Saturday, March 15, 2014

Alone III

Continued from the preceding post

There is something about being alone in the desert. As I said in an earlier posting, sometimes I had company when wandering the desert and sometimes not.  Traveling with a companion seems to fill those spaces in our spirit where we may not go very often.  But the doors to those spaces are open when you are alone. When you can see to the horizon where no structures and no indication of human occupancy or industry mar the view, you are alone. Where there is no other obvious animal life but a bird flitting across the dirt track you are driving on or a feral horse or burro standing on a low ridge in the distance, you are alone. I have often wondered if my observations were more acute and my science more precise when I was with others in the desert or alone.

One day a group of us were in Ash Meadows visiting with a ‘desert rat’ who had an old trailer there.  He was actually an engineer who treasured the solitude of the desert and who withdrew to his trailer and shade tree whenever possible.  This was the day that we heard that the US Congress had appropriated the funds necessary for the government to purchase Ash Meadows as an addition to the National Wildlife Refuge System.  I was surprised at how mixed my feelings were.  On the one hand, I was exceptionally pleased that the rich biodiversity would finally have lasting protection from the threat of exploitation or developers and agriculturists that had, for so long,  hung like the Sword of Damocles over this precious resource, this laboratory of evolution and biodiversity. On the other hand, I realized that the edgy days I had so enjoyed had come to an end.  Shortly after the purchase I left Nevada for another kind of desert…a desert of the spirit known as Washington, DC.


Saturday, March 1, 2014

Alone II

Continued from the preceding post

But most of my work focused on Ash Meadows including that strange rift in the crust of Earth called Devils Hole.  Back in the day, there were several ways to reach Ash Meadows. One route took you through what is now the Las Vegas bedroom community of Pahrump.  Another route was to drive north of Las Vegas for an hour or so, past Area 51 (with all of its reputedly strange goings-on), and turn left at the crossroads of Lathrop Wells almost across the street from the brothel with it’s deep red light. From Lathrop Wells the route takes you toward Death Valley Junction, with it’s unique opera house.  Just before you reached the Junction you would turn left again and head out across the desert at the cement factory.  Only in Nevada do you give directions by referencing Area 51 (As Agent Mulder might say, ‘The Truth is out there.’),  a brothel, and a cement factory. But this was the area in which we did some very exciting biology and conservation.

Strange things happened in that patch of desert in those times. Like the time that another student and I were driving into Ash Meadows from Pahrump only to be stopped by a Deputy Sheriff who refused to let us past because there was a body in the road. It was a man and he had been shot. We could see the body there in the dirt of the road with blood staining the gravel.  There were those in Las Vegas then (and I suspect even now who solved disagreements in a terminal manner).Shifting into four wheel drive, we circled the place of execution bumping through the sagebrush and across the stone-hard caliche.  As we came onto the main dirt and gravel road and drove on, I remember wondering how the man had died.  Was it quick or had he laid there bleeding his life out all alone in this this great, seemingly empty stretch of high desert …violent death in a land so filled with life. 

Continued in next post