Route 66 :: June '97 -- October '97

Subject: lost entries
Date: Tue, 07 Oct 1997 14:45:05 -0700

12:45 Malibu Beach RV Park; Malibu, California :: 07 OCT 97

Not my week. You'll all receive 3.040 sometime. Fortunately, John's got a hardcopy of it because the softcopy has disappeared from my outbox without being sent. The problem is, John may already be on his way home to England. If so, it'll be a few weeks before I can get a copy of the text...

The 3.037 test was a search for the lost text of an entry. It began with the following passage:

Then out of the broken sun-rotted mountains of Arizona to the Colorado, with green reeds on its banks, and that's the end of Arizona. There's California just over the river, and a pretty town to start it. Needles, on the river. But the river is a stranger in this place.
  graphical element John Steinbeck
The Grapes of Wrath


I didn't find Needles so pretty, but so much time has elapsed that perhaps even Steinbeck would now find disappointment in Needles, on the river.

I found the pejorative 'sun-rotted mountains' interesting too. So many times I've heard the desert referred to in this tone. Desolate. Wasteland. "There's nothing here to see," as John would later say. As is so often the case, such statements offer a better judgement of the person making them than on the object of their comment. The desert is inhospitable: yes, to the unprepared, to those who don't possess the necessary respect. It is not often a place of verdant green, or of any bright colour. It is never a place of easy living.

Me, I like the desert. I like the dry, crisp crunch of sand and crumbling rock beneath boot soles. I like the brisk wind whisking through sage brush and cholla spines. There is a bird chirping, and where there is a bird there are living things that birds eat, and living things that eat birds. I like the silence you can so easily imagine once the wind and birds are pushed from your senses.

Lizards scurry before your crunching. These happenstance encounters may be the only animal life the uninitiated, the unknowing can see because all life here is held in reserve for the night and for the rain. The day we drove across the sun-rotted Arizona mountains the tall, spindly ocotillo were a rich, British racing green in their temporary robe of leaves. It must have rained in the last few days because I have never seen them except in their leafless grey/brown reserve. And I have not yet seen the desert spring, the brief cacophony of flowering colour like a gaudy Easter bonnet on the usually prim librarian.

But I'll sometimes sit in the desert, become like the rock, and wait for the creatures to stir. Rarely am I disappointed and often am I surprised when a tortoise or hare, a ground squirrel or desert bird decides it's safe enough to venture from cover, from a bush or lair just a few feet from my sitting place.

The desert strips away all that is not essential. What may seem like leisure is instead patience--the animals and plants take siesta not of laziness but because they must. Movement is saved for flight or fight, to eat or escape being eaten. And those of us who venture into the world's dry lands to stay for a while, stay still for a while, we sometimes strip from ourselves the non-essential. The desert is not a forgiving place but an exacting one. Error is not tolerated, fools not suffered at all. And if you go there with this sense in your heart, you may discover some extraneous, foolish bits of self and perhaps you'll leave them there withering in the desert sun. And then your soul will be willing for the spring monsoons. And it will not take all too much rain to raise the colourful blooms.

~~~ Responses Sought ~~~
What is that feeling when you're driving away from people and they recede on the plain till you see their specks dispersing?--it's the too-huge world vaulting us, and it's good-by. But we lean forward to the next crazy venture beneath the skies.
  graphical element Jack Kerouac
On the Road