Thursday, June 19, 2014

Flying Geysers and Out-of-Body Experiences

Several years ago I participated in the Surprise Valley Writers Forum, a gathering of Western writers in Cedarville, a California frontier town on the doorstep of Nevada’s Great Basin. When the forum ended, some of the local writers suggested I take the “back way” home to Sacramento.

What they didn’t tell me before I headed out is that this vast geological sink is a landscape that will not only turn your head around, it will also take your heart. The wash of the gigantic sand dunes sweeping into the sage brush sea cast a rhythmic spell, mound upon mound slipping to the desert floor.

Hurtling down Nevada Highway 447, trusting the link to Interstate 80 near Reno would be waiting for me, that after being utterly alone, I would regain civilization. Directly ahead in the sky as I drove was a cloud with a square hole. I don’t mean square in the loose sense—I mean square like a laser-cut diamond.
Round peg that I am, I steered mesmerized by this square at 80 mph, hitting cattle guards on the open range, physically and spiritually lofting, playing Mozart full blast across the desert’s snug-fitting sage blanket.

The realization seeped in: The emotional and physical load I carry everyday had slipped off, perhaps dropped without my knowing through the rungs of a long-past cattle guard. I was free-floating in the universe, out-of-body, buoyant and elated, at one with the cosmic, at peace with myself, hurtling toward the square space, the chiseled escape hatch gaping wide open.
What I didn’t see as I drove through this magical ecosystem—the Black Rock Desert, the Eastern Sierra Nevada, Northern Paiute land, Pyramid Lake—is what’s happening at ground level.

Didn’t see the way water flows into streams when a deluge strikes in this roughly 200,000 square-mile wash basin, one-fifth of what we call the West, didn’t see where creeks and rivers flow inland to form seasonal lakes, marshes, salt flats, rather than to the sea like on the western side of the Sierra Nevada where I'm from. I didn't think beyond the moment.

And, I didn’t see the creatures living in the sage, surviving against the odds. But, more level heads than mine walk the Great Basin and notice the small, subtle things. The region’s unique butterfly populations seem to be shrinking and they've petitioned the U.S. government to protect them under the Endangered Species Act. Rocketing through the universe, defying gravity, I felt like I was weightless and moving at the speed of light.

If you take the long way home, if you go to the Great Basin, be careful. You won’t see everything, not all the basking snakes and vanishing butterflies, but you will feel lofted into another dimension and that will change your life.

Blown Away

Good days slip across polished glass
silver streaks into night circles ringing cash
lying on my back feeling young
blowing kisses in your hairy ear
condom tight between pointer and thumb
holding on for you
 for a long, green note
on brown saltgrass we share
in a Western desert close and full back then
driving fast on alligator asphalt
 washboard rhythms distant
dreaming sad and wrong
the smell of yellow
stubble tickles on my cheek
we danced round a golden ring
what happens next
sunset through tinted glass
feet braced against the dash
purple burns in pink places
sky, dollars, sage, wind, sand
blown away by savage

Fly Geyser - Black Rock Desert