DESERT NIGHT, from 'Lane and Mia'

“We’re almost there,” I said. “Just a dirt road, there won’t be a sign. We drive past it, we’ll never get there. Slow down.”

The GPS X was tracking us along the eastern side of the Weapons Range. Boris said he was able to examine documentation of stuff that was uncovered on the range when ordnance exploded, old mining sites, weird stuff the Navy didn’t really care about but had to track. Not like there were endangered species or anything hiding out that some nerd was keeping notes on. All that environmental stuff was off-limits on the range. Nobody could get close enough to find out if some desert tortoise habitat was seriously threatened. Everybody pretty much knew a bombing range takes no mercy. That was the whole point. Boris said there was a joke around headquarters, the Navy had posted signs throughout the desert range telling the critters to go find a new home. Like lizards could read.

“Slow, dude, slow,” I said. “Man you got one speed, whether it’s pool, drinking, or driving.”

“Yeah and you go no speed.”

“This is it, man. This is it. This is it. Turn here. Left, left. LEFT. . .LEFT.”

The F-150 screeched left, bucked a foot-deep ditch, spun back tires over the top of the hump and settled on a dirt path with a headlight-view of stark scrub brush and a cracked mud-sand mix spread like spackle.

“Slow, here,” I said. “Just hold on, okay?”
Boris held the truck still.

“High beams and fog lights, please,” I said. The GPS had a zoom-reduce feature, so I toggled the map to a larger scale and looked at the coordinates I’d plugged in from Boris. The desert brightened under the Ford’s headlights and the low-light from the fog lamps sprayed out to the sides. The rutted path disappeared beyond the blaze of light, into a night darker than I remembered.

“What does it show?” Boris asked.

“Six, seven miles.”

“You ready?”

“In a minute. Shut off the truck.”


“Stop the truck. Turn off the engine.”

Boris switched off the ignition and I opened the door and stepped out. The surface had a crunch, then a doughy consistency under the dry-cured crust. The western sky was in full bloom, the planets tucked in behind the horizon when the twilight faded, hours ago. Black everywhere, with pure pinpoints of ancient light sparkling up high when your eyes adjusted, stars fired up a billion years ago, showing their signals. Silence you can hear, it’s so thick. A dense, hard, impenetrable stillness that feeds you like a drug. You get some, it’s never enough. Solid bedrock bottom, like the planet is starting all over again, right in front of you.


backpack45 said...

Fascinating perspective and such a contrasting way of demonstrating that you love the outdoors as much as we do. Great photos of Chaco Canyon and Owl Canyon.

mendoman said...

A beautiful tableau. Desert night skies are among the most serene on the planet. Inky blackness makes the shimmer so much brighter. And, yes, government logic dictates that even if lizards cannot read, the taxpayers will not be named in a liability suit from litigious reptiles in the event of any accidental deaths resulting from bombing incidents... I see it more as a gentler, kinder nation showing its more compassionate side to our less evolved brethren...