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Creek Running North

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October 23, 2005


Friends, I have news to report, news that provides a neat objective definition of the concept of ambivalence. The news is this: there is now a Starbucks in downtown Barstow. Oddly enough, this fact boosts both Starbucks and Barstow in my estimation.

Sitting atop the eastern alluvial fan of the Providence Range at 6:20, and Becky is not at home. Something odd flits out of the creosote to my right. The sun slipped behind the mountains long ago, and the air begins to cool. I spent some time hearing the beginning of coyote song off toward Hole In The Wall, but always the music resolved into the rally calls of Gambel quail.

Every time I come here I am stunned at how thickly the barrel cacti grow.

Off to the north, in plain sight, is the spot where the Hackberry Fire began. I have been spending lots of time today not thinking about it. Tonight a giant cloud, remnant of coastal rainstorm, hung in the eastern sky over Lanfair Valley turning brighter and brighter pink. I snapped a hundred photos of it, I think. Finally I put the camera away. Within minutes the cloud turned a deep blue, like litmus paper placed on baking soda.

I have wrenched a muscle in my lower back somehow. 1300 milligrams of aspirin should take care of that. Twice the “at home” emergency dose.

Quail just flushed behind me in the dark. Coyote must be abroad. At roadside today I found a dog-sized rib: who else could it be? It lay among a bonanza of yellow coyote gourds.

Cactus wren and quail. Alone with my thoughts. Kind of. A nice young couple from Orange County in the next site. Off to the east, the view stretches near to the Mogollon Rim. I remember coming down off that toward Phoenix so many years ago, nursing the old VW through Sonoran desert dangers to have its clutch die on me the next morning.

Life was so simple then: no money, no hope. The couple next door accentuate my loneliness.

In 1999 I drove the Humboldt route past the endless sagebrush steppe of Northern Nevada. One mountain range after another spun slowly past, gray sage on gray soil backed by gray sky. Around one corner steam erupted from the earth: the geysers of Beowawe. Near Carlin the Interstate goes into a tunnel, a short bore to save a half-mile loop around a tiny mountain spur. I was half a mile back, and a semi entering the tunnel lost a tire, shredded at high speed.

A long, heavy strip of tread sailed a hundred feet into the air, arcing slowly. I watched it fly, my neck craning up and over the dash. Becky and I had argued before I left, and we had more business to resolve when I returned home in a few weeks. I wondered if the slab would come down through my windshield, make me drive into the tunnel wall. It was an aching long moment. The tire shard just hung there.

And then I entered the tunnel, and watched in the rearview as the slab of tread fell heavily into my lane, twenty feet back.

Tonight the traffic on I-40 is a thin thread twenty miles south. Nothing stands between it and me. White pinpricks creep along at eighty miles an hour, a strand of luminescent spider silk from Barstow to New Mexico.

Moonrise, and the waning quarter emerges from behind the Ivanpah mountains. My neighbors call over to me: they have just found, with their flashlight, four black widow spiders beneath their picnic table. “Cool!” I respond. My bare feet are beneath my own picnic table. We spent an hour supine in the parking lot, watching the traffic on I-40 beneath the shooting stars, and talking about blogging.

Posted by Chris Clarke at October 23, 2005 08:29 PM TrackBack URL for this entry:

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When a friend sent me a picture years ago of a Starbucks he visited inside China's Imperial Palace, I knew It was the beginning of the end. When I saw one in Opera (Paris) last Spring, I knew the end had come.

Posted by: Roxanne at October 24, 2005 07:45 AM
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