enough, the places somewhat dimmed, but my thoughts at the time are as opaque to me as those of a crow.

A note came recently from one I loved back then. Back then our relationship was fraught with apprehension, and we parted. Her daughter now is older than we were back then. We were to meet on the coast, but it was over before she got there.

Cresting the Sierra Nevada I smelled the lodgepole pines, the tamarack on the air. The range rose up behind me, a barrier between me and my old life. That life began to fade, memories mixed inexorably with half-remembered dreams.

A good story rises and falls on its characters’ “desire lines,” the progress of their search for whatever it is they want. My memories of that time are bad story. I no longer remember by what desires I was driven. Companionship, certainly enough, and affection, and probably direction, and in that I would have been no different from anyone else of any age. Distraction, probably. Validation and purpose, probably. I can infer that I sensibly would have had these desires, but I no longer remember.

Desire-driven or not, I left, and traveled west until the land ran out beneath me. The Sierra rose up to obscure my past. The life I left behind desiccated in its rainshadow. Whole ancient landscapes submerged as terrain moved against terrain, pressed down into the abyss, melted in intense heat. Now and then a glob of molten granite will arise to break the surface.

If not for her I might not have ventured here, might not have crossed the arid and intimidating Nevada steppe, against which the green of the Sierra seemed luxurious. That I yearn these sleepless nights for that very steppe shows only how different the young man was. Annealed by age and fire, my eyes gone wild yellow, I watch the ranges to my north. The desert on their far slopes tantalizes me. I taste the scent of creosote and rain though there is no creosote here, and the air is parched.

The empty barrel

Via greentangle:

The modern environmental movement is a messianic mission to save wild ground and at its heart — at spots like this unnamed canyon where we sit on a rock and eat while a cold front beats against Pusch Ridge — it always seems to me that the center of the movement is a kind of empty barrel.  The barrel at first looks full, in fact, overflowing with slogans, calendars, environmental impact statements, critical habitat lists, natural area plans, mitigation schemes, and big shovelfuls of tradeoffs.  But after sorting through this barrel, I never find much that explains why I come to spots like this unnamed canyon.  We have developed a new language of bureaucratic forms and categories and we wrap the wild ground in this gibberish.  But we generally skirt the real issue.  The way we live and work kills wild ground and when the wild ground is gone, we will vanish also.

Those of us who hunger for these places live as a kind of holding action, a group of marginal human beings huddled in the firestorm of energy called industrialism, people who retreat from time to time like ancient druids to this pagan ground that stamped us with our truest sense of self.
—  Charles Bowden, Frog Mountain Blues