Category Archives: Travel

Habitat loss

I want to go back to this little place I know, on the east side of Route 14 in Mojave, California called Reno’s Coffee Shop. I had homemade turkey soup there once two days after Thanksgiving. The waitress apologized. It would be turkey soup for days, she said. The place closed in 1992, and when I go back I will buy the space shuttle postcard I always meant to send to my brother.

In Nipomo, surrounded on all sides by close-grazed green hills, there’s a lonely taqueria I’ll revisit. A basalt molcajete on the counter holds an incendiary salsa verde. Two carnitas tacos, the gamelan hum of truck tires on Highway 101, and a wizened side-eye from the woman behind the counter as she explains again in a language you do not quite speak that the payphone has not worked in some months. I will go back, roll away the new asphalt and the Panera and the Starbucks, find the old green hills underneath the acres of shopping center parking, and three or four layers beneath the drive-through ATMs I will find her and ask for carne al pastor.

I will watch the Perseids again with Matthew, lying on our backs on the side of Grant Line Road at the farthest reach of the Bay Area’s light dome in Tracy, where the still-wild Central Valley remains just beside the glare-lit outlet malls and each meteor brings jokes about the space defense system President Reagan is pushing.

All these places. All these places. The spot below Lone Tree Point where Zeke stands, his last visit to the Bay, staring out with rheumy eyes at the far shore for which he’d soon depart. The Bay rose to cover that little beach in 2045. I want to hold his trembling hips upright, tell him how good a dog he always has been.

The Ivanpah Valley, sitting down at night among the waist-high creosote again, the eleven new square miles of solar factory hell irrelevant for now.

That place on 16th and Valencia, right on the corner, with the milanesa lunch special and banda on the jukebox. I’ll order the molé pipian.

I’ll meet her, hold her hand again under the plum trees on University Avenue in Berkeley, window-shopping in stores closed for hours and now for decades, and tell her how my life has been in the more than 30 years since she died.

I’ll hike up to the ancient junipers burned dead in the 2005 Hackberry Fire, Mojave National Preserve, and sit beneath them again in a hot noon, smell the sweet oil sun-distilled from their new leaves.

This weekend

In Lost Hills, California, the dog sleeps on a motel bed. A hundred yards east the long haul truckers drift gently off to sleep at 75 per. Their trailers sway sinuously, sensuously, heedless of the dotted white line. 

I got off the road. 

At Rodeo Beach today the brown pelicans skimmed brisk surf flawlessly, the wave crests missing their breast feathers by millimeters. We watched them fly in their characteristic perfect formation, bonded to each other inviolable and unseen. 

In Maxwell Park, the scent of jasmine and the scent of citrus. The dog pulls me up steep night streets, past Art Deco ghosts, past the shed feathers of owls. 

Fencepost hawks

Interstate 5 near Lost Hills. Photo by Annette Rojas

Interstate 5 near Lost Hills. Photo by Annette Rojas

I drove twelve hundred fifty miles this weekend, a quick trip to Oakland and then back again. Our anniversary. Six years.

From 1990 through 1998 I lived with my ex-wife and Zeke in an apartment not far from downtown Oakland. It was the longest span of time I have ever spent with one address. Annette and I stayed a few blocks away this weekend. Awoken Saturday by the sound of distant trains, the smell of trees, I remembered oddly that I woke that way every single day for eight years. Wondered how I could ever have forgotten.

Back then I drove that same route, more or less, on desperate trips to forsake Oakland for the Mojave. Interstate 5 through the San Joaquin Valley was a gauntlet to be run, and I breathed deeply only after dropping down the far side of Tehachapi Pass into the gloaming desert.

After a few trips I began to find things to value before the desert. Place names: Ortigalita Creek and Crows Landing. The cats’ paws of wind in green oat stems. As years passed and the spread of almond orchards swelled, February would fill the valley with vivid pink blossoms. Along the west verge of the highway, red-tailed hawks stood watch on rough fence posts, one hawk to the mile or more.

The suburbs have filled the valley. They strain against the freeway. They will soon break past it and run rampant through the Coast Ranges.

I saw not a single red-tailed hawk this weekend in more than 1,250 miles of driving.

There have been other losses since last I drove that way. A majestic old Joshua at roadside just east of Kramer Junction has gone missing. And so, it would seem, has this:

Outside North Edwards

Outside North Edwards

There are a hundred thousand blinking red lights outside Mojave now: the wind that stole at least three of my perfectly good hats has been broken to wheel, and turbine blades reflect the scarlet aircraft warning lights.

But it is the loss of those fencepost hawks that hurts today. In their stead, a thousand signs blame liberals for the drought.

Deadman Creek

[Thinking of this piece because of something I wrote that will show up soon at KCET. I wrote this about 20 years ago about a day that happened before even that. It first appeared in Terrain, the now-defunct publication of Berkeley’s Ecology Center, in a Sierra Nevada theme issue. I’ve edited it lightly from its original form as I’ve learned a few things about words in the interim.]

It’s the Third of July, and we’re enjoying the traditional Third of July picnic. The campground, “improved” by the Forest Service so you can back your 34-foot RV right into your wilderness campsite, is surprisingly uncrowded. Maybe it’s the mile of washboard between here and 395, easy to drive but with a chilling effect on the pilots of $90,000 campers like those lined up outside Mammoth Lakes. Or maybe it’s the name of the campground, commemorating some forgotten 19th-Century miner double-crossed by his business partner. Whatever the reason this place is nearly abandoned, we’re glad to have it mostly to ourselves. We’re not looking this gift horse in the mouth.

Zeke, tied with my bearbag rope to one of the abundant Jeffrey pines, loudly regrets that he’s just out of reach of the barbecue. Becky tosses him a piece of watermelon rind, which he devours with gusto. Every few minutes he spies a chipmunk testing the borders of our territory and he forgets the rope is there, lunging for the critter. He reaches the end of the rope, and a loud twang like the E string on Paul Bunyan’s pedal steel fills the quiet air as he flips backward. He doesn’t seem to mind much, and is on his feet and wagging his tail before the dust settles. Matthew tosses yet another piece of melon. A fragment breaks off in midair, landing a few feet out of the dog’s reach. A chipmunk spies it and grabs her windfall snack. Twang.

Though it’s a beautiful day, and we’re nearly alone here, I’m not in the best of moods. Tomorrow Matthew and I leave for a week of backpacking along the John Muir Trail. Perverse beast that I am, I dwell not on the wonders in store for us along the route, but rather on how much I’ll miss Becky while we’re gone. I’ll be out of touch for a week, there are very few phones in the high country, and anything could happen while I’m gone. What if a meteor hits Oakland? Matthew is amused but tolerant of my sentimental foolishness, and quietly makes himself scarce as Becky unties Zeke and we stroll up the pumice slope into the forest.

This is the largest Jeffrey pine forest in the world, stretching from near the Nevada line to just below the crest of the Sierra, from Long Valley to the shores of Mono Lake. It lies leeward of one of the lowest parts of the Sierra crest, the environs of Mammoth Mountain. While the tall peaks elsewhere in the Sierra catch most of the moisture blowing off the Pacific, here wet winds are funneled through the range to dampen the excellently-drained pumice soils. Though the humidity is similar to that of the west slope, the temperatures resemble that of Bishop or Reno. The result is an ideal nursery for Jeffrey pine. It’s no accident that the largest ski resort in the Eastern Sierra is nearby. The moisture that quenches Jeffrey’s thirst falls partly as fat white flakes. Mammoth gets more snow than most other places on the East Side. It is this convergence of soil and weather that makes the forest possible, here in the rainshadow of the Sierra.

Place a huge, healthy old-growth forest in a region of plains and low hills with mining and ranching nearby, and you find some of the trees will disappear, made into fenceposts, houses, flumes, and charcoal for smelters. Run a railroad and then an all-weather highway through the woods, and the timber companies show up to send the trees to exotic locales like Los Angeles. The forest here has been logged and logged again, enough that it’s likely the collapse of the old-growth ecosystem here cannot be prevented. It may have already collapsed, for all we know; ecological axioms that hold true in forests of the Pacific Slope may not hold for East Side forests. Where the ecology of the Redwood Forest is abundantly researched, from marbled murrelet above to mycorrhizae below, most of what we know about the East Side is how to grow a nice straight Jeffrey Pine. We know what birds you can find here, but we don’t know whether they depend on being here.

Unfortunately for this forest Timber Harvest Plans make no provision for untested ecological hypotheses. The burden of proof is on the forest dwellers; if they can’t prove sufficient harm, they get evicted. And so the logging continues to this day, carving the heart out of this queen of the Jeffrey Pine forests.

The trees here, though, are as yet unmolested, and they give welcome shade as we follow Deadman Creek, a fork of the Owens River, upstream. The banks are lined with wild rose and an incongruous hedge of Artemisia tridentata, Big Basin sagebrush, which I’ve never before seen near fresh water. The creek is narrow — Zeke can easily put two feet on either side — but the water is filled with 8-inch rainbow trout. We’re without tackle, so my thoughts of fish steamed in bitter Artemisia go unrealized. The fish are hatchery stock, planted in season by the Department of Fish and Game. The DF&G truck plops thousands of fish into the creek here each year. Being hatchery trout, they’re much stupider than wild trout, and all of them tend to stay pretty much where they’re planted. Of course, even stupid trout are smart compared to fish in general; while catching these guys may be, literally, a picnic, it isn’t exactly easy.

There is some evidence of tree-cutting here, though it may be due only to the efforts of campfire-builders. Becky runs to a four-foot-wide Jeff pine, sticking her nose between the plates of bark, and savors the vanilla smell of the tree’s resins: her favorite East Side pastime. Zeke finds a baseball-bat sized branch and worries it, tossing it in the air, raising a big cloud of pumice dust. His coyote-colored fur makes him look like he belongs here. I lean against a downed tree and gaze toward the crest, at the line where the grey-green of Jeffrey pine gives way to the darker shade of red fir. If I were one of the fish in Deadman Creek, I’d forsake my fellow hatchery graduates and swim upstream to the Owens River headwaters. There, under the protective gaze of Two Teats and San Joaquin Peak I’d eat the small, drab fir seed moths as they emerge from the red fir cones and flutter onto the dark cool forest waters. Let the other fish fall for Velveeta and Power Bait.

That red fir forest, in the San Joaquin Roadless area, is little-traveled considering its location. Next to Reno-Tahoe, this is the most crowded spot on the East Slope, but people tend to stick to the roads and well-known trails. The red firs are seen mostly by chickarees, also known as Douglas squirrels, who eat the scales of the cones and heap sciurid calumny on the few passersby. There are pine martens there too. They feed on the more unwary portion of the chickaree population. Porcupines eat the bark of the few western white pines scattered through the forest. Fishers eat the porcupines. Until recently, only a few humans have hiked off-trail into the forest. The approach is too steep for logging trucks, and red fir isn’t the most valuable of timber. Campers tend to avoid red fir forests too. Red firs are prone to branch dieback, and dead branches will plummet to earth at the slightest wind. I’ve seen the falling branches described both as “windowmakers” and as “widowmakers”, depending, I guess, on whether or not one sleeps in a tent.

Lately, though, more humans have been visiting. The local Sierra Club chapter has led groups of hikers into the Roadless Area, so that people can gain a more intimate knowledge of this special place. Surveyors have been here, too, plotting the layout of a proposed Alpine ski resort, which is why the Sierra Club has become interested in publicizing the charms of the area in its pristine state. The resort, with its roads, clear-cut runs, garbage, and loud groups of skiers, would disrupt the forest and disturb the reclusive furbearing animals. But local environmentalists are hampered by the reluctance of their West Side counterparts to notice the problem. It’s as if activists in the Golden Gate drainage had arbitrarily decided that Tuolumne Meadows lay on the edge of the world. Drop down behind the “Sierra Curtain” and you cease to exist.

Night falls; it’s time to plan for our strenuous day tomorrow. There are sleeping bags to fluff, water to drink, carbos to load. Coyotes yip from the Inyo Craters a mile to the south; Zeke bristles and stares into the blackness. Matthew tends the fire, which reflects in Becky’s dark eyes. The excitement of the pending hike builds in me. After a century of abuse the World’s Largest Stand of Jeffrey Pines is still a beautiful place.

Writing on a wide variety of topics

It may surprise new Creek Running North readers to learn that when I started this blog, it was intended to be a place where I could write about things that didn’t raise my blood pressure. I edit a radical environmental magazine, and publish a related website and one other — though the other one is slipping down the long dark slope of neglect these days — and I really needed a place to write about little eddies in a suburban creek, the way grass bends lower to the ground as dew condenses on the blades in the evening, the waveforms implied in bands of clouds and the tailfeathers of the red-shouldered hawk trying to eat my rabbit. I write about the world coming to an end for a living. Why do so to relax?

Rest assured I’m not giving up that aspect of Creek Running North, no matter how it may seem I’ve gone over to the dark side of continuous rage.

I had a long, utterly wonderful phone conversation this weekend with Carl Buell. At one point Carl was ruminating about the recurring and incredibly stupid “Whey all the blog chicks at” theme, and he idly wondered if it had anything to do with diversity of focus. He’d noticed (and so had I) a tendency for many male bloggers to focus more or less exclusively on their area of alleged expertise.

There’s a similar tendency (again, based on observed blogs and subject to vagaries of interpretation with plenty of exceptions, weasel weasel weasel) for women who blog to cover a wider subject range. Take my pal Rana, f’rinstance, who often gets typecast (including by herself) as an academic blogger but who writes just as often about knitting and politics and environment and silly quizzes. Or Roxanne (new to my blogroll, check her out in the unlikely event you haven’t already) a top-notch political blogger who holds forth with just as much expertise on culture and travel and who has a pretty good web novel in progress to boot. Or Beth, who has a range to match the sum of contributors to the New York Review of Books, and a voice that’s the equal of any of them. But the self-appointed serious blogger guys see they have to search through posts on cable stitching or analyses of 14th century devotional art or photographs of brick walls in small New Hampshire towns to get to the one subject they care about. And they get bored and confused and wander off and forget where they were and then two weeks later claim there aren’t any women bloggers.

I have to admit the diversity hypothesis has its counter-arguments. Atrios publishes silly jokes and cat pictures with some regularity, Timothy Burke has thrown in the odd Ren and Stimpy-related post here and there, Bérubé is all over the map and hilarious to boot. Oddly enough, I never see any of those guys asking where the women bloggers are. Maybe it’s not a division between male and female so much as a division between the fox who knows many things, and the hedgehog who only knows one big thing. And maybe most of the hedgehogs, for reasons potentially having to do with inflated sense of self-importance and unrealistic evaluations of the mellifluousness of one’s own voice, are men.

Insert stupid “also, many women are foxes” joke here.

In other words, there’s a fight between the spice of life and the monotonous, regardless of the gender of the blogger. And I know what kind of blog I’d rather read. And write.

PZ Myers, who has been extraordinarily generous with links to CRN these days, added Creek Running North to his blogroll in the “science blogs” category. Though this surprised me for a moment, it’s as as good a pigeonhole as any. I write about science as often as probably all but the top five percent most science-obsessed bloggers, which is to say I write about science once in a while. About as often as I write about politics, say, or about hiking, or about old bad memories dredged up from 1983.

But somehow, regardless of topic, it all comes back to the bad news these days.

F’rinstance. The other day I found a site that’ll be incredibly useful in writing the Joshua tree book. Olle Pellmyr has done a bunch of research on yucca moths, the insects responsible for pollinating (you guessed it) yuccas. As Joshua trees are yuccas, I will be writing about the moths in my book.

Yucca moths are fascinating, Chris wrote, as his readers slipped into a deep slumber. The yucca-moth relationship is the textbook example of coevolution. The female moth, in genus Tegeticula or Parategeticula, deliberately gathers pollen and puts it in the spot in the yucca flower where it needs to go to fertilize the ovaries. She then lays eggs in the flowers. The eggs hatch, and the caterpillars eat some of the seeds as they grow, then drop to the ground and rest — for as long as twenty years — before they metamorphose into adult moths and lather, rinse, repeat. The moth gathers enough pollen to make sure that each flower will produce more than enough seeds to feed its young, while still having plenty to make new yuccas. I’ve dissected a few ripe yucca fruit on many of my desert trips, and oh, what the hell. Let me dissect the Yucca baccata fruit that’s sitting on my desk right now. Be right back.

Looks like approximately 120 seeds distributed through six seed chambers. One of the chambers is completely undamaged, and a few others have some intact seeds still remaining. Call it about twenty percent efficiency in seed production, certainly sufficient considering that a single yucca flower stalk can hold two dozen fruit, and that many yuccas bear multiple flower stalks in any one flowering season. That’s a lot of seeds to scatter on the desert soil, enough to feed the woodrats and jackrabbits and still germinate a surviving yucca every few years, which is all the yuccas need.

The important thing — the thing that gets this relationship into the textbooks — is that neither the yucca nor the moth could reproduce without the other. Such a relationship is called “obligate mutualism,” and it’s cool not only to watch this take place in the field but also to figure how the relationship evolved.

Anyway. I’m reading an article by Pellmyr (Yuccas, Yucca Moths, and Coevolution, A Review. Ann. Missouri Bot. Gard. 90:35-55, 2003) that covers what’s known about yucca moths, and Pellmyr describes Prodoxus, a closely related moth that lays eggs on fertilized yucca fruit. Its larvae eat the seeds or other tissues, but it provides no benefit to the plant in return. It’s commonly called the “bogus yucca moth.”

And Pellmyr writes about Charles Valentine Riley, an entomologist best known for saving the entire European wine industry from phylloxera, but who also did almost all the initial research on yucca moths. And I read this footnote:

“V.T Chambers, an amateur lepidopterist, mistakenly used the first non-pollinating bogus yucca moth to challenge Riley’s description of pollinator yucca moths (Chambers, 1877). In a rebuttal, Riley (1880) untangled the confusion and used Chambers’s moth to erect the new genus Prodoxus (Gr., ‘judging of a thing prior to experience’).”

And the first thought I have on reading that footnote is “wow, an organism that parasitizes the labor of another, and it’s named for shooting off your mouth without knowing what the hell you’re talking about? I’ve got to write about this moth as a metaphor for the Bush Administration.”

I hate this millennium.

Riverbed sand

[Photo by Anne Rohrer, large image]

A few years ago I was on the banks of the Green just inside Utah, in Dinosaur National Monument, watching the tears of the Wind River and Wasatch ranges flow past. The river bottom was a broad stretch of smooth, shallow ripples in the blonde sand. The current carried trace amounts of darker sand, iron oxide or something similar. Slowly, a few grains at a time, the dark sand would spill into the ripples, there to gather on the bottom until a stray current lifted them back into the flow.

I laid on my stomach on the sandbar watching the sand beneath the water. Slowly, slowly, lines of dark sand gathered, bent around the traces, drifted one into the other. I realized after an hour or so that I’d been trying to read the patterns, as if they were Arabic or Japanese characters assembling on the river bottom, scattering just as I felt I was about to comprehend their intent.

This is a collaborative post with Anne Rohrer of Yellowstone Wolf.

Not that I’ll enjoy taking more time off work, mind you…

So I’ve set up the new household wireless network, encrypted to defeat all the thousands of Pinole wardrivers, and am enjoying Teen Girl Squad wirelessly from the comfort of the bedroom, listening to BB King being streamed up a firewire cable to the G5 and through the air to the base station and through the air again to the laptop without any skipping or hesitation, and replaying fond memories of the Moroccan lamb fettucine I ate for dinner, when I decide to check my email. Ah, life in the 21st century.

In my email is a note from a friend in Arizona. She and her husband are hiking across the Grand Canyon, North Rim to South Rim, over five days in May. This is a trip that requires hiking permits obtained well in advance and like that.  They have a permit for four hikers, but the couple they planned to hike with dropped out. They have one friend who’s leapt into the breach, and need one more.

Becky can’t go, though she needs a trip like that more than anyone I know. Damn shame. I’ll miss her.

Waves in the desert

Lake Manly, Badwater, Death Valley. January 17, 2005.

Last Thursday I sipped coffee, the sand cold against my sandaled toes. The muddy, foam-flecked Mojave River flowed before me. Twenty years of visiting and I had seen water in this part of the river only once before, and then without stopping.

The truck engine clicked cooling in the morning air.

The river was swift and shallow. Small standing waves covered almost every square inch of its surface. A line of ripples before me like tiger claw marks on brown corduroy pivoted upstream and down. Standing waves’ key characteristic is that they, well, stand. They stay. They are static. I decided that the river’s flow must be fluctuating to make these ripples dance. Cubic feet per second on the Y axis and time elapsed on the X: waves within waves.

The full flow of the river right before me. Upstream, a dozen braids converged, to split again downstream. Water sounds echoed off the old Fred Harvey building. Houses are scattered among the red rock hills on the far side, up towards Old Route 58. In 1856 Illinois sent two delegates to the first Republican National Convention. One went on to the White House and martyrdom, the other moved here and built a mill across the river for his silver mines. Robert Whitney Waterman’s workers later remembered him treating them well, and their wives appreciated his ban on liquor, gambling and whoring. When the price of silver dropped, all scattered to the four winds. Little trace remains of the mill.

A man in an impossibly run-down house on the south bank rummaged through one of five cars in his yard, shouting at his dog. A Barstow cop drove by, waved at me, smiled.

The night before I drove through downtown Barstow after the sun had set. Scattered groups of men huddled around brown-bagged bottles. At a stoplight corner three of them stood facing me, no eyes nor noses visible, only gaping, questing mouths. I thought it a hallucination spurred by driving and peripheral vision. I dared not take a second look.

Waves in the desert. Chart most anything out here and you find troughs, breakers. In Death Valley on Tuesday I hiked up into Coffin Canyon, a high-walled slot carved out below Dante’s View. A hundred yards in I was stopped by a dry fall, fifteen or twenty feet of smooth vertical rock. I turned to face down-canyon. Ten feet above me, pasted to canyon walls, a bathtub ring of leaves were stuck still drying from floods of a week before. The newscasters called the storm “unprecedented,” the most rain ever recorded in two weeks in Southern California. At the mouth of Coffin Canyon the flood had carved a small notch into a broad alluvial fan, exposing layers of head-sized rocks moved by ancient storms. On the floor of Death Valley old Lake Manly had returned, a foot or so of water covering the lowest point in the Western Hemisphere, 282 feet below sea level. It would dry up within a month or so, leaving a thin layer of mud and salt.

Gone

After taking an unexpected layover day at home before leaving (the best kind, as all my toys and animals and Beckies are here) I am off.

I have turned off all comments so that you can’t talk behind my back the spammers won’t overload all the comments while I’m gone. Except for this post, that is: can’t shut down the shop entirely.

It’s a fair bet that any readers wandering by Cima Dome between Tuesday and Friday will find me there. The Weather Channel forecasts coolth for the duration of my trip, and I’ve got a bunch of Chomsky on the iPod. Can’t wait! See you later.

Trucks, and the travels thereof

This is where my 1994 Nissan XE KingCab Pickup went before it died in mid-street, upside down, two years ago this month. RIP. Routes approximate and I may have forgotten something.

This is where the 2003 Toyota Tacoma has been so far. I may add a little bit to its life history this coming week. Perhaps a trip up to Death Valley to see the verbena, which I understand is already in bloom after the torrential rains of the first couple weeks of the year.

Big Thompson Canyon

The thing you have to understand about my day attempting to hitchhike down Route 34 is the context in which it occurred.

That winter, Susan and I had decided we were moving to Portland. She would be going to chiropractic school and I would find something to do. I read everything I could find about Portland and started to feel like I finally had a ticket out of Buffalo. As the day approached, Susan said she wanted to go to New York City for a week to say goodbye to her family. At the end of that week, she called, said she’d gotten a job and would meet me out west in a year.

I went to New York for a week to see Susan before heading west. I saw Susan for maybe 24 hours of that time. We walked together in the giant Nuclear Freeze march. I spent the rest of that week meeting with my fellow draft resisters and steeling myself to break things off with Susan, though I didn’t know it at the time.

I wanted the hell out of New York City. A friend from Buffalo put me in touch with a woman, Cara, who was driving from NYC to Boulder and then to Idaho for the Rainbow Gathering. For some inexplicable reason I thought the Rainbow Gathering sounded like fun, and she invited me along for the ride.

I persuaded Cara to stop in Buffalo so that I could cash in my inheritance — a whopping 500-dollar life insurance policy my parents had bought when I was a baby. We wound up picking up A., the mutual friend who had hooked us up, who was heading back to her house in Boulder.

I am going to trust that you don’t find my accounting of the next couple weeks boastful. It was a long time ago, and before certain public health concerns changed life for young people. Cara and A. and I stopped for a break in Beaver Crossing, Nebraska. Cara went off to mail some things at the post office, and A. took the opportunity to confess that she wanted more out of our friendship than she’d been getting. I liked A. a lot, and that was certainly OK by me. And the times were different, so the fact that A. was living in Boulder with her female life partner and said partner’s long-time boyfriend, to whom A. was legally married, to say nothing of the fact that I was still technically engaged, seemed more interesting complications than impediments.

There’s an important moment in this story where I wake up in the back of Cara’s station wagon, after a night of platonic cuddling with A., and the world looked completely different. We were somewhere between Julesberg and Sterling, on the shoulder of a dirt road a few miles from Interstate 76. There were prickly pears and buffalo grass and no trees anywhere.

I decided I wanted to spend a little time with A. in Boulder rather than continuing on to Idaho. I spent two weeks at her house, in which her girlfriend and her husband lived, along with a housemate, R. Inside of two days, every resident of that house had propositioned me quite bluntly. This started literally the moment I arrived: R. met us at the car, hugged A., turned to me, put her bare foot atop mine, and started kneading my instep with her toes.

I will spare you further details other than to say even as a libidinous 22-year-old with a long and varied sexual history, I had mixed feelings about the whole thing. Not mixed enough not to avail myself of some of the companionship being offered, you understand. But I felt a bit like a side of beef thrown into the wolf pen, and not always in a good way.

I decided after two weeks that enough was enough and I needed to get further west before I stayed a lot longer. I’m not sure why I chose to hitchhike through Estes Park, snug up against the base of Rocky Mountain National Park, several hours out of the way considering I was heading toward Cheyenne and I-80. Maybe because of the scenery. In any event, it took me most of a morning to get to Lyons, and then I stood watching hummingbirds at a feeder for another hour before someone came by to take me to Estes Park. I called a friend in Buffalo from a payphone outside the Estes Park 7-11, chatted for a bit, ate some lunch and headed down Route 34 toward Loveland.

That’s the context. Here’s the story.

I was wearing those black flat Chinese fabric shoes, and walking backwards along the shoulder of 34 with my thumb out, for about an hour, before I realized only three cars were going by each hour. I started walking forwards. Past the riverside resorts, past the private cabins, as the canyon grew up to either side of me. My feet started to ache.

For months, I’d been letting my plans be made for me. Susan picking Portland as the place where I’d spend my life, heading to New York because of my compulsion to see her, accepting a ride to Idaho because someone I knew was driving there, staying in Boulder to get laid, not to mention the many months before that of bouncing from event to event like a pinball. And here I was, on a deserted stretch of two lane highway, listening to the Big Thompson roll past over the rocks, watching the hawks circle on the thermals over the canyon, marveling at the angular boulders interspersed among the trees, and all of a sudden I realized no one knew where I was, and I could decide to go anywhere I wanted, and it was entirely up to me what I decided.

I had never felt anything like that in my life. It was the moment I truly began to feel like I belonged somewhere in the world: among the rugged landscapes of a West I hadn’t even really seen yet.

I walked all the way to Cedar Cove before I got a ride, with an electrician heading home to Loveland after a full work day. Another ride got me to Cheyenne.

A couple weeks after I arrived in the Bay Area, I picked up a newspaper and saw a photo of the phone booth outside the Estes Park 7-11. It was a story on the 1982 Lawn Lake flood, which had just bulldozed through the town and down that canyon, sweeping away much of what I saw as my past started to be swept away itself.