Coyote Crossing Writing and photography from the Mojave and Sonoran deserts by Chris Clarke Wed, 10 Sep 2014 05:54:06 +0000 en-US hourly 1 Heartbreak and Ivanpah; Ivanpah and heartbreak by Chris Clarke Wed, 10 Sep 2014 05:54:06 +0000 Sometimes, reflected glory burns too bright.
Sometimes, your feathery integument
ignites, and all that’s left: the earth approaching
stony swift. Decisions loom, and sad ones;
stay the course you set despite the certainty
of impact? Veer away from the bright light
that’s tempted you this far? There’s no real hope
of happy endings here. All that remains:
the strain of scorched, dis-feathered wing against
the unforgiving air, inevitable
contact with the earth, gorge-rising fear,
while those below you on the distant ground
see nothing but a bright, leisurely arc
and slow, and blinding white against the blue
and desert sky, almost ethereal
in your terminal agony; a wing
turned meteor, and all your nesting hopes
however long postponed, fall fluttering
as useless ash onto the desert stones.

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Poem with one vowel by Chris Clarke Fri, 29 Aug 2014 00:55:45 +0000 Edge effects
Glee! The deep freeze recedes.
Even the bejeweled bees, ever kept penned,
Greet the respected beekeeper.
These stretched present vessels, these feeble knees, 
These leveled, dependent legs,
End the secret sense the experts set,
The present red-dressed regret.
Yes, pen the letters. Send them west, 
Let sweet green verses rest well there.
Let them needle-test the chest-nerves’ senses.

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Chris reading in Joshua Tree: Save The Date by Chris Clarke Mon, 11 Aug 2014 06:15:30 +0000 I’ll be reading some essays and some poetry on Saturday, September 20 at 6:00 at the Radio Free Joshua Tree Listening Lounge, 61597 Twenty-Nine Palms Highway in Beautiful Downtown Joshua Tree. Admission is a few dollars tossed into the hat to keep Radio Free Joshua Tree and the Listening Lounge going, but no one will be turned away etc. etc..

More details are here.

This is the first time I’ll have read in public in six years, which makes this event an important collectible. I’ll try to arrange to have some copies of the Zeke book for sale and signing as well. Hope to see you there.

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Bump me with your plastron, you sexy Threatened thing you. by Chris Clarke Fri, 01 Aug 2014 20:39:29 +0000 Making new desert tortoises in Joshua Tree.

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Fencepost hawks by Chris Clarke Wed, 30 Jul 2014 04:45:26 +0000 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.

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A Sonnet For Dawkins by Chris Clarke Sat, 28 Jun 2014 20:40:40 +0000 Shall I compare thee to a Summer’s Eve?
Thou art more churlish and intemperate.
Fine words don’t camouflage a nasty peeve,
and someone here is past their sell-by date.
Sometime puffed-up a head too far refined,
and charm supplanted by a deathly prim;
and civil words that cloak a heart unkind
by chance (and nature’s winnowing) too dimmed.
So thou, eternal bummer, can go fade
just like the reverence you think we ow’st;
as those you would have led now throw you shade
for every portion of manure you throwest
so long as lungs can breathe, or eyes can see,
and you post tweets in insipidity.

(Revised from an earlier draft.)

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Despair by Chris Clarke Thu, 26 Jun 2014 02:20:20 +0000 Here is a story of a beautiful, once numerous bird going slowly extinct so that California can sell milk.
Here is a story of an agency delaying action to protect a disappearing predator.

I wake up in the morning to find bad news.

A new species of western pond turtle discovered: it’s already in serious trouble.
The Feds have refused to protect a rare lizard for decades, so activists turn in desperation to the state of California to do the job.

I find the worst of the news and take it in, bring myself to understand how bad it is, then share it with the world.

I look for good news. I do.

Here is a story about suing at significant expense to keep eagles marginally safer from wind turbines.
Here is a story about a much-heralded move to remove a handful of deadly poisons from the retail market, while others remain available.
Here is a story on common-sense measures to save water and wildlife that are too smart and sensible to be enacted.

Sometimes the only good news I can find is that someone, somewhere, has decided to stand up against the mounting horror.

I live alone now. I talk to others rarely. I see no one else for a week at a time. I awake at sunrise to read bad news that has been carefully emailed to me. Before the desert air warms I have had enough to sear my soul. I drink some coffee, bury any hopes of ever being happy, then keep reading.

This story is about why a virally popular idea to save the world won’t work.
This story is about why a virally popular idea to save the world is actually making things worse.
This story is about some good news that even its proponents say is only temporary.
This story is about our last chance to avoid catastrophic climate change being met with half-measures and compromise.

The stories linked above are a tiny fraction of everything I’ve written in the last month. I have been doing this since 1989. Technological advances allow me to compile and distribute the bad news much more quickly now.

Here’s a industrial energy project going in near a national park.
Here’s wildlife science being discarded at another industrial energy project near a national park.
Here’s a third industrial energy project threatening a rustic town’s groundwater.
Here’s an orchid being collected and trampled to the point of near-extinction.

If I stop I don’t eat. If I stop I don’t make the rent. Through disaster and dislocation, through moving everything I own into a storage locker at the beginning of May and then moving it all out again at the end of May, through the grief and isolation in my new life, I cannot stop this soul-destroying work.

This is no life. How did I find myself here?

Straining at good news: a lone condor visits Pescadero, and biologists say maybe if more come they can eat elephant seals.
Straining at good news: the tiny group of gray wolves poised to confront the guns of California’s wildlife-loathing yahoos may gain formal legal protection.
Straining at good news: A few fish spawn in a few feet of river downstream from an impassable dam.
Straining at good news: California may make it illegal to shoot as many coyotes as you can for cash prizes.

People tell me nice things. “Keep writing,” they say. They call my work important. It is intended as a kindness, and I take it as such. Lately I think the true kindness would be for someone to take this burden away. Is there a crowdfunding platform that helps people like me stop working for six months? A writers’ retreat where writers can retreat from writing?

I have known burnout before. This is different. I have worked in less than functional institutions with inadequate support insufficiently funded. It was bad. Now my world is burning to the ground.

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Clarke’s Laws of Internet Commenting by Chris Clarke Thu, 19 Jun 2014 01:04:58 +0000
  • No matter how broad or blatant a satire, more commenters than you expect will take it literally without hesitation.
  • If there is one comment on a post it will dispute something in the first sentence of the post.
  • If an Internet commenter struggles to understand a bit of writing, he or she will label that writing as “stupid.”
  • The first five commenters who attempt to rebut a post by logical argument will raise objections anticipated and thoroughly addressed in the post.
  • For comment threads longer than one screen, the inanity of a comment is directly proportional to the number of other commenters who’ve already said the same thing up-thread.

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    Opening lines by Chris Clarke Tue, 17 Jun 2014 05:17:12 +0000 I learned today that I am in need of magnesium.

    I learned today that everything hurts.

    It was the kind of day where the wind blows nonstop from the west, raising clouds of dust off the dry lake bed and stripping even the droughtiest desert plants of moisture.

    I went outside to photograph the dust storm; a curator emeritus of the Los Angeles County Museum of Natural History was standing across the road.

    The cat is crazy with the wind.

    88 degrees today, but with the wind it felt like 88, albeit windier.

    “Magnesium will help your restless leg syndrome,” said Rebecca, smoothing my knotted calf with a strong oiled hand.

    “You haven’t taken a deep breath in a long time, have you.”

    A typical human body contains 25 grams of magnesium, though that constitutes a dietary source of the mineral only in the direst of situations.

    There is no wind like a Mojave wind.

    “This desert will become uninhabitable, with toxic dust storms reaching as far as the coast.”

    “I will be right back,” I told the cat, lying through my teeth.

    “Grief and breathing are tightly linked; people coping with loss don’t draw deep breaths.”

    The sudden sharp pain opened my eyes.

    “I think,” I told her, “that I get angry because it’s easier than being sad.”


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    Ladderbacks by Chris Clarke Mon, 16 Jun 2014 05:34:51 +0000 Another walk tonight as the wind picked up, this one two hours before the moon. Walking in the desert in the dark with only the dim light of other people’s homes to guide me: a metaphor for something or other.

    Three miles and change, almost all with sand ground into my heels. Arrived at the front door shaking with hunger, some of it for food.

    At the house in the late afternoon after my trip down out of the Mojave to drop A. at the Los Angeles shuttle, I watched two absurdly gawky ladderbacked woodpeckers wrangle over the hummingbird feeder. They were teens with back haircuts and pointed elbows. One climbed the window frame and drummed on it for a few minutes, then drummed on the window pane to see how that worked.

    What it did was summon the cat, and each regarded the other with frankly hostile interest.

    In Palm Springs this afternoon I found myself idling in traffic in front of the vet where last I saw Thistle. All at once I couldn’t see the street in front of me, blurred with saltwater. I pulled over to let the moment pass.

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