Last night, Wednesday night, I sat atop my sleeping bag and looked out across the Ivanpah Valley. The first-quarter moon was an hour from slipping behind the summit ridge of Clark Mountain. The Pleiades were a rough blur low in the east. They were obscured by moon haze. My friends had dispersed, each heading for a tent or a camper or a mere pad beneath the stars, and I had found my mere pad beneath the stars as well, but I was not yet ready for sleep.
I had had too much sun, and not enough water, and there were too many things to see, and then the sun went behind the mountain and the shadow of the mountain cut through the valley as an ax blade cuts through dry pine, and we sat together for a long time talking beneath the moon. Time was shorter by a day than it had been the day before. The place we sat was a day closer to destruction. Fall-blooming flowers following the trace of monsoon storms, and fresh-dug tortoise burrows within a few yards of where we sat; ancient desert pavement and meters-wide patches of cryptobiotic crust unbroken by any hoof though the developer claims cattle have destroyed this land, pencil cholla and bisnaga, dragonflies and bats only a little larger than the dragonflies crossing the moon’s face, and we made plans for the next few weeks.
The company had sent people to watch us. A tortoise biologist was there to ensure we didn’t harass any desert tortoises. A security guard was there to keep us from pulling up survey stakes. They’d sent her out without food and water. We shared ours. The head of the company’s Las Vegas office sat in his pickup a mile away, watching us for most of the day. All of them left as the sun set. We had the place to ourselves. We passed wine and water and food around our circle.
We talked about the sorrow we felt as we saw each jackrabbit, each desert iguana that day, our apologies on behalf of our stupid species, our regret that even those of us sworn to protect wild things had traded away the Ivanpah Valley for some marginal and unspecified benefit. We talked about joy, our satisfaction in bringing the valley to the nation’s attention, if fleetingly. Ivanpah Valley was supposed to be the big solar project the environmentalists let happen, the sacrifice to preserve our “access,” the 3,600-acre old-growth token to establish our willingness to deal with industry. Now Ivanpah is the plant with the best-known opposition.
There are too many of these projects, coming at us too fast, and too few of us to tackle them all. We’d gotten the news a few hours before that the monstrous Blythe plant had won approval from the California Energy Commission; 7,000 acres of geoglyphs and other places held as sacred by the Mojave and the Chemehuevi, possibly the world’s first instance of cultural genocide committed using sunlight as the weapon of choice. Palen is coming, and Abengoa, and Next Light Silver State going in on the alluvial fan across the way from us. Too many for us to oppose, and yet who else will?
Who else will?
Two years ago, when my life seemed over, I walked for a long time over there across the valley, a few miles across the dry lake and uphill from my parked Jeep, and I sat among some head-high creosote as the sun set. My marriage was newly over, my home gone, my grief over my dog still sharp enough to pierce my lungs when I breathed, my stupid and predictable rebound fling in jagged shards. I was desperately alone. My future was utterly invisible, my thoughts dangerously bleak. And yet sitting in the creosote over there, that night a couple years ago, I slowly started to feel something odd. A glimmer of something, a wisp, and yet growing more substantial with each quarter-hour that I sat there: home. Some sort of defense against my fatiguing grief, perhaps? The pharmaceutical effect of volatilized creosote resin compounded in a suspension of alkaline dust? The canopy of creosote offering a bit of psychic shelter to my sky-addled heart? Whatever it was, I felt my new life start there in the creosote, and the old one slip away.
Last night, Wednesday night, I sat atop my sleeping bag and looked out across the Ivanpah Valley toward the place where I walked two years ago. I stared across the valley for an hour. That night seemed so long ago, the self that sat there different from this self, but the miles and months dissipated after a time and I felt as though I was sitting in both places, in both years at once, the night the Ivanpah Valley saved my life and the night I tried, if feebly, to return the favor.