An Absence Of Birds

I’m dreaming of a Wet Christmas. And to all… a dry night!

It seems that the gods can send messages in unexpected ways. I play YouTube roulette sometimes, just to see what randomly pops up. I’ve discovered incredible musicians from around the globe, found amazing inventions, wonderful stories and once in a while stumble on something that I can only consider as a tiny personal kick in the butt. Today I came across a video about a sixty-three year old cowboy still riding broncos in the rodeo. He’s the real thing and had some eloquent things to say. One was about hitch-hiking, something real hand-to-mouth cowboys do regularly. They don’t all have big-fat-wheeled diesel pickup trucks. “Have a saddle along, it’ll gitchya a ride every time.” (In my hitch-hiking days I had a red toolbox and an old military duffel bag that worked quite well.) He mentioned, after a litany of all his broken bones, how folks tell him he’s crazy to still be at it. “I ain’t never gonna grow up. I’m old but I ain’t never grownin’ up. You’re judged by that third and forth try in life and I think I’ve got one more try.”

There’s some inspiration in those words. Grit! I’ll take a bag please. Course ground!

Bullhead! One of my favourite rodeo photos of all time. It’s over forty years old. I recall that terrier played the bull like a fish on a line. These photos are poor quick copies made with my  mobile phone. I’d take my photos, then printed  them in the darkroom into the night and tried to sell them the next day.
Old leather. One more from the archives. Take a moment and look closely at the details on this old saddle. The obvious age and wear tell very interesting stories.

There are some rodeo days in my ancient history but I soon lost my desire to be slammed around by any angry beast. There may be some momentary beauty in all those arched postures and flailing, jingling rigging and hoofs but it all hurts and years down the trail, those hurts come back to haunt a body. As I age, I wonder at why we continue to do such primal things if for no other reason than the cruelty to the animals. In our latitudes a successful rodeo ride is eight seconds. In Mexico I’ve seen bulls ridden until they collapse. Sport? It might seem manly but I’ve come to consider testosterone a poisonous substance. Mix it with alcohol and you have a bomb about to go off. Those two juices, mixed or not, are at the root of nearly every woe in the world, ever.

The heat, dust and din of a rodeo seems very alien to the dark and thick rain of pre-Christmas coastal BC. Just days from the winter solstice, the darkness here is crushing, even at high noon. Further north the daylight is progressively shorter and the weather much harsher. A nice day is often when the rain simply falls vertically and is not being driven by a blasting wind. I don’t miss it. How people endure it year upon year on the North Coast is a wonder. But they do and even thrive in it. There are different kinds of grit I suppose, but up there with all that rain it’s often just called mud. When I lived and worked on the mid-coast, locals would go south for a few days and arrive back home expressing profound relief at being out of “that mess.” I know what they meant but Geez Louise, watching the moss grow between my toes is no pastime for me. Today the gelatinous rain, almost frozen, doesn’t bounce. It just splats down and heads from the nearest drain.

An annual tradition. Along a popular local walking trail this tree is decorated in memory of dogs who once passed here and have gone on to a higher calling.
It’s very touching.
A ghost of happiness past. Several clear balls contain photos of dogs.
There’ll never be a hand-made decoration on any tree with the name ‘Fred.’

As usual I’m listening to that radio station in Goldfield Nevada, although I’m enduring an overload of Christmas tunes. (Note I didn’t say music.) Some is traditional, some mutant-traditional, some innovative, some weird and some completely bizarre, even rude. (If this old salt thinks it’s rude, it is definitely rude!) All the music is about Christmas and that’s beginning to wear a bit thin. The songs are punctuated with local anecdotes about winter hardships and historical storms with six feet of snow in one night, -30°F temperatures and horrific winds. There are accounts of people freezing to death in the high desert country which I can well believe, it almost happened to me one night on a high Nevada desert plain. Considering the bleak desert winter who can begrudge them their fun? Apparently this is how the season is observed in the Nevada desert.

Fortunately for them, Goldfield is a day north of Las Vegas where cacti begin to grow and the Mexican border is another day’s drive south of there. Theoretically they can escape winter easily. This station has no news broadcasts. That on its own makes it a winner in my books. Their advertising is for small local businesses like restaurants, hardware stores and a tow truck service. There is nothing from box stores, shopping malls, car manufacturers or fast food chains. Public service announcements describe events of common interest like a local highway improvement project. The local “dump road” is temporarily rerouted along the cemetery road. Country logic rules, the dump and the cemetery are side by side.

UNBELIEVABLE! Two hours of sunshine. All sorts of dogs with nice people were suddenly out and about.
Morning Glory! By noon, it was raining again.
As the clouds lifted and the sun broke through, the pagans, after dancing naked around their poles all night, plunged into the frigid sea and swam back to their boats. (Or something like that.)
Thousands of miles from home, many thousands of mariners will make the best of Christmas so very far away from their families.

As I edit what I’ve just written I realize it is all about what I’m absorbing from my electric babysitters. I offer no accounts of what I’m doing because I’m not doing much of any account.

I’m struggling with the second chapter of my third novel; something over a decade old. And it is indeed a struggle. Good creative writing happens when the story writes itself and the writer scrambles to keep up. It’s not happening. The southwestern deserts may seen far away but I’m stuck in my own suburban wasteland. Walking with Jack twice a day out in the drizzling gloom is my high adventure. We do see lovely, colourful wee birds, yesterday it was a brilliant red-headed woodpecker then a flitting flock of golden-crowned kinglets. The flashes of bright yellow on their tiny heads brought instant cheer but the light was too dull for photos with any sort of camera.

Winter. Jack had no interest in wading.

Today Jack snoozes in front of the fireplace. Part of that time was spent with his head on my lap. He’s warm. By two this afternoon the dull light was fading, and rain or not, we had to make at least one outing. We took a muddy path beside a local stream which was swollen to the top of its banks. These two soggy old mutts plodded along and then homeward, eager to get back by the fire. The rain was so insidious there was an absence of birds, no croaking of a single raven, not even the timid chatter of one chickadee. They’ve all found a place to hole up. I saw one tiny titmouse bouncing along a salmonberry limb. It promptly vanished into the underbrush once it saw what foolish lumps were out trudging in the driving rain. I imagine that, being that size, each thick raindrop must seem like a bucket of water would to me. Home again, I’m content to sit near the fireplace.

Jack is sound asleep again, dreaming of chasing rabbits, perhaps in a daisy-filled meadow. It is sunny and warm wherever he is and he is young again. And me…I don’t need to close my eyes to hear the rustle of palm fronds overhead and smell the salty warm sea air as a frosty lime margarita jumbo is placed in my hand. It is made from a smokey local tequila and the prawns and fish have come out of the bay right out there where that humpback is breaching. Mariachi music plays somewhere up the beach. Beep, beep, beep… the oven is ready for the bread. My fantasy vanishes as a fresh blast of wind and rain batters the window. And what bliss to smell baking bread. Weather be damned, I’m going to eat something!

Where have all the spiders gone?
Maple totems. In each clump of moss, tiny creatures live within their own world.

The big day is close enough now so I’ll wish all Merry Christmas, Happy Holidays, Season’s Greetings, pleasant solstice, oh yeah Happy Hanukkah. For the rest of you, Bumhug!

Then there’s the New Year.

Like that old cowboy said, one more try.

All of the season’s best from Jack and his human.

I am a forest, and a night of dark trees: but he who is not afraid of my darkness, will find banks full of roses under my cypresses.”

Friedrich Nietzsche, Thus Spoke Zarathustra

Cow Pie On My Mud Flaps

 cows in the sunset

Cows in the misty sunset

Another long day on the road ends in a motel in Alamo, Nevada. After last night’s freeze-out I need a hot shower and am dead-tired, in part, from not sleeping well last night. So I’m cheating, but I had only one snacky sort of meal all day.  I can report a heightened sense of smell and taste. My jeans want to fall down even more easily than usual! It was a grand day despite a wrong turn that cost me an hour’s worth of time and fuel to sort myself out. So much for Fred the old fly boy and his compass! 

I thought I have known a few "Areseholes of the earth." Maybe this is the real one!?
I thought I have known a few
“Areseholes of the earth.”
Maybe this is the real one!?

I’ll post lots of photos with this blog but it is impossible to describe or photograph the vastness and beauty of these high, wide valleys. Some winding passes had summits over 7600′ and the little old truck complained about the thin air. Mining is prevalent throughout the state is seems, with some mountains apparently being ground to dust. This is offset by sprawling range land everywhere. Occasionally you come on the ruins of a stone ranch house and it seems sad to see someone’s hard work and love abandoned. Modern technology has little respect for its foundations it seems.

The way we were
The way we were

For part of the day my route followed the old Pony Express trail and I wondered at how quickly this vast region has been conquered with a web of highways, fences, railways and mines. A sign proclaimed this to be the loneliest drive in America. That suited me fine.  I felt an urge to ride off over a ridge on a horse through the sage brush and stunted junipers. There was a time very long ago when I worked on a ranch and had a horse and was in lust with the girl on the ranch down the road. But this! My cowboy days didn’t resemble anything in the movies, not like the country around me now! People really do say “Howdy” here. Git along now. I got me cow pie on my fenders and great big tires to spread it all around. Whoo haw.Liitle house, big lawn

I find myself trying to see the whole country as the indigenous people must have.  What a rich homeland!  Theirs was certainly not the utopic existence some idealize, but it must have been incomprehensible to be invaded by an alien race who wanted everything for themselves, taking more than their immediate needs, dividing and owning and destroying wantonly. I saw a herd of pronghorn antelope grazing on the wild plains today. I imagined the days when their numbers, as well as deer, elk and bison were abundant and almost became teary thinking about what we have done in our headlong rush to self-destruct.

The last tree
The last tree

Speaking of self-destruction the lonely roads are in beautiful condition, the speed limits are often up to 75 mph which of course are well exceeded.  My little truck and trailer chug along at 55, 35 on some of the high steep grades. Heavy trucks rocket past me and leave me feeling as vulnerable as the squashed rabbits on the pavement. There are plenty of crosses planted along the shoulders of the road; I suspect many folks probably fall asleep at the wheel as they hurtle along the long straight miles. Certainly, many people wave from their vehicle when we meet on the road. It is that lonely. I’ve often spent more than an hour without meeting anyone as I drive along.

The long way
The long way

I turned into this motel after I could begin see the vivid red glow of Las Vegas against the high clouds. It’s still a little over one hundred miles away! It looked biblical.  ‘A Tale of Sin City, sod ’em and go for more!’ I have no interest in seeing the place. Dreading having to pass through on my to visit friends in Arizona, I have found a sneaky little route around the place which takes me right by Hoover Dam. If this blog gets posted, I made it through.

Hoover Damn! What incredible engineering.
Hoover Damn!
What incredible engineering.

On a final note of bizarre desert contrasts, the owner of this motel calls himself an ‘Aviation Archeologist’. With all of the military airbases and test facilities out

No comment!
No comment!

there in the vast desert, there are crashes. These guys go off into the outback to find bits of the wrecks. I held some interesting airplane bits in my hand tonight including a turbine

Find the sheep
Find the sheep

blade from the famous crash of an S-71 Black hawk. These past days leave me feeling a bit alien.

It seems all roads lead to downtown Las Vegas, like it or not. Fortunately the signs are good and soon I’d swirled through the spaghetti network of overpasses and swoop-de-loops and found myself heading toward Hoover Dam. I was stunned to realize that monster casinos go on and on and on. I saw a church that at first appeared me to be a casino with a hundred acre parking lot but then the god-botherer name was displayed in a monstrous neon sign. Las Vegas doesn’t do much for me but it draws folks from all over the planet. Hoover Dam is a project that makes you want to call it DAMN! It is an incredible piece of technology, especially considering the completion date of 1935. I was surprised to have to pass through a security inspection, but then paranoia is far reaching and Al Queda would, I’m sure, love to have this place on their resume.

I caused a minor distraction when I noticed a bighorn mountain sheep ewe who had managed to get herself trapped below a high cutbank. No one believed me at first because the critter blending so well with the rocks, but eventually my credibility was confirmed and the wildlife department was summoned.

I drove on southward and through the town of Bull Head City. I thought it would be another whistle stop but it proved to be yet another mega center of gambling temples and huge facades. It is located on the Colorado River and I made my way south through an endless strip mall that is filled with geezers. Tens of thousands of them. They teeter along on their Harleys, stumble over the crosswalks, lurch along in their vehicles which include everything from huge motorhomes, ATVs and bicycles to fabulous hot rods. They’ve all come to expire in the warmth and everywhere, businesses cater to them. Geriatrics is a massive industry. Scooter shops, hearing aid stores, clinics, hospitals and everything geriatric within imagination is part of the shameless enterprise. Trailer parks and Rv resorts of massive acreage are endless. It is bizarre. Even out of town in the open desert, “Dry” Rv parks cover massive expanses of raw desert. I stopped briefly in Lake Havasu to confirm the madness of being where the London Bridge was shipped and reassembled in the mid-sixties. It was intended to be the navel of a new city and it worked. The American seem to be the masters of the incongruous and bizarre.

Falling down...falling down.
Falling down…falling down.

Interestingly, the bridge is sagging between its footings. This is the actual bridge that the nursery rhyme was written about and truly it is “Falling down, falling down!”

Eventually I arrived in Parker, another community crowding the banks of the Colorado River.

I made a surprise visit to some friends from Campbell River, on Vancouver Island, who live there in an Rv Resort for a good part of each winter. It was a wonderful surprise but unfortunately the miserable jerk who owns the place began pounding on my trailer at 06:30 and evicted me with no uncertain threats. Despite my intention to pay him, he didn’t want any of “Your Kind” in his “Private resort.” Walmart is apparently the navel of the Rvers world and you can park there welcomely, “Jest go on in and buy something.” I left and posted my last blog this morning from the Parker MacDonalds.

I drove on south, stopping on the roadside to put on shorts and a summer shirt as the day warmed. Taking my camera across the road to record the ever-amazing vista I promptly fell through the ground into an old gopher colony’s burrows. Suddenly I realized how alien I am in this country. At home, with just a pocket knife and a lighter, I came survive in the woods. Here I’d be doomed without a lot of good local knowledge. I want to learn, it fascinates me.

The Rig
The Rig

In Quartzsite I missed my turn because the place is overwhelmed with Rvs and motorhomes. In January, there is a massive orgy of Rvers, a trade fair, swap meet and general love-in for those who follow the Rv life style. The intersection where I needed to turn was clogged, heaped and snarled with motor homes, all towing something, wanting to go in opposite directions at the same time. It was the most amazing traffic jam I’ve ever seen and all at a quaint little cross roads. I finally managed to escape dead ahead and ended up driving to Yuma through a beautiful piece of country. Unfortunately a large piece of it is reserved as a proving ground for the US military and I wondered what covert skulduggery goes on out there in the cactus forest. Tonight I’m writing in Ajo Arizona a few miles above the Mexican border. The country is beautiful and by what and who I see here, it may as well be Mexico.

Beyond Yuma
Beyond Yuma

I must mention the clearly massive effort by the Americans to defend their border. There are checkpoints, helicopters and patrol vehicles in many places. It is interesting to note that the

Yuma Pastoral
Yuma Pastoral

Agricultural industry and other labour intensive industries in the US southwest would collapse without the sweat of the Mexican immigrant. The vast farms around Yuma are all supported by Mexican workers who clearly live in worker’s compounds like ants. Old buses, painted white and towing plastic outhouses on trailers were parked everywhere the fields were being worked. There may be billions of dollars of Rvs and other hi-tech toys in this part of the world, but some things have a long way to go yet. Chatting with locals, yes more geriatrics, who run the Rv park where, where I stopped last night was an affirmation of oxymoronic values. They hate Obama, are sincerely born-again, but thank you Jesus, “I don’t go anywhere without my pistol. It makes me feel better.”

Another neighbour here told me about his interest in finding wrecked aircraft in the desert.b the aftermath of WWII there is a plethora of crash sites throughout this region. It is, I’ve learned, a popular hobby. He described finding human skeletal remains. He claimed the corpse had Mexican identification.  I was again admonished not go out into the desert alone.

Just to the north, I passed through the Barry Goldwater Military Gunnery Range, of course it’s absolutely massive, where fighter jets rumble and scream all day and night. It’s a shock to have them pass fifty feet overhead with a thunderous roar. In the tent trailer next door, four young men, working on a job nearby, watched TV until they fell asleep, snoring loudly. The same program went on and on. It was all about guns, ammo and shooting. The dialogue was interspersed with the same damned bango tune. I used to like banjos. The boys are off to work now, the TV is still on. Now it’s endless game shows while the fighter jets practice with their ugly thunder overhead. The din never ends.

Beneath the thunder of fighter jets, doves cooed softly in the sunset.
Beneath the thunder of fighter jets,
doves cooed softly in the sunset.

In God we trust.” Now pass the rocket launcher. I’m gone to Mexico.

Posted in Ajo, Arizona