The Desert

I came down through Splendor, passing the inviting breakfast shops and tourist traps, chasing the white stripes that would not let me stop, would not let me rest. Winding down through canyons of forgotten beauty I descended into saguaro country and further down onto the hard-baked bedpan of the desert floor. The sun directly overhead pounded the landscape into pure bleak flatness, robbing the land even of its shadows. The shimmering heat over the road reflected the bottomless cobalt sky, making it appear that the shoulders of the road were hanging in the air.

The white stripes paused; the road had been resurfaced here but not repainted. There was room to pull off to the side, with a rusted trash barrel standing with its plastic liner next to a picnic table sitting naked in the blasting sun. This is it. The gravel scrabbled beneath my tires as I pulled over to the side of the road. I sat for a moment, idling quietly, before I turned off the engine and felt the true silence of the desert crashing over me.

I opened the door and lifted myself up out of the low vehicle into the crackling air. I stood, listening for the whispered sigh that would announce the approach of another car, but there was nothing. There would be no one, I suspected. Not even the lizards would be coming out today.

I listened to the soft crunching sound beneath my feet as I walked around the convertible and hoisted out the nearly-exhausted jug of gatorade. I drained the last of the salty liquid and tossed the empty into the trash can. It wasn’t heavy enough to push its way down into the flimsy trash bag; it just sat at the top, peering out of the can as if rejected, hovering between the worlds of litter and trash, but unable to join either. Heaven or Hell. Just different kinds of dead. The bottle pointed North.

I adjusted my hat and turned, facing North, away from the road. The fence was down; the century-old wooden posts staggered drunkenly or lay in their final resting place as the wind slowly buried them under pale dust. Where barbed wire still clung to the posts tumbleweeds had collected, skeletons of Russian emmigrants who had done well in the new world, taming the west so thoroughly they had become icons. They watched me now with futile hostility. Their battle line broken by time and neglect, the sentries could do nothing to prevent me passing into their conquered land beyond the fence.

I turned back to the car and lifted the army-surplus duffel out of the passenger seat and hung its strap over my shoulder. It felt heavier than it should have, as if the Earth was impatient to recieve its contents. Careful not to dent the metal of the car, I pulled out the shovel. Using its long handle as a walking stick I set out into the desert. Moses beginning his exile must have felt this way.

I glanced back at the car, shimmering and ticking. Someone would be coming back for it, but I didn’t think it would be me.

Suicide Squirrel Threat Level Meter

I have realized that as I sit atop my media empire I have a responsibility to the community I serve. Having originally broken the story of the Suicide Squirrel Death Cult, I must take on the mantle and continue to monitor this nefarious and fuzzy organization. Therefore I have spent my precious afternoon putting into place the Suicide Squirrel Threat Level System. I will now be monitoring suicide squirrel communications activity (“chatter”, we call it in the biz), and based on that and other less tangible data I will periodically update the Suicide Squirrel Threat Level indicator on this site. Please be sure to check back often. Remember, preparedness is their worst enemy!

The threat levels are:
RED: psychotic
ORANGE: peeved
YELLOW: sick and tired
BLUE: ready to jump
GREEN: peaceful, easy feeling

Note that blue is where we would expect the greatest suicidal activity. Please pay close attention to the current threat and adjust your duct tape stockpiles accordingly. There may be times when the threat level seems arbitrary, but please be assured that this public service is backed by 100% USDA choice Science.

If you want to be part of the Suicide Squirrel Alert System, simply paste the following tag into your page. Your page will instantly update with the correct image:

<script type=”text/javascript” src=”http://homepage.mac.com/vikingjs/blogstuff/ThreatLevel.js”></script>

Thanks in advance for helping with this serious problem. If you do choose to become involved, I’d like to hear about it, either through the comment system or using the trackback thingie below.

squirrel_all.gif

Update! WordPress users can now become part of the network simply by dropping in a widget! Go, Team WordPress! Let’s take this battle to the next level!

Six Months on the Road

Location: Country Inn, Poway CA
Miles: 12154.9

Yep, you read that right. Six Months. My own sense of time has gotten so warped that I have no idea how long ago it was that I was in any particular place. Tahoe seems recent, Calgary impossibly distant.

A while back Jojo asked me how the trip had changed me. I wasn’t able at the time to give her a good answer. Honestly, I don’t know that the trip has changed me much at all. I’ve had more experience at being alone, at walking into a place where I don’t know anyone. Perhaps I’m better at striking up a conversation with a stranger – those of you reading this probably get the idea that I do it all the time – but in fact with the possible exception of bartenders I’ve failed more often than I’ve succeeded.

One change that is possibly measurable is that I value peace in my surroundings more than I did. Not the library peace-and-quiet atmosphere, but one free from anger. When I am around people who are needling each other it’s like a hot poker in my brain. I’m sure I was better at tolerating that stuff before. Now when people are bugging each other I just want the hell out of there. Not sure how this came to pass, but I think out there on the highway somewhere I lost some mental calluses that had built up over the years.

Although there are many friends here in town that would have happily put me up for the night, tonight I chose to stay in a hotel. There are days when I just need a space that is mine. Rented rather than borrowed. A place that does not put me in a situation of psychic debt, a place where I am not an intruder, however welcome, in someone else’s space. Amy, of all my hosts, has been the easiest to intrude on, since she isn’t in the least inclined to tiptoe around me. She’s got her life going on and some guy on the sofa isn’t going to get in her way. It’s like writing in a bar. Life moves around me, and pays me no heed.

This isn’t the first time I’ve taken a hotel room to have my own place for a few hours, but lately I’ve understood better why I’m doing it. As I came through the door this evening and looked at my haven I felt like there should be some ritual I perform, some gesture to the gods to consecrate this place, however temporarily. I stood there like a dork for a few seconds and completely failed to come up with the appropriate gesture. Finally I hung the “do not disturb” sign on the outside door handle. Not really the poetic/creative modern witchcraft I was looking for, but it is a symbolism that is widely recognized.

I said above that this life is getting old, and that certainly is true. However, if I could find someone to pay me to keep doing this, you know I would. This morning I think Amy felt the change in me. She saw the one-foot-out-the-door Jerry. Getting back on the road is becoming a need again. And maybe that’s the change Jojo was looking for.