Kurt Bell

A life of courage, joy and independence.

Going Alone – Journal

 


GoingAlone01

The Great Indifference

The Great Indifference is a perspective which yields a better understanding of the true nature of the universe. It’s a place of clear thought, and relentless truth. The way there is never easy, never marked and can only be reached in solitude, and when the only chance of return is under the power of one’s own volition. What you find there may be worth the journey, even if you alone can understand or appreciate the prize.

There is no path to The Great Indifference, for followers must always lose the way. Strike out at once along the direction of your first inclination, and your own route will soon be discovered. Note what you find, or do not, as discovery alone is its own satisfaction. And whatever you later relate to others will fall like alien words upon ears plugged and deafened by fraternity, solidarity, and the warm comfort of common society. Only your fellow travelers in wildness might understand, though their own solitary venture may insulate their ears to whatever vain utterances you elect to voice.

I recommend this way to those who are ready to lose, prepared to be wrong, and desirous of truth ahead of comfort, peace or immortality. Come this way for the sake of virtue, for a sound mind, an even temper, a restful heart, and at last, an honest death; an end without hope of reward, reawakening, or revelation; a fixed point of terminus punctuated upon the tail end of eternity which is everything after the end of one’s living.

The vista of The Great Indifference will direct your gaze to your bruised, sore and bleeding feet. The instruments of your arrival in that august place. The pain will grow intense with your notice. A gratifying reality. How sweet the moment of awakening, when the uncaring, corpse-like gaze of reality makes precious the breath of this moment, and the next, without thought for any breath beyond, which is only a wishful, potential vapor; nor the breathes already consumed, which have dispersed to mingle with the universal atoms, to never again return orbit ’round our fleeting mortal constitution.

I’d tell you the way to The Great Indifference if I truly thought I could. Though if you go where I told you it was found then the telling would guarantee its absence. Go instead on your own, by your own motive force, along a way only you can see, alone and accepting of your solitude, aware you may never come back, and if you do, that you may never find words to adequately convey what you truly saw.

Sharing the way

Despite my admonition above, I’m going to tell you the way to some of the places where I’ve encountered The Great Indifference, though I suspect the very telling will spoil the way. If you follow my path you’ll likely find nothing but sand, and waste, and heat; all the composite bits of what you’re after without the substance of what’s not beyond. My guidance is the problem. The fact that you’ve followed me through my words and maps to the place I found alone, and in a sense, lost. You’ll need that bit yourself before you’ll find the Indifference. Not to be lost in fact, but instead to be indeterminate and off course. When you’ve reached the point you’ve satisfied your curiosity about the way I once took, then ask yourself if you’re ready to step off the unseen marks of my past trespass, to embark in some way along new lines towards your own solitary waste and desolation. Once you’re ready then put aside my maps and guidance. Stuff them deep into your pack. Tear them up perhaps if you’ve a mind to crush the empty promise of discovering anything of real value by retracing my footsteps exactly. Step now into the soft sand or across the hard and slippery granite. Do you have your life beacon? Is it charged, armed, and ready to save your life? If not, are you willing to gamble deep and hard with your own soulless mortality for the chance to meet what isn’t there? If so, then you don’t need my words any longer. Go, and die today in the face of what is not, to live on and better as part of what really is.

09-24-16 kb The anxiety hike - softypapas adventures THUMBNAIL 02The Anxiety Hike
09-24-2016
Discovering The Great Indifference just beyond the place where comfort and security give way to doubt and fearful suspicion.

 

Further thoughts

When I talk about Going Alone some may think I’m referring to hiking and camping all by one’s self. That’s partially right. But mostly I’m referring to a mental endeavor to seek after and develop life principals without the reinforcing comfort of consensus. This doesn’t require thinking up the ideas oneself, but instead using reason to discern if a proposition is true and fits with the reality of the world around us. That’s Going Alone. It’s only coincidence that being alone in very wild places is an excellent forum for rendering truth from the abundance of comforting propositions and stories we tell one another to keep back the dark. When you’re alone in the dark there’s nowhere the truth can hide.

~

Emily and I lingered at the beach tonight until it was nearly dark. Just before we left a middle-aged man arrived limping badly and wearing nothing more than a swimsuit and a beach towel around his neck. He deposited the towel on a rock and limped with difficulty straight into the sea. Once in the cold water and free of his bad leg he began swimming powerfully out to sea, diving under a few large waves before making it clear of the surf. We watched him swim straight and direct, further and further, as the night got darker and darker. We saw him swim past a family of dolphin passing far beyond the last rocks, in water more than fifty feet deep. The man never veered his course or turned either up or down the coast, but kept straight for open ocean, swimming hard and fast. He must have been more than a quarter mile out when darkness overtook our efforts to follow. My last sight of the man was a single swing of his arm rising above the now black sea. I noticed the street lights were on as Emily and I made our way back to the motorcycle. And I wondered if these would guide the man back to shore when he’d had enough of his solo nighttime winter ocean swim.

~

I’m haunted by the desert now. The pull is powerful and relentless. Like a vacuum drawing something to nothing.

~

At the bookstore just now I discovered a book titled “Route 66 Ghost Towns”. I eagerly read through the sections on Essex, Amboy, Bagdad, Ludlow, Newberry Springs and Daggett. The chapter ended with no mention of Siberia. It would seem I’ve made a very good choice in selecting Siberia as my adopted hometown.

~

By this time tomorrow I’ll be in Siberia. I’ll arrive about an hour before sundown, as temps begin to descend from midday highs around 110 degrees. There are no ghosts in Siberia, though there is much that is dead. The void left by humanity passing away here has made room for possession by the wind, the heat and cold, and the steady progress of time. These things ignore my presence, though they’d appear different if I was not alone. I’d see only ruin and desolation with another. I’d see ghosts which were never there

~

I leave a thinning trail of connection with every mile I put between my life and the desert. This thread grows so slender that 100 miles out I dangle like a spider on a silk strand. The melodramatic abyss looms. A humorous caricature of nature, if only it weren’t so real. I hang there for a day, in the wind and the sun, knowing the threat of exposure is nothing compared to the frailty of that one, long, slender thread.

~

The steep and rugged mountains of Japan never scared me. Even that time I ran from the mother boar, and again (several times) when giant hornets swarmed to check me out. The mountains were far too civilized with life to offer any real threat. Not human life, but life itself, the mere fact that the landscape had a pulse, and a vibrant one at that, dissuaded my fear and alieved my apprehension. Even to die in those remote, unpeopled mountains, would be to pass in the embrace of what is both familiar and alive.

The desert offers no such comfort. What lives there is sparse, mute and still. There’s little hum or buzz or grunt. Just some howl from time to time, which carries lonesome sentiment and a desperate pleading. Even birdsong sings of solitude. The wind speaks loudest here. And the sun burns its case without respite, from sun up, to sun down.

I fear the desert. Even before I go.

~

I’m half way to Siberia and thinking of that long 100 mile thread I mentioned earlier today. Could it be that the thread actually originates out here? How alike the unthinking wastes of nature and the timeless non existence before birth and after death.

~

During the night at Siberia I left camp to wander alone over the desert in search of night things. Nocturnal spiders and snakes, and the things which stare from the dark with glimmering eyes. And the stars which come out, and the moon in its time. The wind too enjoys the night, moving in warm gusts over the land, always inward, towards the deep center of the desert. While thus employed during my nighttime hike, I came upon that stone-lined footpath I’ve mentioned before. With nowhere better to go I followed for a pace, minding the path’s straight course from darkness into darkness. Thinking over the mind, process and hands which produced this way. What motive brought it about? What purpose did it serve? With every footstep here long removed by the wind, only my own senseless allegiance to precedent justifies a cause I can never know.

IMG_3266

~

The desert is as sorry a companion for thought as it is for fraternity. I sometimes claim that my muse lives here, though this is a lie. Whatever sentience moves across the dark sands comes no further than the outskirts of my camp. I mistake its eyes reflected in my light for those of the fox who lived here first. Neither will come nearer than reflection, nor suggest more than aloof disinterest. The desert and the fox leave me to my own devices, to find thought and words on my own, caring for neither credit nor attribution.

~

This nondescript slice of concrete in the desert marks the spot where a small island of gas pumps once stood. I discovered the remains of this old Route 66 service station by studying satellite imagery of the desert around the ghost town of Siberia. While exploring the site, my mind contrived the story of human ambition and loss here which I suspect may bear more than fleeting resemblance to fact. And the ghosts I’ve borne in my mind for this place are now condemned to haunt these ruins for the rest of my days.

IMG_3287

~

This is all that remains of the gas station and cafe at the California ghost town of Siberia. Sal and Ruth built this place in the 20s out of mortar and desert sand. The combination home and business had two gas pumps and a service garage with a maintenance pit (visible in photo). There was a separate door into the cafe which had wooden floors, and where Ruth served her customers on fine decorated china. When traffic on the old highway at last gave out, Ruth and Sal made the tough decision to leave their life’s work behind to fall to ruin and fade into the desert, while the couple sought better fortune elsewhere. Today nothing remains of the gas station and cafe but stone foundations and the outlines of lives now smothered in Indifference.

Siberia gas station

~

These are the stairs which led into the abandoned roadside diner at Siberia, California. How many road weary American pilgrims stepped up and through the door here for a half hour of relief from the trials of crossing the harsh desert in an unreliable jalopy, or miners coming in from the surrounding claims for a welcome taste of civilization and a home-cooked meal. How many would-be Californians, like my own great grandfather, came here dreaming of a better life if they could only get across this cursed desert! Is it possible my great grandad may have actually been here? Did he perhaps at one time step up these two steps to receive his first formal welcome into California after his long journey from Illinois? The places of rest were few at that time along this inhospitable stretch of America’s Mother Road, making the odds he’d been here not unreasonable, nor very far fetched.

IMG_3286

~

High desert temperatures today kept me near Siberia, and far from the frontier where The Great Indifference doesn’t loom. Why does it remain so far? Why can’t it reclaim the ghost town in the same way as the nocturnal fox who haunts my camp, or the ruin which spoils every human artifact here? It seems human absence is not enough. All reminder must be gone; save the living pulse of a solitary individual, far off trail, far from any comfort or aid, which is the only companionship The Great Indifference may ever abide. I wonder if I’ll sense this strange absence just before the light of my life winks out? When my body is far off trail, beyond any comfort or aid; when the dark frontier grows near, and reality swells with dead promise. I suspect I will. I suspect that’s how we all die, and the reason we cling so desperately to this wondrous thing of life, We sense that our living is something of a revolt, a strange and orderly uphill climb against the pull of universal disorder and chaos. The Great Indifference is that uncaring gravity well we hope to avoid, by averting our eyes with fellowship, love and laughter. And by telling ourselves and one another comforting stories of reunion, reconciliation, and forgiveness. But the night doesn’t care about our fear, nor the wind our chill, nor solitude our lonesome desperation. Better than stories is to face the night, stand in the wind, and embrace today the ones we love. Then, when we discover Indifference looming with the intake of our final breath, we can close our eyes and smile peacefully at an inevitable reunion arrived at after a well lived life.

~

An early lunch in a Route 66 cemetery at the ghost town of Ludow. Nearly all of the graves here are unnamed and assembled of scrape lumber and nails. Remembrance would be left to the imagination.

IMG_3296

~

Today’s desert adventure yielded a very pleasant surprise! In my youth my body could tolerate much heat and outdoor exertion with little impact besides a little weight loss and a propensity to go further than I should, resulting in many blind stumbles alone through darkened desert terrain after failing to find camp before sundown. Back then, I could go all day, and into the night, with little fatigue and rarely dissuaded from any wilderness goal.

After returning to California after my life Japan, I found my new desert adventures were commonly cut short due to sudden exhaustion, and a quite unfamiliar accompanying sense of fear over my physical well being. I chocked this new limit up to my advancing age, and resigned myself to a fate of steadily diminishing horizons with each successive year.

And then came today. Wow! My old self has seemingly returned! At dawn I hiked a few miles out from the ghost town of Siberia, cautious of the summertime desert inferno I knew would soon arrive, and concerned my body might quickly give out with the heat, extreme exposure and exertion. By the time I returned from this first hike the heat was indeed on, and I’d greedily consumed all my water before I arrived back at camp. I should have been redlined, but I was ready to go out again. And I did!

After refilling my canteens I stuck out for round two, and an even longer and harder hike. By the time I was back again, the day was hotter, and the water was again no more, yet my body seemed ready to do it all over again. I held back though, not wanting to press too far into this surprising, rediscovered capability.

It’s 4:30 PM now and the desert will soon begin to cool. I feel as lively and ready as I did at dawn, though the eight liters of water which I’ve today drank and sweat away have left my exterior a sun-scorched, salty, dusty and stinky mess. Just like when I was young!

How nice to meet my youthful self again out here in the summertime desert wastes. But don’t worry. I won’t be fooled. I’m 53, not 25. And no matter how good I may feel today I must always respect my true age and my body’s true condition.

~

The desert around Siberia goes on tonight without me. Another dark passage of night like billions before, and billions to come. My presence so brief and fleeting and irrelevant as to escape notice of something with no capacity to notice. Such futile ends those delicious thoughts under the railway bridge. So meaningless to eternity my vain attempts at virtue. Still I think. Still I pursue virtue. For eternity was never mine. And relevance is found in each moment of common human connection. Let the universe live on, and pursue whatever ends it holds with the patience of an immortal. Time was never mine. Just these moments. Just these words.

~

I’d bring others with me to the desert if I didn’t already know that solitude would retreat before our advance.

~

The hot desert months protest my every ambition. Those far mountains…impossible. Those near hills…don’t even think about it. A few days camping exposed upon the alluvium…maybe a day. Such dreams are reserved for winter. Though even then I sense mute protest to my every solitary excursion.

~

I previously believed that winter was the best season for desert hiking. Cold nights, snug in my good sleeping bag. Warm, temperate days, when I can walk for miles while drinking little and sweating less. But now I’m suspect summer has become my preferred time to hike in the desert. I’m not there for the walk after all, or the sights, or–heaven forbid!–any companionship. My aim is the limits. Which are much nearer and more distinct when the temperature is above 100 degrees. A simple August walk a half mile from camp, while the inferno burns, and the landscape twists and shimmers with threat, goes as deep as a five mile December excursion over black barren peaks, and through long twisting valleys of stone. Though I can turn and see camp, or the road, or my car, seemingly nearby under the summer sun, my mind presses such comforting thoughts aside with much concerned attention to my red, swelling hands, my nearly empty canteen, the total lack of any sheltering shade, and the onset of a woozy haze and dizziness, and faltering ability to see or think straight. Indifference looms then, surrounds, envelopes and ignores me as only its nature and capability demand. My skin then threatens to dry and crisp, and my bones to bleach and break, as my folly and insignificance are held like twin gifts in hands held upright in the direction of safely. This is what I sought with such difficulty in the winter wilds. This is what I found so easily in the summer desert, within footsteps of my car, when only I had the foresight to go alone, knew better, and went anyway.

~

Is it possible to will a place to become haunted? If so, then I suspect I succeeded this weekend during my visit to the desert ghost town of Siberia. The ghosts I made there are only as real than the emotions I used to create them. And they followed me away from that place when I returned home, and will haunt my memory for as long as I live or care to recall. The ghosts will die with me, just like the prior passing of the real persons whose hidden history is their secret inspiration. But such is the way of hauntings, to derive from hinted facts, to then grow and live by imagination, until the imaginer themselves becomes nothing more than a faint and shadowy impression, an indistinct suggestion of facts, a muse and inspiration to the imagination of generations yet to come.

Click here to watch the video “Haunting Siberia”

~

Go with a friend, to discover something you can share. Go alone, to find something you may be unable to share.

~

I took this photo just after sunrise last Friday after I’d finished packing camp and eating breakfast in Siberia. This stone wall (and another just to the right of the image) are all that remain of the old railroad station here. The stones which make up the wall were pulled by the builders from surrounding desert alluvium and represent well the long and diverse geologic history of the region. The stones include layered sedimentary rocks formed when this region was the bottom of a shallow sea. There’s pink rhyolite which oozed slowly from a nearby volcano. One stone includes course breccia from an ancient landslide or waterfall. While still another is a lovely conglomerate formed at the bottom of deep pool at the end of a long series of rapids, perhaps in the age of dinosaurs. Though the wall itself represents very recent events in human history, the stones and sand of which it are made tell a much older and more interesting story. This same story is told by the desert itself. If only we have eyes to see.

Railroad Station Ruins at Siberia California

~

Warming my hands by this small fire. The dark and vacant desert night crowds close with its silent depth. There’s little fuel left. Just a few small sticks from someone else who’d been here. Where are they now? There are no lights in the night. It seems I’m truly alone. But that’s always been the case. Even in a crowd, my flame–like the flame of all others–burns at the discretion of just my attendance. The fuel is not the matter. There’s plenty of that. It’s the attendance, and the effort I make, to pile on more fuel, and stir the coals. But now my arms grow weak, as they’ve been doing for years, since about age forty. And my thoughts a little slow, and stray, forgetful even…to tend the fire. That’s why it’s become so small. Just a dimming light in the infinite night. I’m tired now. It’s time for a rest. I’ll just lay down here in the soft sand. It’s warm from the day which has already passed. A comforting reminder of the life that was. I’ll just close my eyes for a bit. The fire seems fine. I’m sure the coals will still be glowing at dawn. The night always ends well. That’s always what I’ve said.

~

Walking in the mountains of Japan consumed my mind in direct proportion to the distance moved. If I walked five miles then my mind was never further than that same distance. No place then was really very wild, even though I sometimes went where I suspect nobody’d ever been.

Desert miles stretch all out of proportion to distance. Five miles or fifty are to the same effect. Even fifty yards can do the job when conditions are right.

Lately it seems I don’t even need to go. Just remembering the desert is becoming enough. That never happened with the mountains, or the sea, or with solitude alone.

I’m tempted to think the desert is coming for me. Has me trapped in some way. But that’s nonsense. Indifference doesn’t care. Is incapable of giving a damn. It’s all in my mind. My vain attempt to hold on to what I’ve found. To gain some purchase in reality that might survive my passing. But the desert doesn’t care. Nor the mountains. Nor solitude. Though the desert voices this silence the loudest.

~

That look on the old man’s face. Even though we were both at a crowded mall, surrounded by effervescent living. A warm summer evening. Crowds of young people living. Did he see the Indifference? Was that why his gaze went past everyone into nothing? I think he did. He doesn’t need the desert. He’s almost there.

~

I wrote recently of tending a campfire. However, it’s been years since I’ve actually built one. I prefer now to let darkness come on its own when I’m alone in the wild. I’ll use a light to set up camp, or a flame to cook my meal. But when the camp is set, and my stomach is full, I’ll switch off the light, and sit alone in the vast darkness. Almost like before.

~

I asked myself today why my thoughts so often turn to death, and the related subjects of emptiness, indifference, and oblivion. It’s because I enjoy life, and I believe there’s nothing to follow after we die. I believe that what waits after death is the same utter void we didn’t know before we were born. I believe all this love and laughter, challenge and struggle, and the many opportunities to be, and to do good, will pass away completely the instant our minds shut off, and our being begins to dissolve away. I believe there will be no chance for reunion, reconciliation, or justice after our functions cease. And I believe that we will never again awake into anything like what we are now, though our matter and energy may in fact be used by others. So, if this is what I believe, then I guess it’s no wonder I spend a lot of time thinking about, and gazing into, the void. No wonder I go to wild places. That’s why I choose the desert. And the reason I always go alone. For whenever I return from such places, or such thoughts, I always come back a better man. More sober and composed. Less troubled by petty things. More engaged with my family. More at ease with who I am. Better resolved towards being a good man. And more prepared for the absolute end I must very soon face…alone.

~

Just one more week until the start of flash flood season in the California desert. I look forward to this event with more excitement than Shark Week! Soon my dark and silent nights in Siberia will come alive with thunder, lightning and rain in the nearby Bristol Mountains. These summer storms create powerful and short-lived rivers, which appear suddenly from nowhere, to spill from canyons and dissipate across the broad alluvial plain where I sleep. The floods carry heavy sediment loads of course rock and sand, which are deposited atop the desert, adding new layers to a geologic story which began 34 million years ago; in a period when grasslands first appeared on Earth, and rainforests retreated to the equator. The story goes on, year upon year, century after century, for countless millennia, with few observers, and nobody to know the full tale.

~

There are two types of “swim into deep water” that I enjoy in my life. The first is any solo adventure which stretches the bounds of safety, and puts me beyond easy reach of help. I enjoy these experiences for the impression of frail vulnerability I gain whenever I’m all alone with The Great Indifference, and have no friend or comfort to turn to.

The second “Swim Into Deep Water” is when I find some way to honestly undermine my own beliefs, or anything else which I think is true. Sadly, this is becoming less easy, now that I’ve killed so much of my world view, and am left with only a handful of “I dunno”s. It seems there’s little existential threat to admitted ignorance, though there’s lots of discomfort if you don’t like not knowing, and find yourself all alone with your doubt. But then that’s where the first and second types of “Deep Water” meet, and where we enter the really, really deep water which I call the “Deep End of the Ocean”.

The Deep End of the Ocean is where admitted ignorance and accepted Indifference come together and cancel one another out. The very deep sea grows still here in the face of the fact that we don’t really know the answer we previously thought so sure, while simultaneously recognizing that the universe does not, of is incapable of, giving a damn about our troubling dilemma.

I don’t get to swim in Deep Water very often, as life has a way of sending rescuers to such places to quickly extract and return us back to work, or to our friends, or our family, our church, bar, shopping mall, television, or anything else that gives us comforting suckle, while reassuring us that we are right, and in fact, not alone.

So I’ll take such swims as I can, and when I’m able. And with a little luck I’ll one day drown out there, far to sea, alone with my doubt, beyond any savior, trembling within the dark, indifferent depths above, below, and everywhere all around.

~

The most disturbing thing about being alone in the desert isn’t what you might find there, but what you won’t.

~

The volcanos of the Eastern Mohave desert are largely extinct due to the way in which they were formed. Each cinder cone and lava dome in this region had its origin deep within the Earth’s upper mantle. This geologic story begins roughly 100 miles north-east of the intersection of the North American and Pacific crustal plates–which form the San Andreas fault–where this fault crosses the San Bernardino Mountains at Cajon Pass. Though these plates are running laterally against one another, there is sufficient subduction of the Pacific plate to draw water-rich oceanic crust deep into the mantle below the North American plate. The introduction of water into the mantle at these depths lowers pressure such that large bubbles of hot magma form which begin to rise up and into the Earth’s solid crust. It’s essentially the same process which causes bubbles to form in a bottle of pop after the cap is opened. These “bubbles” of molten rock burn their way slowly through miles of solid rock as they rise towards the surface., cooling, changing, and growing smaller as the go. Tens of thousands of years later, the molten bubbles of magma arrive at the surface to “pop” as small, short-lived volcanos, or simply to bulge through the surface–without popping–to form nicely symmetrical lava domes.

While driving through the desert on Interstates 15, 40 or old Route 66, it’s possible to see dozens of these extinct volcanos and lava domes frozen at the moment of their death, when the last of their molten magma cooled upon reaching the surface of the Earth. We can even gauge how long their journey was by the color and texture of their rocks; with dark volcanos rising more quickly than light-colored volcanoes which enjoyed a longer, or slower, trip from the liquid mantle to the surface of the Earth.

~

Forty eight hours until I leave again for Siberia. It’s a swim into deep water out there at this time of year. Even at night. A warm glide over unfatbomed depths in every direction. Sometimes out there I distract myself with living. It’s an easy trick which we learn from birth. But the game becomes so apparent the moment I falter in my play. Like a man playing solitaire on a desert island, who suddenly looks up and remembers his real situation. There are no conspirators when I’m alone out there in the deep desert. Nobody to help keep up the game. No one to share the illusion. None at all…out there.

~

If you don’t enjoy criticism then don’t attempt to swim alone in the deep desert. If you don’t like being wrong, then remain at home with your costly peace and certitude. I’d accept no something in exchange for my nothing. The desert took it all away from me, including the space where it once all belonged.

~

Here’s the big GSA just after I arrived in Siberia two weeks ago. I got there minutes after sundown and had only a short amount of time to set up camp before deep darkness enveloped the land. The only light or sound of humanity after nightfall here is the very rare passing of a vehicle on Route 66 or the commanding passage of a mile long train moving up or down the Mojave grade. For a sense of scale, consider that the mountains behind the bike are 16 miles (26 kilometers) away. During summer thunderstorms I can sometimes see lightening in those mountains without hearing any sound of thunder.

East Siberia California road

~

Silence and peace with every footstep and moment. Even now the desert quiet is with me. This has nothing to do with the desert, really. Though without the deep desert the spell might never have been broken. I used to worry that if I spent too much time alone out there then I’d in some way never get back. Instead, what I’ve found out there has seemingly become lost within me. It looks out through my eyes and sees the vast and terrible emptiness behind everything, reminding me to build and maintain sound principals of virtue, which are the tools and apparatus of a good and meaningful life. It hushes my mind with quiet when life rustles with demand, helping me to focus and attend to my responsibility, as well as the true ends of virtue. I see the nothing which awaits after life is done, which compels me to act now in the name of virtue, and the improved well being of my fellows, as well as the well being of those yet to come. I used to think I’d some day lose myself in the desert. Though I never guessed I’d be lost until the desert Indifference became lost in me.

~

90 minute countdown to departure for Siberia.. I wonder if that fear I always meet along the way is waiting now to ambush me? It usually lurks out past Ludlow, not far from Pisgah crater, on the right side of the road.

When the fear comes it always tracks me close beside the road, easily shadowing the big bike as I roll and glide through the black lava fields. In winter it’s dark already when I arrive, so I can’t see, but I know it’s there. In summer, like now, it seems to move stealthfully among the rocks while waiting for nightfall, which approaches fast from the east.

The fear does something to me about three miles from Siberia. I always want to turn back. Haven’t yet. But who knows tonight? Turning in onto the dirt road to the Siberia ruins I’ve more important and real worries to attend to; as navigating a 600 pound motorcycle on a dirt road is real fear enough to dispel any mere phantom.

Once I arrive, and shut off the bike, the fear is gone. It wasn’t like that the first, or even the second, time I went; when I cowered in the car, with the doors locked, staring out at the dark. I felt like such a kid then. It’s a wonder I went back. No more though. When the bike’s engine stops. And the desert silence swarms in. All fear. Every last bit. Drains away.

Nightfall in Siberia

Have I arrived in Siberia or has Siberia arrived in me?

~

Greetings from Siberia. It’s dark now. And big. This place is so big. As I sit here on the hot, dark sand, I think I’ve figured something out. I know now why this place can’t get me. Why I’m not afraid here anymore. Why the solitude and the night, and the Indifference, can’t take me away; though it’s got me now, and there’s nowhere to run. It’s because I’m connected. Deeply connected. To my wife, and my daughter, and my brother, and my mom. And to the others too. I try hard with my family. And do a pretty good job, I think. Not so much the others. It’s my failing. One of many. These connections though do the trick, I think. They keep me safe here. Prevent my mind from wandering to places from which it might never return.

In 1989 I left my girlfriend–now my wife–behind in a small college town near Oregon while I embarked on a Great Life Adventure. I made it as far as the desert. In fact, not far from where I am now. Just over the Bristol mountains to the north-west, near the shore of Soda Dry Lake. Something happened to me then which caused me to promptly return to Yumiko. I gave up the desert then. I knew I was about to go to far into the wild. Not physically. But that other way. I sensed then–quite rightly–that if I’d continued then I’d never have made it back. I was right. I know that now.

Now I’m back in the desert. Twenty eight years later. The same threat looms here like before. I can sense it. But I’m not afraid. It can’t get me. I’m too strong now. Though my body is weak, my spirit, resolve and hard won maturity are more than a match for The Great Indifference.

Not so in my youth. If I’d stayed then I would surely have been consumed.

~

I don’t expect to remember life.

~

Every swim into deep water comes at a price. The cost is the genuine quality of our connection with those we left behind. For as our universe expands without them, we find we’ve less to relate, and have fewer common connections. That’s why we so often choose society over solitude, institutions over independence, and the status quo over the strange and the unknown. Venture too far or long into deep water and we risk losing sight of shore. The place where you swim then is very real, it just won’t seem so to others, and the things you describe…well, perhaps it’s better you just keep these things to yourself. Enjoy your society, relish your institutions, abide the status quo if it be good, and just, and of virtue. Just don’t forget where you’ve been. And what you’ve seen.

~

At one point during my hike in the desert today I took refuge from the heat under a bridge where Route 66 crosses a desert wash. I found a Japanese book under the bridge. The book describes a round-the-world bicycle journey. Hand-written Japanese writing on the back of the book reads “I will not die far from home. I will make it back alive.” Yumiko tells me the writing is a man’s handwriting, and the dialect is from the Kansai region of Japan.

IMG_3411

~

Take another with you if all you want is adventure. Life can pass easy this way. Though I suspect at times you’ll wonder if there’s more. There isn’t. Which is an awful fact. Quick. Cover it up with distraction. Turn back to the comfort of friends. Clasp your hands in prayer. Keep yourself company with the sound of your own voice. Just don’t go alone. Unless you really want to see.

~

Though I missed the mark yesterday in the desert, failed to disconnect, failed to become lost. I did however find trace of someone else’s success. That Japanese man who left his book beneath a Route 66 bridge. The boldly scribbled note he left at the back of the book. There’s no doubt he met The Great Indifference. It’s not just in my mind. It’s really not out there.

~

Here’s what four hours summertime desert hiking looks like. I had no idea I’d pushed my body so far until I saw this photo. I actually felt pretty good at the time, though clearly my face is telling another story. Caution is definitely in order as I continue practicing summertime desert hiking.

My goal from last weekend’s hike was to safely explore how many hours I could hike into the day after sunrise, and before things started to get dangerous. The answer is about four hours on a day when temps will max out at around 110 degrees Fahrenheit. But that was WITH three stops to rest under various flash flood bridges beneath the railroad tracks and Route 66. These stops were crucial to bringing my body temperature down, as there is absolutely no other shade in the open desert to use for this purpose. If I hadn’t had those bridges to rest under I think the hike could have been only two hours or less. I could literally feel my body temperature rising like a kettle on the stove while walking exposed to the direct sunlight. This was especially true after 9:00 AM. The experience was rather alarming, and I definitely would not want to be caught an hour or more from camp during summer anytime after 9:00 AM. I must keep the summertime hiking to either nighttime or for just a few hours after dawn. A VERY good lesson learned.

Under a Route 66 Bridge

~

Here’s what’s possibly another lost grave belonging to the desert ghost town of Siberia. The only reason I even guess it’s a grave is because it matches so well with graves I’ve seen in other ghost towns along Route 66. This collection of arranged stones is located just a short ways out from where the town used to be, is formed of hastily arranged stones, and can seemingly serve no other useful purpose. Wooden crosses or headstones were commonly used on graves like this, though the howling desert winds take their toll on such markers and many graves I’ve seen are today missing their wooden markers and remain just a pile or outline of stones. I was a little delirious with the heat when I found this and I’m afraid I probably couldn’t find it again if I tried.

Desert Grave

~

Here’s another photo of that mysterious stone-lined desert path which runs from nowhere to nowhere within the desert ghost town of Siberia. This path has become a companion of sorts for me whenever I come here, as I always seem to stumble upon it during my nighttime walks, and I still find new traces of it when I meander about in the morning drinking my coffee. Invariably, my mind always wonders about the hands which so carefully placed these.

Route 66 Siberia desert footpath

~

I wish I had the courage to write all of the words. I’d of thought it would be easier way out here. Maybe after I lose sight of land? Maybe only after I toss the compass over the side?

~

Route 66 camp at Siberia CaliforniaHere’s a shot of my camp at Siberia just after dawn on Friday. It’s summer now, and already I can feel the intensity of the sun as it crawls up slowly towards the horizon. The solar heat literally spills over the mountains before the sun can even be seen. It’s like feeling the first trickle of a heat flood which is about to engulf the desert. I get a little anxious in this hour of the day, and I tend to work fast to break camp and ready the motorcycle for a hasty retreat. The radiant heat energy of the desert is astounding, and there is absolutely nowhere to hide besides the shade under railroad and highway bridges, which I must sometimes share with birds and jackrabbits. It’s no wonder most of the animal life out here is nocturnal, hiding away from the sun at dawn, just before the inferno switches on. Walking alone across the desert on a summer day can be a very lonesome experience. Where is everyone? Why are all the locals hiding? What do they know that I don’t seem to grasp?

Ready to depart Siberia CaliforniaThe night before I took this photo was especially hot, only cooling to a comfortable level just before dawn. I ate my dinner while seated on the gravelly dirt, covered in sweat, wondering about male tarantulas which wander actively through the summer night looking for females. Though the wind was gentle this particular night, I did take precaution to lash the tent securely to the ground with pegs and ropes, and to angle the tent with the narrow sides facing east and west which align the tent perpendicular to the night wind, which can sometimes rise suddenly to blow with great intensity for hours through the night. Desert night winds (unless due to a storm) nearly always blow into the desert, which means west to east at Siberia, which fact allows me to reliably prepare my tent to weather the blast should it come.

The night is quiet here in every season, except the trains, which literally blast through the dark with deep rumbling engines which shake the ground, and resonant whistle blasts which echo off the black volcanos. The stars also remain constant in every season. Even when the Bristol and Bullion mountains to the north and south are being drenched in summer thunderstorms, the air overhead at Siberia is nearly always clear and clean all the way to the Milky Way. Just satellites mar the view, or an occasional jetliner, strangely silent, remind me of my species.

It’s a good thing. Such solitude. So much is lost then. So little gained. A very equitable trade.

~

Eventually, I won’t need the desert. Or the silence. Or the stillness. Or the atmosphere of peace. Maybe then I’ll understand the reason Epictetus wrote that “the wise man stays at home.”

~

Here’s the hike video from my visit to Siberia two weeks back. With this outing, I was experimenting with how long I could remain exposed and moving out in the open desert, on a day when temps would top out at around 110 degrees F. (43 C.). I learned that I don’t want to be more than an hour away from shade after approximately 8:00 AM. I could probably extend that range by wearing more–and better quality–clothing, as it seems it’s really the exposure to direct sunlight which drives my body temperature up fast, rather than the simple fact of being outdoors. The sunlight hitting my exposed skin seems to transfer an astonishing amount of heat energy which might otherwise be blocked or deflected by a sensible layer of clothing. I’m planning to research the desert clothing solutions in use by desert-dwelling peoples in places like Africa and the Middle East for some tips and tricks to help keep me safe. Another idea is to carry some form of easy-to-assemble shelter which I can quickly erect as a hiding place from the sun. I’m thinking perhaps of using a large reflective space blanket secured to the ground with pegs and elevated with a short pole. For this journey, I was using the very nice shady areas beneath flash flood bridges along both the railroad and Route 66. I’m certain I could easily spend an entire day under one of these bridges during even the hottest desert days. However, a smaller shelter (like my proposed space-blanket tent) would likely offer far less cooling opportunity, and I’ll need to experiment carefully with such options. An extra concern is the fact that since I’m on a motorcycle there’s no chance to escape the heat in a pinch by ducking into a car to enjoy the air conditioning. This means that I must always plan to get back to my bike with enough exposure reserves (new term?) to get the big GSA fired up, safely down the dirt road from Siberia, and out onto Route 66 where I can enjoy the moderately cooling effect of a 60 MPH wind. Altogether, I’m very satisfied with this experiment, though as you’ll discover if you watch this video, I think the heat may have made me a bit delirious at times.

~

I’m beginning to assemble some Going Alone best practices. Suggestions for anyone interested in entering wildness alone in search of The Great Indifference. Of course, the first trick is knowing that you don’t need to go to wildness to encounter Indifference. You just need to see past the thin veneer of meaning and illusory permanence we so expertly smear over everything and everyone around us.

1. Go Alone – Reject all company in the wild. Reject even the desire to consult yourself. Let every new outing put yet another mile between you and everything that comforts and reassures your mind. With time, what you’ve left behind will be like a distant carnival of stimulation and distraction. A loud, brilliant spectacle of days leading to a fearful end no one dares honestly discuss. But beware going too far, too soon, or too young. For it is possible to go so distant into wildness that you can never come back. For that matter, find love in your life. Find a partner who will understand. And who will let you go to the wild alone. Someone to return to. Someone who will leave a light on for your return. And warm you with their embrace when you reach out longingly to hold them after you’ve come back. Someone to appreciate after you’ve seen what’s not really out there.

2. No campfire – Let the night come on its own terms. Sit alone on the hard ground and let darkness arrive. Walk blind into the night. Stumble and fall. And meet the fearful things you imagine are there.

3. No seat – Never bring any chair into the wild. Nor create a seat. Just sweep away with your bare hand the larger stones and then sit on the ground, or in the sand, or on a rock. Or better yet, stand and move always.

4. Find a desert – Go someplace hard and empty. Avoid places with soft grass on the ground, or green leafy trees for shade. Find someplace where no one goes. Find a place hot, or cold, or windy, or bleak. A place where life isn’t really welcome. Where you feel a bit threatened by the empty.

5. No connectivity – Switch off the device. And then never switch it back on. Or if your muse is catalyzed by the act of posting. Then make the effort one way. Avoid checking or responding while in the wild. Or better yet, ever.

6. No books – You know better. Leave the books at home. Though bring blank pages. And a pencil. Or your blog. Do these things if you discover your muse meets you there in the wastes. Listen and record what your hear then. Don’t be embarrassed to share. Though you’ll likely be looked at and thought of as increasingly odd.

7. Death at first light – Greet the dawn by imagining your own death, and the eternity of utter empty quiet to follow. Imagine that you’ll never again see the ones you love. Never again experience any thought or emotion. Ask yourself how you should best spend the coming day, knowing how few days really remain, and how much you will very soon lose when this life is done.

~

IMG_3450I’m gearing up now for today’s ride and overnight at Siberia. The temperature forecast for today is 109 degrees and 113 for tomorrow. I always lose more in the desert than I gain. I wonder how much less there’ll be of me after I return? I wonder what part of me will evaporate away today and tomorrow in the heat and empty?

~

I have a home. I have a wife. I have a daughter. And I have an extended family. And I have a place called Siberia. It’s someplace that reminds me that the universe doesn’t care. It’s a place that threatens without acknowledging my presence. It’s silence deafens my every hope and ambition. I become almost nothing here. For a night. And then a day. Before I go back to my wife. And to my daughter. And my family. And my life. And I resolve then to make purpose and meaning where there is none. To identify virtue and make it my friend. And to vow allegiance to what is true. And to deny what is false. And to live a Good Life. A life of meaning. A life of love. A life well lived.

~

I’m embarking on my first ever solo night hike in the desert. It’s dark out there. And I’ve no reliable way to find my way back to a ghost town without lights or any sign of life. I won’t go far this first time. Just until I can no longer touch bottom.

IMG_3459

~

I recorded this after my desert night hike on Friday. The temperature at the time was around 110 degrees F. (43 C.), with a gentle, yet very hot, wind blowing in from the west. It’s hard to describe well the emptiness out here at night, with just my little penlight providing a dull haze of illumination in an ocean of black. The locomotives do thunder through from time to time, yet they seem as indifferent to my meek presence here as the night and the heat. I think it’s their steel rails which insulate the occupants from the fearful reality which swims here in the night.

~

A lot of me evaporated away into the hot desert night during this hike. I’m discovering that the stuff that goes wasn’t necessary anyway. Each time I go to the desert I return with less. And I’m a better man for the process. More deliberate. More sincere. Less distracted. Lighter in every way.

~

The desert quiet is everywhere with me now. Everything slower. Silence deep within the mind.

~

Desert skies offer little impediment to elevated thought. Without clouds or much insulating humidity between the Earth and the vacuum of space, my thinking floats easily up and away from whatever might otherwise restrain and constrain upon the firm bedrock of convention. If I float my ideas high enough, I can no longer make out the ground. Everything becomes a vast landscape of Indifference. There’s little difference in any direction. Even the deep dark above yawns awesome and deep. A similar infinity below towards the ground. And around me on every side. I’m increasingly mute whenever I return. There seems little reason to share what I can barely find words to describe.

~

There’ll be just a sliver of moon two days hence when I arrive at Siberia. The moon will hang low in the west just after I arrive at sunset. Within two hours this faint source of light will pass over the horizon, leaving deep night until dawn. A darkness not even the abundant starlight can awaken. I’ll walk then alone into the desert. A flashlight to guide the way. All inner light extinguished through a force of will to fit in.

~

I’m at the edge of the desert now. Terrible heat. Awful, really. I’ve been exposed now for hours. So much has been drained from me. I’m counting the remaining hours now to sunset. Anticipating some relief after the sun goes down. I like life this way. I enjoy looking over the awful edge of oblivion.

~

After nine months and four attempts I was at last able yesterday to get a San Bernardino County Sheriff’s Deputy to the desert location where I discovered what I thought were human bones. Three deputies agreed, and the bones are now on their way to the coroner.

~

Have you ever smelled the odor of a rock? This is something I’ve only ever experienced in the deep East Mojave desert. In the low, crumbling ruins of the ancient Bristol and Bullion mountains. Among the island peaks of the Old Dad and Old Woman mountains. And at the rugged and exposed feet of the great Providence and Granite mountains. The smell of stone here can only be detected during the hottest days of summer, and only just after sundown, when the faint twilight grows and a swell of gratitude emerges that we’ve survived another inferno day. The exposed stones here are the ancient product of the collision of continents, white, red and black in color, rich in silicon and iron. It’s the iron we can seemingly smell. It’s the same odor of our own fresh and copious blood. The taste of a bloody nose. Something about the long hot day and the sudden cessation of heat when the sun goes down appears to draw this same faint odor from the stones, from the landscape itself. It’s a beautiful smell while it lasts. Strangely familiar. Wildly unexpected. As exotic and evocative as a rare perfume. Don’t expect this aroma of iron from the forest, or the sea, or the desert sands. It’s a product of bare and exposed and ancient desert mountains. A factor of deep heat and sudden cooling, and the relief of survival, and the promise of night and the chance of another day.

~

I often like to compare my desert outings to a swim in the sea. In wintertime, a walk into the desert is like a leisurely swim into deep water from a calm and serene shoreline. It isn’t until you’re very far out that it dawns on you how deep, black and cold the water below is, and how distant the shimmering shore. In summertime though, a walk into the desert is like playing in the surf on a day when heavy wind and waves pound upon the shore. There’s trepidation from the first step. And danger even before we’re over our heads in apparent depth.

~

Summer is like a storm upon the desert. A raging tempest of heat, which drives nearly all life to the cover of daylight shade, or to flee altogether until the storm’s autumn end. To swim then is to risk death in short order. To drown in the heat. To die with bulging eyes and swollen tongue, Stumbling naked into a shimmering mirage. To become parched and bleached bones upon the sand.

The winter desert kills with cold indifference. It’s cool daylight silence lures us too far from where we should turn back. The comfort is a feign illusion. Just a little further. I’ll go just past that ridge. The atmosphere so mild and comforting at mid afternoon. The sunset coming on. Shall I stop and watch? Nightfall. The onset of deep, deep cold. Which way back? No lights. No trail. No guide. A final evening. The start of an endless night.

~

There was a storm raging all about me during this hike. You can’t see it for the clear, clean atmosphere, the dead air, and the deceptive desert silence. Yet you can see it in my beet-red face. You can detect real and rising anxiety in my fast words, and sense my growing delirium in the odd topics of conversation, and the distracted nature of my discourse. While making this video I’d been exposed in the open sun in temperatures of 110-degree Fahrenheit (43 C.) for over two hours, and the heat stress was really beginning to take its toll. I remember thinking, while I walked to hide under the Route 66 bridge, how I was perhaps getting near to someplace bad with regard to my bodily condition. Getting close to someplace I shouldn’t want to go. Yet curiosity urged me to continue just a little further when I soon left the shelter of the bridge. To inch just a bit nearer the edge of heat stroke and the one-way vista beyond. There’s something deeply satisfying about tempting danger in this way. I suspect it’s the same feeling others get when they drive very fast, or swim with sharks, or climb without ropes. A deep invigoration and appreciation of life which comes of every near miss of life’s final and utterly conclusive end.

~

The season of heat is passing. Temperatures today in the Eastern Mojave desert won’t climb past 100 degrees until mid-afternoon. A mild day by recent standards. Soon the sun will relent its terrible onslaught of energy upon the land; not by nature of diminished output, but only through the gradual shortening of days, and the less direct angle of attack. I can already feel the coming change; anticipate the cooler evenings, and the crisp bite of midnight cold which is herald of the much deeper and colder winter nights to come. There isn’t much time between seasons here. Barely a chance to rest a moment and prepare for the next season’s atmosphere and inclination. Spring and Autumn are bliss here. Though the memory and forecast of what was and what’s to come dull all but the most senseless immediate regard.

~

Age 53 and my mental faculties are both optimally tuned and failing fast. The experience of operating this system is like piloting an airplane through a range of mountains I can’t possibly summit. With each passing year of life the canyons narrow and the valleys rise. There’s no going back, and time’s running out ahead. I’d better do my thinking now before this journey very soon ends as a smoldering stain upon a high alpine cliff.

~

There is great virtue in self destruction. By this I do not mean self harm. Or injury in any way to our well being, or our innate sense of happiness. In fact, I seek to increase these greatly. To rarify goodness and find more immediate and sound answers to life’s most challenging issues and questions. I do this through destruction. Self destruction to be exact.

I attempt this destruction daily. Usually in the morning. Just before sunrise. I do this by throwing everything of real value upon the fire. Not a scrape of sentiment should remain. I start the fire with an honest question. Are these things true? I then heap on the fuel of criticism. Blow the flames with puffs of objectivity. Lay on abundant dry honesty. And then watch the new day’s inferno rage.

What’s left in the embers is the little bits of truth I’ll carry for another day. These are my treasures now. Not those combustible ideas of dogma, tradition and authority. I’ve burned them down again. As I will again tomorrow. And the day after that.

My secret goal is to one day have nothing left to burn. To be forced to go a day in utter doubt and confusion. Oh, what a blessing to walk in the company of an ignorance hard earned of education, and lost utterly to fearless naked doubt.

~

I used to be afraid of the desert for impractical reasons. I was afraid of the dark. And the solitude. And the questions which lurked there. These fears have largely passed. Now I’m afraid of more practical things. Like the heat. And the cold. And the risk of going very far while very alone. But also there’s a new and very different fear that’s arising. I began to sense it just recently. Perhaps truly during this last outing two weeks back. It’s the sense of the perception of a pathway emerging before me. An invisible route of my own making. A way opening up which I know I’ll follow. I don’t fear this direction for any reason other than I know that passage is one way, and utterly irrevocable.

~

48 hour ’till Siberia. I’ll arrive half an hour after sunset. It’ll be dark then. I’m thinking perhaps I’ll leave the motorcycle at the ghost town ruins, and night hike immediately after I arrive. Instead of packing the motorcycle with my camping gear, I’ll instead prepare my three-day tactical bag, and wear it while riding all the way out to the desert. This is easy to do, as I can simply loosen the pack’s shoulder straps and allow the bike’s pillion seat to carry the pack’s full weight. This way, I just get off the bike when I arrive, tighten the straps, and start walking into the dark.

For this hike I’ll go perhaps a mile north from Siberia into the near edge of the Deep Water Wilderness. This will be my first real overnight in the desert-and away from the reassuring touch of civilization-in over three decades. A homecoming of sorts.

The last time I did a night hike like this I was very young. I remember that night well. I remember emerging from my tent deep in the night to admire the rising moon. I remember the warm empty promise of the desert night wind. I remember feeling so small and frail, standing naked and barefoot on the sand in the vast and empty night. The great, dark desert illuminated with faint pale moonlight. The only man on Earth it seemed. It’s possible my nihilism can be traced to this moment, or moments like this. There were many then.

I wonder how my much older mind will react to this same experience 48 hours from now? Things are very different now. I’m a family man now. I have solid life objectives now. I have sound principals now. I have deeply meaningful purpose now. I know and recognize The Great Indifference now. I don’t fear the empty. Death is a wondrous, perhaps utterly final mystery to me now. I no longer pretend I’ve out-thought death’s mystery, and I no longer pledge allegiance to any comforting story of forever. I now instead await and welcome whatever strange, wondrous or terrible reality really awaits. I think I’m ready for whatever I’ll now find in the night.

~

There’s always lightening here at night in Siberia. In the east. And in the north. Ever seen. Never heard.

~

The dust storm hit my desert camp before I could finish pounding in the last tent stakes, sending the loose tent flaps flapping madly while minute particles of dust began irritating my eyes, and blocking out the setting sun. The wind blew hard for several hours at the start of night, while I alternated resting and walking about the dark camp. It was too hot to remain in the tent. Too windy to cook a meal or relax. Too soon for sleep.

The wind eventually stopped. The dust passed or settled into the dark. The stars came out. Still too hot to sleep well, I bound the tent flaps open, to invite in the night breeze, as well as scorpions, tarantula, and snakes. I lay naked upon the floor of the tent. Nothing to sleep on or covered by; just the soft, hot sand below, and the dehydrating hot wind above, blowing heat all about and over every inch of my body.

I slept then. Not well. Not deep. Night thoughts rose in my mind between dream and consciousness. I tended these like a small, fragile flame when I could; when my mind rose far enough from sleep to realize I was thinking. I let all those quiet night thoughts go. I can’t remember a one now. They were ghosts in the night.

I’m awake now. It’s another hour before dawn. The morning wind woke me with a long and sudden blast of hot anger. I expect this is how the desert anticipates the summer day to come. An anxiety of mindless natural force.

The desert around me is so dark and empty. Only the wind my companion. And the stars a distant, mute audience. This night I’ll remember always. A fitting candidate for the one day smile on an old man’s face. My grandchildren wondering–why does granddad smile that way?

~

Sweat and life evaporate equally out here. The lull and comfort of civilization and companionship dull my perception of life’s immediate passing. The tick tick of seconds we’ll never get back.

Don’t think such thoughts! Here, amuse yourself with the TV, or watch a movie. How about a meal? Or a drink? Or a chat with friends?

There’s no such distraction out here. Just the locomotives determined passing; blind to anything other than their rails.

I can’t help sense time’s passage here. Feel the very real weight of age. My muscles seem to fade with each step. That distant peak, possible yesterday, impossible today; not even a dream tomorrow.

Each moment, less and less.

~

20818797_1616820725056852_4517613479496126824_oHere’s a photo of that dust storm racing across the desert towards me. I was scrambling to set up and secure my tent before the storm arrived (that’s my tent gear in the foreground). The initial winds were pretty intense, nearly knocking the tent flat before blotting out the remaining sun and ushering in the start of a long, hot, gritty night. Note the small volcano at lower left just as it’s being swallowed by the storm.

~

There’s an invisible killer prowling the entirety of the desert on a schedule both predictable and unposted. It swallows everyone and everything at once, and begins squeezing until we’re either dead or it’s time for departure has come. It will come again tomorrow, a little sooner or later depending on the season. It disappears for some months while its less dangerous fraternal twin takes its station. There’s a short season of overlap when both twins can be met on the same day; though never at the same hour. Remember that these killers cannot be seen. Are soundless. Have no mind. And are utterly without mercy.

~

It didn’t escape my notice that the desert dust storm I encountered two nights back encompassed the Deep Water Wilderness. Before the wind and sand swallowed me up where I camped on the gently sloping alluvial plain near Siberia, I watched as the storm-front passed quickly across the edge of Deep Water, one mile to the north of my camp. This means the dust storm swept up and through first the twisting red canyons of Deep Water, and then along the craggy black volcanic mountains leading to the heart of the desolate Bristol range. From within those mountains, someone would never see such a storm approaching.

The experience of such a sand storm within the mountains would be both sudden, and overwhelming. Immediately prior, the air would be still. The sky would be clear. The desert as silent as always–and then suddenly a brown wall and wave of wind would appear over the ridge and up the canyon. Anyone walking or setting up camp there would be consumed in seconds by wind and sand; left standing or hunkering against the sandblast gale. Eyes covered by hands. Mouth tight. Mind racing. And as these storms often come at twilight, the person caught so exposed would also be subject to sudden nightfall, as the sand snuffs out the setting sun, ushering in a long, harsh twilight.

I wonder how often the desert explorers and miners of old encountered such storms? The only story I’ve read of such an event relates a 100 year old tale of an old miner who was caught suddenly by a sand storm in the same general area where I was camping two nights back. In fact, he was a few miles south east at the edge of the Amboy Crater lava field, attempting the long walk from Bagdad to Twentynine Palms where he would attempt to sell various items he’d collected from the mines. He was an old man, and got by any way he could. I suspect the sandstorm he met rose up from the same dry lake bed where my storm was born. The miner was overwhelmed by the storm, just as I was, and sought shelter in a lava tube, while I found refuge in a tent. While waiting out the wind and sand he discovered large chunks of gold in the lava. The story goes that he took enough gold to fill a Bull Durham bag, with plans to return for the rest. Sadly, the old miner was dead within 24 hours of his return to Bagdad, and the gold he brought back was used to pay his funeral expense.

I expect these sand storms have been a feature of the desert here for tens of thousands of years. Now that I know of them–and know what to look for and expect–I’ll anticipate the day I’m once again suddenly enveloped in a long, blustery, gritty night of blowing sand and howling wind. I’ll relish the chance; and prepare my mind for the trial.

~

Four weeks back and my overnight at Siberia was a brutal affair. The ground had absorbed a great deal of energy from sunlight, which it then radiated into the cooling night air from sundown until well past midnight. Sleep was very difficult for me then, as sweat pooled on the bottom of my tent, and I tossed and turned until 3:00 AM. I arose at dawn thoroughly dehydrated, and fully sapped of all energy. The prospect of facing sunrise, and the broiling day to come, was daunting then, and I hastily broke camp in favor of a full retreat to my cool and comfortable home on the coast.

Two weeks later, on August 11th, and the story was different. Temperatures were five degrees cooler, and the earth was losing its collected daytime heat fast after sundown. This was due to an unexpected sand storm which rose suddenly at dusk, with winds that seemingly drained the Earth of heat before the long summer twilight was complete. I slept better then, save for the clamor of wind rattling my tent, and the grit of sand blowing in through open flaps, as well as the bite of some desert creepy crawly which clambered into bed with me from the dark. When I awoke the next day at dawn, the planet was in halcyon spirits, and I wondered if summer had somehow gone. The air temperature was cool, and atmosphere refreshingly clear after the long night of blowing sand. I stepped out of my tent into pale light beneath a still ebony sky. The stars were gone in anticipation of the dawn. Day and night hung then in perfect balance. My fear of the desert was gone then too. I even contemplated a two mile hike to the edge of Deep Water.

The desert had me fooled. Not deliberately of course. There’s far too much indifference here to support any malice. I was fooled by circumstance, and the natural confluence of events, and the quality and character of that particular morning’s climate, and my own foolish trust of a clockwork universe of ever descending consequence.

I was slow to break camp then. I lured myself to complicit peace, and a quiet and settled attitude.

Suddenly the heat returned with force. It was about thirty minutes after those beams first touched my skin after sunlight spilled over the Bristol Mountains. I felt my internal temperature begin to rise, rising faster than sweat could control. Besides, I was thoroughly dehydrated from the dry night wind. There wasn’t enough moisture in me to mount an effective thermal defense. I was losing the battle even before it really began. A little panic then. A little haste.

I broke camp quickly, and was on my motorcycle and moving along Route 66 in no time. That felt good. I was keeping the rising desert heat at bay through the wind of my ride, and the false sense of safety that our contraptions do provide.

I stopped the bike once to admire a distant bajada. And another time to cast a melancholy gaze at the nothing that was once the ghost town of Bagdad. Neither time did I get off the bike. Neither time did I stop the engine. Two much risk in either action. Just keep moving. Forget about the heat.

About ten miles from my camp at Siberia I saw the low, black profile of the volcanic cinder cone called Amboy Crater, and my route began taking me past the crater’s many miles of hardened black lava. This is a particularly hot place, hotter than the surrounding desert. This is due to the black rocks which absorb heat to such an extend that you cannot touch them with bare skin, and which radiate this heat all day and night in great waves upon the land. This area is one of the origin places for the great winds which drive the sandstorms here, an origin place for many indifferent desert things.

On a whim I decided to pull into Amboy Crater at the Bureau of Land Management’s narrow, one-lane paved road leading into the National Monument. I knew there were covered picnic tables by the trail head, which is the start of the two mile walk to the crater summit. I thought I’d rest a bit in the shade. Ready myself for the long, two hundred mile ride home.

I woke an hour later to utter silence. The same midsummer daytime silence which speaks such volumes in the desert. There was nobody around when I’d arrived. Nobody came while I lay nearly naked on the concrete in the shade, ants climbing over my body, displaying the same open Indifference I know so well here.

I sat up and rubbed my eyes, which squinted bloodshot and red, still stinging from the night’s blowing sand. “Why do I do this?” I asked myself. “Why do I come to such places?” No answer was needed. The silence was answer enough. I didn’t think anything more. Though I did write a short bit of prose then. I’ve copied it below. It’s about the heat…and the cold. The twin killers as I called them. Here’s what I wrote:

“There’s an invisible killer prowling the entirety of the desert on a schedule both predictable and unposted. It swallows everyone and everything at once, and begins squeezing until we’re either dead or it’s time for departure has come. It will come again tomorrow, a little sooner or later depending on the season. It disappears for some months while its less dangerous fraternal twin takes its station. There’s a short season of overlap when both twins can be met on the same day; though never at the same hour. Remember that these killers cannot be seen. Are soundless. Have no mind. And are utterly without mercy.”

Six hours later I was home. Safe with my wife and daughter. Enjoying a long, cool swim in the pool.

Twenty four hours after I left Amboy Crater, a husband and wife from Los Angeles drove into the same empty parking lot. I’m sure nobody else was there. They probably parked their car in the same spot where I’d parked my motorcycle, which was the most convenient location in the lot, close to both the shelter of the covered picnic benches and the trailhead. At around 11:00 AM the couple set out for the crater. By 2:00 PM they were both dead.

~

One reason few people remain in the desert very long is the dawning awareness that arises here, that no legacy or memory can stay intact in such a hostile and dangerous place. Everything dies in the desert. Everything fades to dust and sand. Nothing remains or returns like it was before.

Elsewhere, in more mild climes, the fact of our growing and extending circles of family and friends, and the seeming permanence of what we’ve made or done in our lives, lead us to believe that the results of our life efforts will last, and maybe even survive for a while beyond our own passing. We imagine our life’s work will stand for a time as a humble monument to our brief existence here. We’re comforted we won’t soon be forgotten. That after death, our name won’t quickly become disconnect from the individual we once were. That anonymity will not sweep over us as it does every man, and every woman, and every child, who was, and who no longer is. That we won’t at last become nothing more than a fading name, scratched, along with some dates, onto cut stone in a graveyard of forgotten someones. Old age and death are less fearful then, as we’ve fooled ourselves that our works will last for a while upon the Earth, while our spirit will then go on to exist forever in heaven or hell. Such a curious equanimity. Such a deceitful peace.

Deserts offer no such peace. Deserts remind us that we are sand, and wind, and heat. Animated for awhile. Alive for just another day. They inform us we have no soul. They tell us that death is no more than a return to the nothing we knew so long before life. And deserts say these things without words. Speaking facts through mute and stark example. Caring not if we listen or comprehend. Incapable of caring even. Emptiness their first and final word.

This is why few who come remain long in the desert. This is why we come and then so quickly go. There’s only so much we can take of such a place. Only so much we can stand, before we run back to our loved ones. Return to those who share our myths, and stories, and tales, and promise of comfort, permanence and peace. To tell ourselves that what we began to suspect out in the desert isn’t really true. To hold our hands to our ears and close our eyes. To speak reassuring words of forever. To talk of final reunion, and final reconciliation, and final justice. To speak again of forever, and then again. To talk of someday mansions in the clouds, and a just law giver who will love us forever. And of joy to last for eternity.

We leave the desert to escape the denial of such comfort. We leave the desert to forget the sand. To forget the silence. And the heat. And the empty. And the utter indifference of a universe that truly does not seem to care. And the awesome implication these discovered facts suggest may be true.

~

The peaceful corridors of the mind. I’ll walk there now. and again later. From time to time. So quiet. More silent even than the desert at night. Not even the sound of crickets.

~

Tonight will be the first evening in Siberia this summer when the temperature at sunset will already be below 100 degrees. I want to be there then. I want to walk alone towards the darkening desert mountains then. I want to watch while the killer makes its evening retreat into night.

I haven’t yet made a long nighttime excursion and overnight into the Deep Water near my ghost town home of Siberia. My reason is the fearful summertime heat which returns so soon after sunrise, and my knowing reluctance to wake in the morning far from the feign safety of my motorcycle, and the necessity of hiking so far back while the desert killer begins stalking in from the east. Twice in the past, the killer nearly got me: Once two years back. Another time three decades before that, when I was young, strong, and a very real danger to myself.

The last time the desert almost caught me I had foolishly lingered too long in the vicinity of Deep Water, and was nearly taken as I attempted a hasty, and somewhat panicked escape across and over a barren badlands of slippery, decomposed granite. As I jogged along and through the craggy rolling landscape, I worried that the loose rock would twist an ankle and leave me crippled and exposed to the coming killer. That experience was foolish, and the fear that I felt then was very real and well earned. I almost think I spotted death moving towards me then rather near from the north, from the deep end of the desert sea, wavering and flickering in the dry heat haze, a terrible mirage caught up in my panicked breathing, drawn to my hot, pounding pulse.

Before that, many decades before; I’d left my little red truck by the road on a late summer morning in the Panamint Valley. Without water, or a hat, or any protection at all, I’d decided to hike to a distant sand dune. So far, yet apparently so near. I turned back too late. Perhaps twenty minutes too late, having failed my goal. I was very frustrated, and so very stupid. I was nearly dead when I reached my truck again. My face was ghastly red. My body in the full riot of heat stroke. I later estimated I had probably less than thirty minutes of life left in me then. The killer had been directly on my heels, though I had no way to know him at that young age. I was then quite blind. It took several hours for my strong, healthy body to recover that day. It’s been decades since, and my mind has still not overcome the experience.

Now I’m like a boy stung badly by bees who can’t help returning to the hive. I gaze at the desert from a distance. I venture close when I can. I walk towards Deep Water where the threat is real. I always turn back before the killer spots me. I know I’m playing chicken with a force which will not flinch. I cannot let myself meet the killer again. I can’t afford even to get close. I’ve far too much joy in life to risk fruitless death. I have proud responsibilities I both recognize and gladly own. I have my people and loved ones who count on me. And I have these strange words I do dearly love to write and share.

Yet I will go out again to tempt the killer. I’ll watch it move across the desert at dawn, to storm and rage all day, and then pass away as the sun does down. I’ll watch. But I will not tempt. And I’ll remember always that the killer will never know me. Even if it sees me. Even if it kills me. Even if I someday blunder and stumble into its path. It will never, ever know me.

~

It’s interesting to note how the fearful things of my ordinary life refuse to accompany or follow me into the desert. Worries about money, career, or reputation drop away as I ride my motorcycle into the wastes. It’s as though these things can find no purchase or footing in a place where their concerns have no relevance. Or perhaps it’s simply because these worries become mean and petty in the face of the more real and permanent truths I must encounter in their stead. Like the rich man who spills coins from his hands when he looks up to find the executioner at the door. Or the businessman who abandons all and runs ahead of an approaching plague. Or the well known figure who chooses loved ones over adulation while lying upon his death bed. The curious thing is the way this effect lingers after my return. How I can walk like Caesar for days among my petty, civilized fears; looking down my nose at vanity, propriety, and esteem; respecting only love, and goodness, and virtue. I return always from the desert haunted and empowered by a grave truth I can only know by going deeper and further than I’d like, by going past the limit of the more common sense, by rejecting my base mortal fear, and by always going alone.

~

There are several ways to become lost in a desert. Only the most fortunate are never found. Even if they return to community, home, and loved ones, they are never found. Even if they live long, and to a ripe old age, they are never found. Even if a subtle smile graces their countenance for the rest of their days, they are never found. Their blessing is being never found. Their great secret is being lost. Their humble wisdom is knowing no way back.

~

The following words are a confession of my selfish past and present, as well as a statement of my on-going effort at improvement. I note these things for the benefit of my daughter and her children should they somehow inherit my want of Going Alone.

I’d be lying if I said my path isn’t scary. It is. The “Going Alone” theme isn’t hyperbole. It’s the perfect signpost on the faint trail where I prefer to walk, and the name of a destination I’ll never reach. However, this route isn’t nearly as solitary as it once was, as there are now some improved oasis of human connection along the way, some better opportunity for time apart from the nowhere road to no place special.

I’m no longer as alone as I once was. I’ve my wife, and my daughter, and my brother, and my mom. Granted, I’ve always had these, though now I have them better than ever. And they have me. For better or for worse, we’ve each other now, and more than ever before.

Sadly though, the rest have fallen away. Or rather, I’ve let them all go. It’s a rather mean and callus thing, to be sure. But so too would be the artificial maintenance of connections I no longer want, or need, or desire to keep. I suspect that if I’m not capable of being a very good friend, then it’s probably best to not be one at all.

I do enjoy this quiet life. My strong, abiding preference has always been to be alone. I prefer the solitary company of my steps and my thoughts. I prefer the empty landscapes and long solitude of nights and days without others. I appreciate having no one to console or reassure me when I’m afraid of what’s true. And I desperately want no one to distract me from the awful indifference which looms now across the horizon of my mind, and gapes like a cold void at the frontier of my every solitary adventure.

I’m lucky to have my wife. Thirty years together and she knows my journey. I’ve a partner who both allows and encourages this path I’m on. In the past, this Going Alone route sometimes drew me far away from her. Those were lonely times for us both. For me, the fact of being someone who was lost. For her, the fact of being married to someone lost, and the consequence of married solitude.

The last decade saw gradual improvement through the natural process of hard-won maturity, and the persistence of commitment to the values my wife and I both share, and which we attempt to instill in our daughter through both lesson and example. The key change was our fourteen months apart. That time when I came to America first, and left my wife and daughter behind in Japan. That experience broke me. Thankfully I was broken then. After we were reunited, I was a new man. I understood better the value of my human contacts, especially my family. I gave up Going Alone then. And for two years I focused on becoming a better husband and father. A better man. I think I succeeded. The improved quality of our lives is testament to this change, as well as the patience of my family in waiting for me to catch up to values they already knew.

But I knew I hadn’t really changed. I just knew better what was most important. I know that I can never fully get off the path of Going Alone. And with this realization I gave up my friends. I gave up my connections. I abandoned social media, and email, and reduced my online footprint to a single blog and an occasional video. I found a good balance. A disconnected balance. Disconnected from all but my most intimate connections. My wife, my daughter, my brother, and my mom.

Now I go alone again. Every two weeks on a Friday. I literally go alone then. I go off to the desert and disconnect for a full 24 hours. I then return and reconnect. I reconnect with my wife. And my daughter. And my brother. And my mom. There’s little to no connection with anyone else.

My wife and I talk about this sometimes. She smiles and tells me she’s lost her interest in other connections too. Perhaps this is a factor of our shared age. Or maybe it’s because though we are very different, we’ve nevertheless shared the same road together for most of our lives.

My wife and I spend far more and better time together now. We often smile at one another and hold hands like when we were dating, and we go places together, and we walk, and we talk, and we laugh like we once did. We just want each other now. And our daughter. And our brothers and sister. And our mother and father. And our little dog. And our little home. Our safe little corner of the universe. It’s a place where The Great Indifference can only peek in through the window from the cold and dark outside, that is, if it had any interest, or ability, to do so. It has no place here now. It’s place is out there, where nothing cares.

I sometimes look out our window on a peaceful and happy Sunday night with my family. And I wonder at the dead Indifference staking the night out there in the dark. The dead Indifference which was never alive and never died.

Still, this path scares me. For though I’m not fully alone, I know that I am alone. I found The Great Indifference early in life. And now I’m so far along there’s no chance of turning back. Though even if I could, I’d never turn back. For how can reason rightly turn away from what it knows is true?

This path brings me closer each day to a once distant horizon growing near. It’s a place I neither fear nor want. I can’t turn back. And though I can’t turn back, I know the remaining journey is secure with the ones I love. Secure until the moment we pass away forever from one another. With no chance of final reunion, no chance of final reconciliation, and no chance of final justice, I must attend to these things in the here-and-now. I must recognize and stand up to my fears now. No more cowardly hiding from this life through my time in the wastes. No more cowardly hiding from the wastes through my fear of what was never there.

~

IMG_3605This photo isn’t much, yet it’s very significant to me. We’re looking north from the edge of the desert ghost town of Siberia. I’m standing at the edge of the Deep Water wilderness which extends into the horizon. At left is Black Mesa, a place I haven’t yet reached. At center, is the heart of Deep Water; an intimidating badlands and maze-like moonscape of decomposed granite flash flood channels and gullies. At right can be seen the distant and hazy silhouette of the Old Dad Mountains, and the much nearer unnamed black volcano I visited last winter where I discovered the remains of “El Campo One.”

I so want to strike out now into this wilderness. It’s a place where humans seemingly never go. At least not since the 19th century gold miners gave up and left. I’d go out there now if I didn’t know the killer was already on it’s way and ready to meet me. Instead, I’ll head back to my motorcycle now. I’ll escape while I still can. Already the temperature has risen drastically since sunrise. Or maybe that’s just my fear. Either way, it’s a good time to get away.

~

GSA packed and ready to leave Siberia, CaliforniaThe GSA is packed and ready to go. It’s a shame to leave though…just as my imagination and thinking were acclimating to the silence and solitude. But that’s alright, as bits of this peace always follow me home, adding incrementally to the joy and meaning of a well-lived life.

~

In Japan, the landscapes I explored appeared new and young, almost adolescent. With steep and rugged mountains rising direct from the sea, and long, narrow valleys twisting into impossibly remote, mist covered peaks. Everywhere the rocks were jagged and angular, as though freshly fallen from cliffs and peaks. The mountains of Japan also roar and tinkle always with the sound of flowing water, unbelievable quantities of clean, fresh and cold water melting from snowy alps, percolating from saturated mountain soils, and raging trough wild streams and rivers which rise and swell with abundant rainfall and the torrent of seasonal typhoons. The landscape has the character of youth, being bold, brash and full of life and abundant energy. I was always in awe of the wilderness in Japan, though the effect was somewhat superficial, like the experience of watching a skilled athlete in control of a young and powerful body, or the impetuous activities of youth, newly animated with the spirit of discovering they are alive. These things are impressive, though not often moving.

The American desert is very different. My time alone in wild places here is like a stroll through a mausoleum of geology. The mountains are ancient and worn, the greater part of their being having been reduced to the sand beneath my feet. The rocks are angular like the rocks in Japan, though in the desert they stay this way for eons, there being little rain to capture, move and grind away their rough edges. The water that does come is powerful, yet brief and fleeting, like the smile of an old man remembering the joys of youth while the Reaper places its hand upon his shoulder. And the desert is quiet, and silent, and at peace. The desert always has my respect, and at times moves me like a great teacher or quiet sage, though I know it is neither.

I’m glad I’ve known both landscapes. I’m grateful for the character lesson of each, as well as the example of good living they provide through two quite distinct and different seasons of life.

~

I realize now that my repeated visits to Siberia have left an imprint there which I neither intended nor wanted. My brief living at that spot has marked it with my passage, and added something to the mystery of that place.

I always set up my camp at Siberia in the same spot. It’s an area both convenient to my motorcycle, and slightly protected from the desert’s prevailing east wind. The sand beneath where I place my tent has become soft due to my removal of all but the smallest stones. And the four corners where I pound my tent stakes are clearly marked with the large stones I use to secure these into the ground. Finally, there’s a small section of cut wooden railroad tie with a small metal grate secured to the top. This item is stuck into the sand just outside the rectangle of stones. I found this item in the desert some months back, and brought it to camp to serve as my cook table. This is my camp at the desert ghost town of Siberia. It’s a rough place of stone, sand, wood, and steel. Yet it’s origin of human hands is clear. It’s an artifact of human caring.

The effect of these symmetrically placed stones, surrounding an area of fine sand, and accented with a wood and metal grate, suggests human intervention. It’s the same thing I experience now when I encounter old graves in the desert, or when I first discovered that stone-lined footpath through the middle of Siberia. These things tell us someone’s been here. They suggest someone once cared in a place where caring has long since departed.

My contribution to the mystery of Siberia is a rectangular perimeter of rock, surrounding a bed of soft sand, and an accent of wood and metal. I realize now that even if I never go back to Siberia, my fingerprints are there. My mark on that place is secure. I’ve added yet another strange human assembly of objects to that place. I’ve produced yet another mystery of stone and debris. Something to perhaps catch and puzzle the mind of anyone who visits and looks closely, today, tomorrow, or a hundred years from now.

~

The young man I once was would never join me in the desert. He’d know better than to not go alone. He’d make up some polite excuse to tell me no before giving me the social slip. I’d be proud of his foresight then, even if I knew he didn’t understand the reason he must go alone.

My young self would be such a burden in the desert. So lost, and searching, and full of energy, questions and pointless speculation. I’m glad I wasn’t there when I was that young man.

I’d never invite my younger self to the desert with me. I’d do him that small favor at least. Otherwise, I’d be perfectly silent with him. I wouldn’t tell him a single thing.

~

Just a hint of my return to the desert and my muse descends upon me as from nowhere. Is it really this easy to summon poetry, art and the product of rich and fulfilling imagination? This strange catalyst of beauty, depth and meaning, always at hand, forever at the ready, at least as long as our faculty of mind persists, and our will to bend along the path of our natural inclination remains.

~

The desert is not a good place of escape, as the wide open spaces provide nowhere to hide. There’s no distance too far to separate us from what we deny or fear, which trails us easily in a landscape where the only footprints are our own. For the sake of hiding, it’s much better to stay put within our safe and familiar, to bury ourselves under piles of routine, and cover our eyes with the familiar and ordinary. I fear the desert not for the risk of becoming lost, but instead for the very real threat of being found.

~

The forecast tonight for the East Mojave Desert is mild temperatures and high winds. The experience of shutting off the big motorcycle’s engine after arriving in such a place, and under such circumstances, is not unlike plunging headlong from rocks into a warm churning sea.

Switching off the motorcycle’s engine then is a shock. After 200 miles of riding, the sudden quiet is deafening, like an implosive concussion drawn in by the sudden cessation of sound. Night, and deep darkness flood in as the bike’s single headlight cuts out. Darkness and silence at once reign. The effect is enveloping, encapsulating, and smothering.

Immediately though, the wind pushes aside the silence, and the night. There’s a particular sound the wind makes in the desert at night. It’s a rustling sound, the sound of confusion, the sound of disorder, the sound entropy makes as it slowly fills the universe with waste.

At this moment I’ll stand upon the desert sand with my legs apart, a firm stand against the wind, a resolute posture in the face of the night. A long night. Even after the daylight comes, a very long night.

~

I’ve arrived in the desert ghost town of Siberia. This place is more empty now than ever. There’s no muse, no ghost and no god. Even the wind is hush, and only whispers through the branches of the creosote brush. Curiously, there’s no fear here either. Those phantoms were never real anyway. Though for most of my life I allowed them some say over my imagination and anxiety. No more now. There’s nothing here but sand, stone, wind and quiet. Sure, there’s mortality too. Nothing to fear there either. Only a deeper and more silent dark than even the desert can muster.

ArrivedatSiberia

~

It takes time for our mind to adjust to solitude in wild places. To overcome our settled sense, and shrug off the norms and conventions of social habit. I feel these things falling away slowly with every step removed into the wild. The sense is like becoming aware of a great apparatus and structure being carried upon the back, which I only note as it begins to fall away, piece by piece. How many steps would be necessary to remove it wholly? Is that even possible? What creature would I then become?

~

The place I visited yesterday startled me for its natural artistry, and seeming permanence in time, and will-less beauty. While crossing over a rugged badlands of soft-colored pink and pale granite, a place devoid of visible life save some specimens of tiny red cactus blending easily with the stones and sand, I came upon a flat high point displaying a curious natural feature called desert pavement. This strange geologic phenomenon occurs in deserts, and mainly in areas where steady winds blow over high relief ground littered with tiny stones. The stones in this particular spot came from a nearby outcrop of reddish volcanic rhyolite peeking up through the much older granite country rock. Millennia of alternating heat and cold had chipped to bits the exposed face of hard rhyolite which were then scattered evenly by random winds over an area roughly the size of a tennis court. This spot was perched on a perfectly flat rise overlooking a 360 degree landscape view encompassing roughly two hundred square miles of empty desert. The wind here was strong and steady, and probably had been day after day, not for weeks or months, but for centuries and millennia. The constant wind had the working effect of a stone mason who might carefully arrange the broken rhyolite into a perfect mosaic before blowing away the sand. Working over many centuries with wind from different angles, and with the seeming accuracy of an Egyptian pyramid builder, the reddish puzzle pieces and pebbles had been blown about and fitted perfectly together with exacting accuracy. The final result was a perfectly flat expanse of desert stone, formed not as a solid sheet of rock, but instead as a fitted composite of tiny rocks perfectly placed by the hand of wind, and time, and chance, and an eternity of mindless patience. I sat upon the stones then to remove my shoes and walk barefoot (mindful of the small cactus) over the smooth face of natural art I’d found, perhaps never before seen by human eyes. I then sat for a long time upon the pavement and thought as the warm desert wind blew steady at my back. I thought of all the small haphazard events which had created this natural wonder, and of all the time it took to complete. I thought of the art of nature, which neither cares for recognition and praise, nor is capable of perceiving when such is offered. And I thought of my own brief witness of this same, and the hurried way even this small recognition and perception must soon be swept away like the sand which long ago was blown like waste from this desert peak.

~

I failed to reach the deep end of the desert this weekend despite the fact I hiked in further than I had in over a year. Depth clearly isn’t a function of distance, though some distance is clearly needed.

~

I’m beginning to detect a subtle vacuum force within the desert which draws me away and into places I have difficulty climbing away from. I’ve so far tempted this force with no more than a day’s journey., which I’ve always easily escaped. I’ll soon try two days of depth. I wonder how much harder the climb back will be?

~

Last week’s trip to Siberia was my first night arrival on the motorcycle. The ghost town is located in an enormous valley of roughly 200 square miles without another human being anywhere. The only sign of human life here are the long trains which pass by occasionally in the night, and the one or two cars which glide through the dark like phantoms along Route 66. The darkness here is utter and complete on moonless nights like this, and when I shut off the motorcycle’s engine, and then kill the lights, the night swarms in like a smothering blanket, and I find myself gazing up at the stars like the hopeful companions they can never be.

~

My reconnoiter last week to the edge of the Deep Water Wilderness has revealed the desert killer is gone. This means I can plan my first extended desert hike since returning to the USA. I’m thinking a two day, two night, outing from Siberia, through Deep Water and into the Black Mountains. I’d lie if I told you the thought of going so far alone doesn’t scare me. Especially as I know my little god will certainly not join me there. I’m learning now there’s good reason the deep desert is sometimes described as a forsaken land.

~

These last two trips to the desert were more alone than ever, which is the aim, and purpose of going. My companions in solitude were absent; The Muse, The Desert Killer, my little god. Only Indifference remained, which is devoid of companionship, and the thing which fills the solitude with empty.

~

It’s a little difficult to describe how alone I felt out here this night. There was literally no sign of humanity in any direction, not even the lights of airplanes. Only the wind made any effort at motion, or sound, or any activity which suggested I was still within the world of animate movement or life. Though there was no life here which would care for me–I’d left them a day away, in another world, and a place I could barely muster to memory for the fact of its very real distance of mind–I was nevertheless very, very alone with the soulless beasts roaming the dark, reminding me that I too have no soul, and therefore no capacity to survive any darkness greater than this night. And though I was alone, I knew that I was still not as alone as I’d yet like to be. Going Alone is a far and deep trespass into places we both fear and marvel, and it is always possible to go too far, and always a fact that we must each one day go further than we can ever return. I’m not nearly ready to go that far. I’ve far too much love of life to wish that feign passage anytime soon. So, when the full moon finally began peeking over the invisible Black Mountain to the east of my night camp at Deep Water, I knew I’d then enjoy some relief from the deep night, and some rest from the delicious anxiety of deep solitude which ever has the capacity to satisfy, while always leaving more emptiness than was hoped for or sought.

~

It’s still thirteen hours before I’ll step away from my motorcycle and plunge headlong into the desert night, to begin a two hour hike through darkness to the edge of Deep Water. Already though, I sense the nothingness and empty of the deep desert come sniffing at my heels, seeking out my weakness, begging me to remember my fear. This feeling will only grow through the day; though it will dispel instantly once I’m swallowed by the night.

~

Tonight’s hike will begin at Siberia roughly an hour after sundown. The moon will be nearly full, providing pale illumination and rendering the landscape to shades of light gray against the black canopy of space. If I keep my flashlight turned off, then my eyes will adapt to the dark and I’ll easily pick my way through the desert, past obstacles such as rocks, cactus and creosote brush, However, without my light, I might not spot rattlesnakes which come out to hunt in the dark. With the light on, my pupils will close and my world will shrink to a shallow pool of bright illumination guiding my footsteps through the night. I’ll then easily spot snakes, tarantula and scorpions; through without any trail to follow I’ll need to rely on instinct, and the position of the moon, as my guides. From time-to-time I’ll stop, turn off the light, and wait while my eyes readjust to the dark, and I can pick out the silhouette of the low mountains to the north which are my aim, and the edge of the Deep Water Wilderness.

After an hour or so of hiking through the dark, I should reach the edge of the Bristol Mountains. I’ll need to select, in the dark, a narrow canyon to follow up, and into, the badlands, which are my destination, and where I hope to reach before setting up camp for the night. These canyons are narrow, with many small, dry waterfalls. So I’ll need to hike carefully, and remain extra vigilant for snakes which hunt for rodents among the rocks. During daylight hours (when the snakes are hiding) I often see their winding tracks in the sandy places between the stones.

An hour later I should be near my goal. After a tricky scramble up a steep slope of decomposed granite, I’ll come upon the badlands mesa I call The Edge of Deep Water. From here, when I turn off my light, I can see over two hundred square miles of empty desert, between the Bullion Mountains to the south, the Old Dad Mountains to the north, the Granite and Providence Mountains to the east and the extinct volcano of Pisgah (which name means “summit” in Hebrew, and was the mountain from whence God showed Moses the Promised Land) to the west. In all that vast space there will be only two signs of humanity, which are the twin red beacons atop the Bullion Mountains marking the site of remote radio towers.

In this place…I will stay the night.

~

I’d fooled myself into thinking the desert killer was gone. I’d mistaken the killer for summer heat, and deep winter cold, and imagined some respite now between the extreme seasons. But I sensed it now as I rode my motorcycle down into the desert, and away from the living comfort of my species. I sensed the killer out there in the dark, floating amidst the blind hills and mute mountains, over a landscape illuminated with faint moonlight; a natural light illuminating the Indifference and the grave things we all strive to forget over the course of our lives, until these things emerge from the fearful wastes to find us. I have no more need to fear the desert night than the warm and happy nest my family and I call home. The desert killer can find us now in either place, only out here I can better see it coming.

~

Such fear just before my arrival at Siberia. Terror of a sort, really. The fear hit me about a mile out, while slowing the bike to spot the dirt road where I turn off Route 66. I’m always scared at this point. But tonight…wow! That little coward within let out a yelp and a squawk saying “GOOO! Don’t turn! Just go back the way you came!” Of course I ignored him. I nearly always do. He’s always wrong. Though I suspect one day he’ll be right.

~

The waitress at Barstow kindly filled my thermos with hot coffee, so I’ll have a cup here at Siberia before I start out walking into the mountains. The moonlight is superb! And I can see the black hulks of the Bristol Mountains a few miles off to the north. The darkness within the mountains seems another thing, though I know I’ll be able to see fine once I get there. The fear should pass shortly. It’s interesting how cowardice so quickly flies before resolve.

~

Coffee is done and it’s time to start hiking. A coworker suggested I add a “returning by” date to the sign on my motorcycle windshield. I only hope the bike will still be here when I get back.

Leaving the bike at Siberia

~

Last post. I’ve one bar left and will turn off the phone after this photo uploads. There’s no more human contact after this. That’s the last and hardest thread to break in Going Alone. Goodbye everyone. Talk to you again in three days.

Last photo before losing  connectivity

~

I’m back. The wilderness definitely got the best of me this time. I feel like a boxer who’s gone several rounds with an opponent way outta his league. The feeling is good though, as it’s satisfying to press limits and explore weakness of both body and mind. I’m sure I’ll be thinking about the last 48 hours for years to come. I’m glad I have the chance to do these things while I still can. However, it’s a bit unsettling to discover my body is now more fit for the wild than my mind.

~

This is what combining my two favorite hobbies – motorcycle riding and backpacking – look like. Over five hundred miles of riding, twenty miles of exploring the desert on foot, two nights exposed in the freezing cold, and one staggering encounter with The Great Indifference. Give me a shower and a good night’s rest and I’ll be ready to do it all again!

Combining motorcycle riding and backpacking

~

I found this note left for me on my motorcycle at the ghost town of Siberia. I met this young railroad signalman over the summer when he stopped by Siberia to maintain the railroad signal there. I left a note for him in return, as well as a nice specimen of million-year old petrified wood from the surrounding mountains.

Note found on my motorcycle at Siberia

~

The fear I experienced this week in the desert has been on my mind. It was that second night, or better, the two hours leading up to sundown, which really pushed my limits. I was well into the Deep Water Wilderness, further than I’d ever gone. I’d left my gear on the ground an hour back, in the shadow of a large stone cliff. I thought I could go further and faster with just the bare essentials. I didn’t even bring water, which was already running short, choosing to trade thirst for speed, which I deemed equitable given the way the desert was cooling as the sun dipped nearer the horizon. After an hour of up and down, left and right, across an exposed landscape of silence and wind – silence in the low hollows, and wind upon the relief – I made a hard scramble up a slippery granite slope to a summit capped with a crown of jagged rock, like teeth growing from the land. The wind was howling here, and cold, as through premonition of the coming night’s deep chill. That wind; the way it blew past my ears; as though reminding me of my mortality; telling me how frail and vulnerable I was. This was my own mind speaking of course. The wind didn’t care. The cold was senseless to my presence; and the coming night would envelope the land with or without my approbation. Placing a hand upon the jagged summit I looked out over the land before me, and shivered more deeply than the cold would warrant. A cliff in front of me dropped sharp into a deep canyon of many colors, a place which would seem beautiful at any other time, but which now appeared terrifying for the fact that I would not want to be down there. To go there would be to enter both silence and cold, as the shadows of night had already arrived down there, and the long deepening of night, and the onset of cold, were well underway. I looked beyond the dark canyon to a maze of narrow, twisting valleys, steep cliffs and jagged peaks: darkness everywhere below me. I wanted nothing to do with that place; not then at least; not under those circumstances. I turned and made my way quickly back to where I’d left my gear, to the relief of water, and the warmth of a jacket, and the relative security of my few familiar things. Yet the darkness of that canyon followed me back, enveloping me as I set up camp, and then smothering me with utter night after the sun was gone, moving away only after the full moon rose in the east an hour after sundown. Yet by then I knew the darkness and the moonlight were really one, brothers in a way. Only our human love of beauty and poetry ascribe loveliness and comfort to the one, and fear and solitude to the other. They are, in truth, equally indifferent. The darkness and moonlight hiding or illuminating equally well a breathing man as well as a corpse, having neither capacity nor faculty to care in any case. It’s these times when I think deeply of my loved ones, when I remember their voices, and their faces, and the lives we live and share. Those thoughts keep back the night, assuage the fear, and fool my mind into forgetting, for a moment, the Indifference is really there.

~

Coming upon the deserted mining site of “Campo #1.” This place is exceedingly quiet. When the wind is still the only sound is a slight, rhythmic thumping which appears to be coming from within. In fact, the sound is from within, and is the noise blood cells in the eardrum make as they bang into one another flowing through the body. I’ve only ever heard this sound in very remote places deep within the desert. And only when Going Alone.

IMG_3899

~

There’s something perfect about hiking at night. But only if there’s no trail to follow, and no companion to share the way. For how else can the mind better become lost, with no signpost or path to guide and constrain our step? How much easier to perceive the soulless beasts which prowl the night, and know that we are their kin, than if we forgo our own kinship with a species which pretends we are more? I’d walk all night alone into deepening dark places if only my will and courage were the equal to my desire to face what is true.

~

I first became aware of the soulless beasts when I began hiking alone at night in the desert. I’d encounter these beasts suddenly, as a fox in my path, or a snake along the sand, or a large wandering spider crawling over my shoe. Even the energetic moths which assault my flashlight give out an air of mechanical disinterest, of purpose driven of instinct and lust, hunger, or unthinking determination. I began to call these creatures “soulless beasts” as a means to describe their seeming familiarity and comfort with the pervasive Indifference of the desert night, not realizing my implicit bias that I was somehow different. Yet the soulless beasts know better. Though they don’t care for me, they do remind me with their caution, fear, and their own keen indifference that I too am one of them. The full mortality which glistens in their eyes reflects my own distant fear of death. The beasts stare at me and through me at once, my life of neither interest nor consequence to them beyond their own primitive needs. I tell myself that my interests are something more; that my ends of a greater aim. The beasts though are unconvinced, as too the dark desert night. Even the wind rustles ignorance, which is no more than a frail cover for Indifference. I’m convinced at last that I too am a beast. And I walk on into the night. After first switching off the light.

~

Though I know I’ve no real reason to be afraid, I’ll confess to some anxiety tonight when I realized that “Campo #1” may be the place I once referred to as “the woodsman’s cabin on the near side of Mt. Wildness.” It’s a frightful thing when fiction becomes reality, and the haunted places of the mind refuse to stay with the imagination.

~

The wilderness absorbs my life energy like sunlight into beach sand; warming the landscape slightly, minutely animating the passage of time. My wanderings, thoughts, and ambitions dissolve away to nothing with each aimless footstep. Purpose here has as much value as a diamond lost in the sand. Memory as much reach as the mortal who remembers. Solitude is the key to this grim vista. Walk with another to hide the way. Close your eyes to pretend the Indifference isn’t.

~

My book needs a chapter on death; though this theme already pervades every section and page. Is it enough to reflect the atmosphere of indifference with my words? Should I also make explicit effort to relate what I’ve found haunting the wastes, and also the places where my species makes noise and laughter to push away the night? Perhaps it’s enough to let the finality beyond life blow like the cold desert wind, or sit for millennia like a desert rock slowly turning to sand. I should then simply allow these things to be. Let the wind blow, and the Earth turn to sand. Let the story be told to both the day and the night, the living and the dead, and most clearly to whoever will go alone.

~

This was a long and distant hike. Further perhaps than necessary. Though it’s telling that next time I’ll go further. It’s those black mountains to the north which are my destination. Two nights out should do the job, as long as I’ve the internal fortitude and courage to leave it all behind and push hard past the place my mind keeps telling me to turn back. It’s such a primitive and fearful thing this little mind of mine. So afraid of what isn’t real, and what it doesn’t know, and the things which once rightfully frightened the timid creatures we all once were.

~

I’m a hundred miles out from Siberia, enjoying a last supper of sorts at the Denny’s restaurant in Barstow. When I arrive at the ghost town two hours from now, I’ll leave the motorcycle with the ruins, and head out into the dark desert for a long two or three-hour night hike to the trackless Deep Water Wilderness. After crossing several miles of sloping alluvium, I’ll climb up and onto a dark, flat mesa of volcanic rhyolite, which is The Edge of Deep Water, and the place where I stayed and slept the last time I was here alone after dark; a place where my fear was assuaged with the sound and sight of distant freight trains passing through the black empty desert far below, reminding me that I wasn’t then truly alone, wasn’t yet completely disconnected from my kin and kind. This ancient fear and comfort—a curious pair and juxtaposition—which kept me company the last time at this place, is the thing I hope to push past tonight by continuing on further from the mesa, down off the dark height, into the still darker depths of true Deep Water; to walk on further, ’till the trains grow silent, and the tendrils of comfort snap and disappear for their insignificant bonds. I’ll walk on then through the night to the place where the soulless beasts live, to join their number, to walk in their example, to remember what I really was, am and must at last one day become.

~

A soulless beast came snuffling around my tent last night. It was well past midnight; a long time asleep; too much sleep. I’d gone to bed early, as I’d no campfire to comfort or keep back the night. Too much sleep indeed. I wasn’t as deeply gone as I should have been…when I heard a gentle tapping against the flap of my tent. Not a tapping really, so much as a sliding sound, as if some blunt paw were being passed over the fabric. It was the lighter, softer version of the sound a dog makes when it paws the door to be let it. A gentle night wind was blowing, true. But the wind sounds are distinct, with a mindless, random cadence, hinting at inanimate origins and an utter lack of intent. This other sound wasn’t random—nor was it without purpose. This other sound was the product of a mind—a soulless mind, like my own.

I heard it once—three or four gentle rasps—which brought me out from my slight slumber. And then—carefully listening—I heard it again, close at hand by my right ear, which was nearest the tent’s edge. Did the soulless thing outside in the dark sense my position within the tent? Had it come near my ear to ensure it was heard? Only inches away, separated by a thin veil of fabric? I hovered between fear, and curiosity and wonder. I thought of my geology hammer by my side, imagining a sudden battle between myself and the thing outside. Such a wasted thought. Such a poor use of time. I’d come all this way, so far alone into the wild, to imagine a fight with the unknown? Couldn’t I do better with this time? Make improved use of the fact of the thing outside my tent?

I listened for a while before drifting back to sleep. There were no more sounds then. Though later, a few hours before dawn, after the moon had set, and all darkness ruled, I thought I heard something paw past in the dark; something defiant of the night, and the bitter cold; defiant even of me, the master of the planet, come to the wild to stand and walk like an immortal. I think it’s the fact that I’ve no soul—and that I know it—which gives the beasts their ease in questioning my presence, and trespassing my camp; and denying any vain wish or hope that the cold and empty night…are not.

~

The ruins at Campo #1 are in no way improved by my presence. The human dream and want of that place vanished long ago. It is now more wild than if my species had never come. My visits provoke more melancholy longing than warmth. There’s more empty here than the wildness beyond the camp. Ruins have this effect. It’s the same feeling we know when we touch and handle a memento of a loved one who has passed. A cold warmth of remembrance of something forever lost.

~

This photo captures my first glimpse of the nameless and remote volcano which was my target this week. The hike required two nights to reach this place, including over five hours of night hiking. I’ll confess I was scared and intimidated when I first saw the mountain, which seemed blacker and more ominous than any I’d previously seen. If I’d known how difficult the journey would be from this point forward, I would likely have turned back. Beyond this wash there’s a maze of narrow canyons to traverse, where all sense of direction is lost with no sight of any landmarks. Only when I climbed to the top of a ridge could I gauge my bearings, before dropping again into the maze where guesswork and hunch were my best guides. When I reached the mountain I genuinely freaked out: with part of me demanding I turn tail and run, while a calmer side of my mind argued for a reasonable climb to a high vista within the volcano’s interior, a leisurely lunch, and then a mindful hike back to base camp, which I reached with an hour of daylight to spare. That said, I did get a little lost during the return trip and wound up emerging from the maze far south of my target. But that’s good, as I always prefer to return by a route different than the one I took to get there.

24294048_1753629244709332_5913191892601464151_n

~

Here’s a view from within the maze-like catacomb of narrow flash-flood channels between that last photo and the black volcano. I had the choice of either following these channels to who-knows-where, or bodily scrambling up, onto, over and across each one of these for a distance of more than a mile. It’s no wonder I got lost coming back and emerged from the maze someplace I’d never imagined. I don’t get lost much in the wild, but when it happens the experience is interesting. And if you’re wondering from the photo why I’m all bundled up…cold is the reason. Though the days were pleasant, and I hiked shirtless much of the day, the dawn and early morning hours were frigid, still, and deathly silent.

24231744_1753644601374463_8863110112234072135_n

~

23957901447_1a3dd3137b_zI took this photo half an hour after I set out in the morning for the Black Volcano. My route would take me right past Mt. Wildness, which stands alone in the photo, directly below the sun, in the cold winter light. The Black Volcano is roughly twice this distance beyond Mt. Wildness, and unseen below the horizon. The bump on the right edge of Mt. Wildness is the home of “The Watcher,” which stands like a sentinel atop the ridge. Returning back this way in the late afternoon, I summoned a reserve of energy to climb both Mt. Wildness and the watcher’s ridge. At the summit of Mt. Wildness I was rewarded with the experience of a rare, windless afternoon, and the pleasure of a half hour early dinner while taking in a 360 degree landscape spanning over 400 square miles without a single human anywhere in sight. It’s moments like these that strain my credulity that the planet, nor the universe, would suffer much for our absence.

~

Unoccupied rooms can acquire the quality of empty desert; not in fact, but in terms of human neglect and disregard, like a toy where there are no children, or a companion without company. Though the character of these are the same, the desert has a much deeper reserve of empty. Walking alone in the deep desert is like swimming where water depth is measured in miles rather than meters. Our feet twist and kick above a deep chasm we cannot cross alive, nor know in death. It’s an impossible gap; where the gentle swell of the sea lifts us now and again to glimpse another impossible reach across to the horizon, and still another over our heads into space.

When we enter a long empty room, or handle a forgotten toy, or meet our want of others where none can be found; we know for a few moments that same aching empty found strong and hard in the wild; and while the effect is weak among civilized things, dissipating fast before our touch and gaze, the empty is not so easily moved where humans fail to go. It remains like reality against the force of imagination. I would beat my hands against this fact were it my folly to believe there were something more.

~

This seemingly innocuous photo captures the most challenging mental moment of last week’s hike. I took this shot at the very furthest point of the hike, from a high point within the crater of the Black Volcano. After snapping the image, I sought to gain my bearings and figure out exactly what I was looking at… In a moment I realized where I was, and which mountains I was looking at in the far distance at the left side of the photo. In my mental map those mountains should not be there, but instead belonged much farther to the left, well out of view of the camera. I actually had the video camera running at the time, which I believe captured my sudden shock when I literally yelled out loud that I was far too close to those mountains! What the hell were they doing there?!? Had I really come that far?? Panic then rose suddenly, like the fear a man might feel who’s swum much further out to sea than is safe or sane, and suddenly realizes what he’s done. I did calm my mind though, engaging in a verbal dialogue with myself – an argument of sorts between my fear and my reason – which was captured on video, though I haven’t yet watched the show. I’m glad of a happy ending though, as my reason won out at last, and I walked as calmly from this remote place as I’d arrived.

24862209_1757711220967801_4677524838187917002_n

~

Almost ten years ago I invented the fiction of Mt. Wildness; a place in my mind which typified the remote wilderness of deep Japan. I never found Mt. Wildness there, though I sometimes heard the howling from that place, and I knew the approximate location of the long-deserted woodsman’s cabin on the near side of the mountain.

When I came to America I forgot about Mt. Wildness for a time; focused instead on more practical aims, necessities which denied much leisure in imaginary places.

Those necessities are now handled; and lately, during my routine outings to the wild, I’ve heard what sounds like the howling on Mt. Wildness. This couldn’t be… That place can’t be here. Mt. Wildness was a fiction for Japan; nowhere else.

I even began calling an imposter peak within The Deep Water Wilderness Mt. Wildness – though I knew this wasn’t true.

Today though, I’ve found it… It was during lunch; and while scanning satellite imagery of the desert beyond The Sandman’s Bed; a place impossibly far – as Mt. Wildness must be – at the end of a trackless path, in a place where none are welcome.

Now I need to scheme a way to get there – alone of course, so as to not scare away what isn’t real.

~

Ghost town cemeteries are sufficient reminder that there are no ghosts, nor even memories, when there’s no one left to remember.

~

37936175755_c1acf0b251_zThis is a view up and into the maw of the Black Volcano. I’m standing upon what was once a slow-moving stream of molten lava, which flowed from the caldera out onto the open desert some tens of thousands of years ago. In the image, you can almost gain a sense of the lava flow, which seems frozen in time at the center of the image, like a black road from where I stand, up and into the volcano.

It was very difficult getting to this spot, and after arriving I quickly gave up my plan to climb the volcano itself. This has happened to me several times in the past, when I’ve only climbed a mountain after returning a second or third time. Sometimes, it seems necessary to first get a sense of a mountain, and check it out a time or two, from various angles, before making a safe ascent.

As I stated in a similar post yesterday, this photo seems rather dull and uninteresting in absence of the emotion I felt while standing here. This volcano was much further into the desert than I’d thought, along a route far more difficult that I’d imagined; and it wasn’t until I’d reached my destination that these facts clustered close in my mind, coloring my every thought and action with a very real worry and anxiety over what I’d done, and my ability to safely undo the same.

~

I’m starting to get at, and uncover, the haunting thing which I always meet while alone in the deep wild. When it finds me – usually at night – I have to swallow hard to get down the animal fear and instinct of a million years. Our fearful programming is no childish thing, as the danger of our mortality is real; though circumstance and fact are not what they used to be. Instead of fangs and claws, my worry now is the smallness of my flickering light, which gutters and bends in the winds of midlife. We forget this fact while at home and at work, where the company and nearness of others cause the impression that our individual lights are somehow pooled; made brighter through an aggregate sense of society. We believe then that our light is more likely to sustain should one or the other of us go out. There’s truth to this, at the indifferent level of heredity and genes, though it’s false to think our flame will truly go on, as death does seemingly do irrevocable harm and ruin to every life which will ever live. All alone then in the wild, with the darkness of the universe crowding close, our little flame consumes hungrily at what small fuel we are. There’s no reassuring comfort here of others; no warm and friendly flames of friends and loved ones to offer false hope; only the cold light of the soulless beasts moving indistinctly out there in the deep night, looking upon our little light as nothing more than another silent and pale twinkle in the coming empty.

~

The place outside the pale of human light, or life even, draws pain in those unfamiliar with such wastes. It’s why such subjects are taboo to speak of, or masked in myth and superstition. Yet the dead acknowledge these facts, as much the granite stone or the cold light of distant stars. At what point must the living confess mortality’s incessant demand of truth? At the point of shut down, when disease or old age rob us of our motivation to lie, and our tongues cease motion, while our eyes gaze far, and our loved ones look on, wondering where we’ve gone, before were really gone.

~

Don’t go alone in the wild unless you’re willing to learn just how far diminishing returns can really go.

 

Advertisements

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: