Tuesday, November 15, 2011


I went to the desert on Sunday. I think since I was a kid, I have had mixed ideas about the place. For one, it is just a vast spread of nothing where you crawl on hands and knees desperate for water, hallucinating a chilly watering hole beneath a Palm tree while vultures fly in circles above your head. For another, it was a place where my grandparents lived for half the year, in a house my grandfather built, that had no electricity or running water and was an 8-mile hike to the closest phone. They, like others who grew up or have lived out west, thought of the desert as a place to relax, reflect and recharge. I, like others who grew up in a small suburban town, thought of it as a place to go crazy and die. There was something scary about it, not peaceful, just imbalanced. Still, the idea of GP and Nana out there in Lucerne Valley with the sky and the sun and the moon and the stars always seemed romantic.

Who lives in the desert? Lizards, crazy hobos and Nan and Gramps.

My grandfather built a bench for my grandmother, a place to sit during the day where she could listen to music and talk shows from her transistor radio. It couldn’t have been an easy sell; my grandmother was a very social person and loved being around people (my grandfather was not, and did not), but she always talked about her bench as though it was a special kind of luxury. “I’d sit out there sometimes 4 hours a day! I got the best reception!” It would get cold in the winter months but Nana always talked about how great it felt to sit in the sun. I have seen photos of her on her bench wearing two overcoats, gloves, a big hat, and a blanket across her lap, her radio and ashtray beside her, smiling like a movie star. To someone else she might look like a crazy homeless person.

The silence: ahhhhhhhh. 
The silence: AAAAAAA!#%&!!!

We were in the desert scouting locations. We needed 360 degrees of nothing but sand and sky, a tumbleweed or two so we drove out to my grandparents, “12 miles through town, past 8 telephone poles and a red roof until you get to a sandy road, take a right and go 5 miles”. Their house was long gone, and there were others now, more telephone poles and cable discs, clusters of motor homes and boys riding around on motorbikes like loud angry bees. Gone was the big open panorama of sky and sand. Gone was the quiet.  

After my grandmother died, my grandfather moved out to the desert  and lived there for a month or so until he died too. My cousin found him in a chair, his hands still folded in his lap, listening to the radio. 

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