Print Story May be every moment.
By technician (Fri May 28, 2010 at 11:01:49 AM EST) (all tags)
Just a quiet minute or two. Just a quiet, peaceful death.

I think every writer who has written about west Texas and far southern New Mexico has used the words now flashing in your brain. Big, blue, bright, hot, dry, desert. There's a section of the state that remains uninhabited by all but the worst, in transit from crime to crime. Some of the most beautiful country is the hardest, and the only folks you'll meet out there are either tourists or smugglers, period. You can tell the differences from a safe distance, usually.

The last thing you want to do is be in a uniform of any sort when you run into anyone out there. If they're tourists, they're going to bug you. If they're smugglers, they're going to shoot you. Both things are not good, to varying degrees. For a time, I volunteered for the Bureau of Land Management. Though my primary job was guidance, cleanup, and management of two small camp sites in the Organ and Sacramento mountains, I was also available for "back country" stuff that required hours of travel and an overnight stay. I had to sign waivers for those trips in case someone shot me, rancher or smuggler. It was those trips, though, that I craved, that I would jump at when offered. Out there alone? Fantastic.

During those trips, I would check a monster Ford Bronco 4x4 out of the motor pool. It was outfitted with law enforcement upgrades (it had a cop motor, cop tires, cop suspension, cop shocks) though it had no light bar. It had great air conditioning (one thing American car makers are so much better at than anyone else), a very powerful winch, and a 100watt VHF. I would leave the Las Cruces field office at 4:30am and drive to the main gate at White Sands Missile Range, request that the main gate call security to unlock the Orogrande gate, and drive out to the Orogrande gate, normally waiting fifteen or so minutes for DOD security to show up all sleepy and cranky. Drive out on a two lane straight as a ruler to Orogrande and highway 54, then cut into the desert and start the long, long trek on semi-improved dirt roads to check fence violations, mineral rights, permits on pump heads (two water, twenty oil), and brands on animals in BLM land. The drive from the cutoff to the Brokeoff Mountains Wilderness Study Area was slow and poorly routed; we had certain roads that we could not drive on because they were private and the ranchers hated the BLM. The drive normally took me through free range areas, and I'd often have to stop for cows too lazy to move and too big to intimidate. On trips I made alone, I'd drive flat out on the salt flat stretches and make it to Panther Valley in three hours, for a total drive time of five or so hours.

The Brokeoffs are one of the most beautiful places I've ever seen. From Panther Valley to Devils Den Canyon, which was a few miles north of the New Mexico line, the trip was breathtaking and slow...steep roads challenged the powerful 4x4, narrow goat tracks with hundred foot drop-offs led to meadows with clear alkali water running unnaturally blue in the yellow and brown sand. The mountains out there are granite the color of rusted iron, and just as hard. From Devil's Den to McKitrick to camp for the night, the paths turned sour and hateful, the truck taking a battering and leaving a lot of government paint on the rocks and mesquite. Climb a couple of thousand feet, park, set up the tent, break out the sterno and heat up canned beef stew, and wait for the night to come.

Night time out there is something so huge and deep. The sky is a polished blue black, shining with a billion diamond chips. It is hard to sleep in all of that, the land glowing with starlight, the edges defined and rugged against the infinite night sky. I was only out once when the moon was full, and I kept waking up and just staring at the moon and the alien landscape it created from the granite and sand.

Scenes like that stick into the mind and lodge much behind them, stopping a lot of otherwise bad or mundane thoughts, filtering them. I can still see that moon hanging there, big enough and close enough to reach out and touch, a perfect white light recreating the landscape. Dawn would bring the same light show as sunset, deep red leading to pale pink leading to blue. All of it too big and beautiful to see properly. I never felt that I could do it any justice; mere observation seemed so distant. I never felt connected to that beauty, but I did feel suffused with it, smothered in it, exhilarated and nostalgic for something I never knew.

The following day would be a trip south through Devils Den to the Guadalupes, then west to Dell City, the loneliest town I've ever known. It would signal the rising tide of noise that would culminate in the following Monday morning, grinding my way through minimum wage chain smoking caffeine consuming madness. Dell City provided gas, smokes, water, and a gateway back to the regularly scheduled program.

I never told anyone this, but the last time I made that trip I wept nearly the whole way from Dell City to El Paso, knowing I'd never see any of that again. Knowing that my last moments would have that desert, those mountains, that night sky embedded and glowing behind my eyelids, my life waiting for that quiet peaceful hush.

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May be every moment. | 16 comments (16 topical, 0 hidden) | Trackback
Backcountry. by wiredog (4.00 / 1) #1 Fri May 28, 2010 at 11:16:30 AM EST
Some of that in Utah. So dark you realize that Venus can cast shadows. You see every satellite passing overhead.

You see the lights of Vegas, 150 miles away, and wonder if there's any place left that's truly dark.

Earth First!
(We can strip mine the rest later.)

At the parent's cabin by technician (4.00 / 1) #2 Fri May 28, 2010 at 11:24:25 AM EST
we had some very, very dark skies. The very first time I saw a satellite, then tuned my eyes to see a whole shedload of them, was out at the cabin. The nice thing about that place was, the trees blocked the glow along the horizon from Alamogordo and El Paso.

Contrast that with Austin. Man, I miss the night sky.

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Somewhere SW of the Bonneville Salt Flats by ana (4.00 / 2) #3 Fri May 28, 2010 at 11:27:50 AM EST
there's a cosmic ray air shower experiment known as the Fly's Eye. Basically the idea is to watch the high energy charged particles doing their thing when they hit the atmosphere, and make visible light because they're in that tiny slice of velocity space between the speed of light in vacuum, and the speed of light in air.

One of their major backgrounds turns out to be scattered light from the airport beacon, hundreds of miles away, in Salt Lake City.

"And this ... is a piece of Synergy." --Kellnerin

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East of the Mississippi? by dev trash (4.00 / 1) #9 Fri May 28, 2010 at 06:22:22 PM EST
I'll never forget my first trip to McDonald... by atreides (4.00 / 1) #4 Fri May 28, 2010 at 11:39:45 AM EST
...when there were so many stars I couldn't pick out constellations. If there's a God, that's where you go to see him/her/it...

He sails from world to world in a flying tomb, serving gods who eat hope.

Deep woods and deep oceans by notafurry (4.00 / 2) #5 Fri May 28, 2010 at 11:57:24 AM EST
I love them both. The desert never got a hold on me... I lived in Phoenix for a couple of years and spent a lot of time in the Superstitions and out in the desert, and it never really grew on me. I'd recognize the beauty, sometimes it would even take my breath away, but it never lasted and I never feel the pull to go back to it.

But the north woods, hundreds of miles from the nearest town, watching the aurora wash out the sky in colors better than any gemstone, reflected perfectly in the lake, listening to wolves howling, sipping hot cocoa... yeah, that does pull. A lot. I try to find a way to go back at least once a year, and I don't always manage it but I try. I look forward to taking my kids in a couple of years and introducing them to it the way my dad introduced me.

The other one is deep ocean. I've only been offshore a few times, but it's got the same magic. You're at sea level, of course, with a thick blanket of air, so the stars shimmer and dance but there are billions of them. Crowded sheets of stars so bright you can't resolve individual stars in the milky way. Shimmering lights on the water, too, phosphorescence marking breaking waves or dolphins or other boats, and it's possibly the darkest possible sky you'll ever find on earth, ever again. 

Oh, man. That hit a nerve. by ammoniacal (4.00 / 1) #6 Fri May 28, 2010 at 12:03:31 PM EST
Do NOT get me started on DoD cops. Lazy entitled tenured prick bastards.

"To this day that was the most bullshit caesar salad I have every experienced..." - triggerfinger

Always complaining, they were. by technician (2.00 / 0) #7 Fri May 28, 2010 at 12:31:08 PM EST
Very very annoyed when they had to do their jobs. At least, the ones on WSMR. The ones at Bliss were better.

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Fort Blisster. by ammoniacal (4.00 / 1) #8 Fri May 28, 2010 at 06:12:45 PM EST

"To this day that was the most bullshit caesar salad I have every experienced..." - triggerfinger

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I miss that by kwsNI (4.00 / 1) #10 Fri May 28, 2010 at 06:44:55 PM EST
Have a pair of engineering degrees from NMSU; miss the desert quite often here in Missouri. 

When I flew out to SF in March by yankeehack (4.00 / 1) #11 Fri May 28, 2010 at 08:03:37 PM EST
I took the redeye and as we flew through the western sky at night, all I did was look out the window quite buzzed and appreciate the deep black of the sky and the stars.

You don't see anything like that out east. It just doesn't compare.
"...she dares to indulge in the secret sport. You can't be a MILF with the F, at least in part because the M is predicated upon it."-CBB

Thank you by johnny (4.00 / 1) #12 Sat May 29, 2010 at 07:55:04 AM EST
I had similar experiences in northern Senegal.  The smugglers there were Peuhl & Arab; don't mess with nomads in a desert.  On the other hand, the sedentary people, the farmers of the Senegal river valley, are the friendliest people on God's earth.

Sitting around at night with them, drinking tea, watching the satellites fly by. . .

Great story, technician. Thanks.

She has effectively checked out. She's an un-person of her own making. So it falls to me.--ad hoc (in the hole)

have I said lately by Kellnerin (4.00 / 1) #13 Sat May 29, 2010 at 10:30:33 PM EST
that I am so glad that you write?

I am.

"Plans aren't check lists, they are loose frameworks for what's going to go wrong." -- technician

Hey thanks. by technician (2.00 / 0) #14 Sun May 30, 2010 at 12:02:02 AM EST
And, likewise.

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Wait by technician (2.00 / 0) #15 Sun May 30, 2010 at 10:24:42 AM EST
does that mean I am also glad that I write?

Anyhow, I'm glad you write. Damn. English is annoying.

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Mutual reflexivity society by Kellnerin (4.00 / 1) #16 Sun May 30, 2010 at 04:50:00 PM EST
These days, I have more things that I'm thinking about to be written than I actually write. I'd like to invite you into my head for a span and then give you a keyboard to test.

Actually, maybe what I need is a keyboard testing gig. No excuses then.

"Plans aren't check lists, they are loose frameworks for what's going to go wrong." -- technician

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May be every moment. | 16 comments (16 topical, 0 hidden) | Trackback