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Creek Running North

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September 27, 2005

Heading to the Mojave again

Another trip looms to the greater Barstow-Vegas-Needles-Kingman-Tonopah-Wickenburg area, probably in the vicinity of October 20 or so, and lasting a few days.

Eight years ago I quite my job at Terrain - too much bad news had brought me into a depressive pit - and went to the Mojave for four weeks or so. I spent a lot of time looking at the night sky from Cima Dome, watching Orion chase the bull, watching Canis major come to Orion's heel.

I went by way of Sonora Pass, not the most direct route between the Bay and the Mojave. I camped that night beneath Jeffrey pines at the headwaters of the Owens River. It was cold, and so I lit a fire and cracked open eight or nine beers. There was only one other party in the campground, two young couples up from Los Angeles, and I joked that they knew who to talk to if they accidentally caught too many trout.

Two hours later one of them walked into my site with two fresh trout, gutted and cleaned. Just the day before Matthew had given me a box of camping food: I rummaged and found a plastic bag of slivered almonds. Olive oil and cast iron, and the maple cutting board in the shape of a pig that my grandfather had cut on the jigsaw 35 years previously, and fingers numbed with Sierra Nevada Pale Ale and 37-degree nighttime mountain air, and I was happy.

I had brought copies of every single issue of Terrain I had edited, save the most recent. That one was still at the printer. I took the stack and considered it, then leafed through the oldest issue, from five years previous. The half-remembered bad news and the embarrassing typographical mistakes and odd layout decisions leapt out at me.

It caught fire nicely.

So did the next issue, and the issue after that. I started another beer, and put the subsequent issue on without even opening it.

Terrain was a monthly newspaper, and then a monthly magazine, and I had spent a minimum of 250 hours putting each one together. You do the math. Each issue was a month of lost sleep, of arguments with co-workers over budgeting, of explaining that I did in fact need to use the Mac II despite their desire to play SimEarth on it, of waiting for 11 by 17 page spreads to render in Quark on said Mac II with four megs of RAM, of pleading with writers to allow me to reprint their articles from Usenet, or struggling with abysmally written activist prose, of propping my eyes open to get just one more page of corrections entered before I crawled into bed, of bending over the light table to paste up spreads because my employer wouldn't spend the 100 bucks a month to deliver online documents to the printer. I had hauled each of these issues back from the printer. I had hauled each of them to the post office.

Each one caught, flared, burned to ash in less time than it took me to typeset three paragraphs. I watched the pages curl, friends' bylines backlit and consumed.

The hangover the next day was formidable. I drove down 395 and then east to Death Valley. A few days later it was October 23, 1997. Eyes on the Pleiades, I toasted the planet earth on its 6000th birthday as defined by James Ussher.

The desert nights are longer and colder without alcohol. Sounds good to me.

Posted by Chris Clarke at September 27, 2005 09:37 PM TrackBack URL for this entry:

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Chris, before you die, you must have the heavenly experience of sitting in a natural hot spring and seeing those same stars through gentle clouds of steam. Beer - not too much of it - doesn't hurt. And if you can have a canine friend along, or human companions willing to notice and savor the night silence, that's good too.

Threaded through our lives, through all the billions of mundane ticking seconds, are these certain Golden Moments. They can be as brief as a first kiss, or as long as the graceful flight of a Great Blue Heron, rising off a swampy river and shyly fleeing over a distant line of trees.

Things you never forget. Things that fill your head and heart with a soft, warm, friendly glow every time you call them to mind.

Sitting in a natural hot spring will be a Golden Moment. I promise.

Posted by: Hank Fox at September 28, 2005 12:05 AM
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It makes me sad to think of you burning so much good effort.

I wonder if you think the effort doesn't matter or if it was just therapudic to burn these reminders of a time of burn out?

I am maybe too spiritual mumbo-jumbo for you, but I firmly believe that for every ounce of goodwill you put out into the universe, that it multiplies and touches far more than you ever will see. But if nothing else, there should at least be the pride of having done the right thing to the best of your ability. What more can you ask of yourself?

Posted by: susurra at September 28, 2005 11:28 AM
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I just spent a day moving boxes of my own private "Terrain" into a storage locker so that I can put off the day of reckoning.

Someday I will have your fortitude.

Posted by: Jarrett at September 29, 2005 12:26 AM
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Years ago I was a photographer -- it wasn't a very good living, but I liked, and still respect and enjoy, some of the work I did then. For years i thought of having a wall devoted to my photographs.

But my wife having died ten years ago, and my life (and my self) having changed, nearly all the prints and negatives from that long-ago time no longer arouse any feeling, and are now waiting for me to find an outlet that will recover the silver -- except for several hundred negatives of the '60's Emeryville Flats junk sculpture. Somehow I feel these have a value beyond "see what I created" (like your Mother's saving your fifth-grade drawings), and that it's important that these brief glimpses of that extraordinary expressiveness not be junked because they no longer have any meaning for ME.

Survival is victory.


Posted by: Rich at October 23, 2005 06:18 AM
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