Category Archives: Books

I’m currently in the process of getting my first novel published. I’ll give you the inside scoop of the process.

birth of imagination

16,000 years ago homo sapiens arrive

Bluefish Cave in the Yukon, now there was a place you could call home 24,000 years ago. There’s evidence the cave might have been used an ever more distant 40,000 years back in time, North America’s earliest immigrants crossing over from Siberia consolidated their foothold in this North American cave as others began immigrating south.

Use your imagination to play the homo sapiens game. First, remember earth has grown warmer and colder over these many tens of thousands of years. Plant communities advanced and retreated with climate’s variations, what seems like an uninhabitable cave in the frozen north has in certain periods of time provided an ideal environment for hunting and gathering. The advance of the ancients was not linear, ancestors explored and expand their presence across the continent only to retreat or perish because of incessant rain, persistent heat or cold, or unforeseen drought. Even hunter and gatherers are subject to immutable law of scarcity.

Imagine ingesting magic-mushrooms from atop Nevada’s Tohakum Peak then spending the day marveling southward below at the gleaming blue waters of Pyramid Lake. This sacred body of water is part of the Paiute Nation. If we turned back the clock of time 15,000 years, our ancestors had arrived and roamed this region, our ancient ancestors camped on the shores edge of this lake fishing, hunting and gathering edible and medicinal plants. Pyramid Lake is a mere remnant of Lake Lahontan, this larger lake wasn’t five miles in length, Lake Lahontan stretched out hundreds of miles north to south. From the high ground looking out, this is our ancestor’s homeland, from this vantage point the ancient people that arrived here could behold a lake as big as any in North America.

Winnemucca Lake Rock Art

Dominating the view to the west from Tohakum Peak were the Sierra Nevada’s snow and glaciers. At lower elevations occupying suitable habitat were limber pine, bristlecone pine, fox pine, western white pine, and giant sequoias. Lower still was the sagebrush steppe, and juniper trees. Lower still meadows of grass where could be found camels, giant sloth, tapirs, peccaries, bison, horse, donkey, mammoths and mastodon. Lurking in the shrouded bush were now extinct, giant short-faced bears, dire wolves, saber tooth cats, and the American cheetah. This was time of giant condors and saber tooth salmon. Isolated islands dotted the now vanished lake where white pelicans numbering in the millions fledged their chicks. It was from Lake Lahontan breed grounds that the white pelicans on broad powerful wings and soared to fish and explore the furthest regions of the America’s.

Our ancestors standing erect, hands guided by nature’s largest brain, a burdensome heavy high energy experimental organ, a mind able to fashion arrowheads, built fires, each advance in tool and skill increasing the advantaged probability of our species survival-supremacy was still not more than an untested vanity project. Fire, spears, arrows, and knives expanded the terrain suitable for prevailing over their competitors. This was not the Nevada of modern times, the shores of Lake Lahontan, this complex ecosystem was homeland where early man skillfully learned how to feed upon an uncultivated pristine wilderness, a life sustaining variety of indigenous flora and fauna.

Modern Man and Beast at Pyramid Lake

The human mind isn’t a mere mass of brain cells but is more like a complex interconnected information neural highway, each successive generation’s brain ripening into a more and more complex web of linked cognitive pathways. Linking the minds different hemispheres into a wholistic conscious force progressed, nudged ahead by evolution, over tens of thousands of years, this vast web of nerves, this system increasingly more connected, enabled deeper understanding, higher consciousness, and an ever expanding ability to speak. None of man’s competitors had a comparable vocabulary. 

If by some force of time machine magic, we could travel back 15,800 years, standing atop Tohakum Peak we would have been a privileged witness to our ancestor’s earliest demonstration of the ability of man to imagine, to be creative, to think in the abstract, from dreams in our mind to making actual linguistic/symbolic/shambolic patterns in rock. The sentience of the Winnemucca Lake rock art is less about the specific meaning of the symbols etched into stone, but more to do with our ancestors for the first time memorializing the fully realized birth of imagination. Our ancestors were still not more than middle of the food chain pack of tasty morsels; fierce strong jawed, sharp toothed and clawed predators remained the dominant existential force in the world of the hunter and hunted. Like arrow, fire, and speech man’s imagination would be tested, proving over the millennia that intelligence is a formidable adaptive power in the immutable Darwinian law of the survival of the fittest.

Lake Lahontan vanished 10,000 years ago

A journey of a thousand years, then another and another, for much of this time humankind’s advances were incremental, marginal. You know the storyline. Man’s consciousness eventually resulted in formalizing a set of teachable cognitive skills that we know as science. Taking pieces of what we learned from the many disciplines that have been developed empowered homo sapiens to invent, build and then dominate.

Here we are. This is what we have become. Because of our species use of fossil fuels we have arrived at a bend in the road. Our auspicious beginning is memorialized by our ancestors Winnemucca Lake rock art, the other end of this journey is more menacing, as lethal as any beast we have ever faced, it is an unseen phantom stalking the world, we call it by its name- climate emergency. We are racing toward an inflection point, where all of civilization, all of what we hold as irreplaceably sacred is tangled up in the fallibilities of man’s vices and virtues, tossing out the old ways and ever too slowly embracing new ways. The brilliant and clever homo sapiens are struggling to turnback the human experiment of life on earth from a fossil fuel induced collapse of civilization.

Beowawe Geothermal Generating Station

The ancients that inhabited what we now have named Nevada would not have known about the lithium buried in her soils, that a precocious South African would come to North America and build the world’s largest battery manufacturing facility, the paradigm shifting Gigafactory. That here in Nevada’s Great Basin desert there would be experimental geothermal wells drilled, that the power of these six mile deep wells would pull the earth’s molten cores heat up from her depths and will one day demonstrate the potential to provide an inexhaustible source of carbon free electricity, and then this briny water will bring minerals up from deep below and these vital minerals will be laden with more lithium and that emergent technologies, funded by philanthropic men with names such as Gates, Buffet and Bloomberg, will fund teams of scientists to devise a means of separating from the geothermal waters an inexhaustible supply of lithium that can be used to manufacture yet more Gigafactory batteries.

This is not fiction. Winnemucca Lake rock art is an original inflection point, 15,800 years since man arrived here and marked in rock this first moment, when our ancestors etched evidence in stone of mindfulness, to this present moment where humanity’s future now rests upon the fateful scientific engineering success of our cutting through more stone, this time with ever more at stake, with ever more skill, with the entire civilization’s survival quite literally at stake. Every last one of us have skin in this game, this is it, this is for the whole ball of wax, whether we can stay or must go, with the human experiment on the line, we have arrived in of all places back in Nevada searching for our salvation.

Playing the Flamingo in Laughlin

Showgirls

Twenty-nine years after Mr. Sinatra first played the casinos here, I had finally booked a show (one and done, but better than none) at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas. I was the juggler on a bill with the Chippendale Dancers and William Wallace Foster, aka. The Fox, “Foster regularly chugged beers on campus while playing his piano and singing, long before alcohol consumption laws were ever enforced on campus.” The act consisted of his singing and between songs volunteers from the audience would race to swallow a pint of beer faster than Foster could. Nobody ever beat The Fox. Good thing I was the opener. The year is 1980.

Nevada State of Mind

Never much of a gambler, don’t play the tables and am bored by the slots. Same goes for the brothels, not that I don’t have a thing for the girls, but I just never have imagined myself the type to want to pay to play. You could go to Las Vegas and get married in a jiffy. Divorces were available and quick. Freedom to do as you damn well please, that’s what Nevada had to offer.

I toured out of San Francisco. Dates east meant I’d cross Nevada. Hot springs became a regular draw. I arranged my jumps so that I pulled off the road and soak before supper, hop on the bunk get a good night’s rest. Everyone knows something about Reno and Las Vegas, fewer have spent much time in Ely, Jackpot or Tonopah. Mining has always been a boom and bust game. After the mine’s close things start drying up, the people with nowhere else to go stay hold on until they can’t. Lot of people with almost nothing out in the middle of to hell and gone.

Modern Day White Pine County Pop. 10,500

Another gig was bound to break for me in Nevada, somebody was going to give me a try. The second shot came in 1994. I sign with an agent out of Miami, I’d be the opening act for a musical vocal impressionist, we were working the bigger showroom at the Flamingo Hilton in Laughlin, Nevada. Shows were matinees. We had a 12-piece show band backing us up. The players all drove roundtrip from Las Vegas for the gig, musicians know to stay ahead of hard times, you don’t just have talent you need hustle too. Most of the musicians I worked with on the day shift at the Flamingo with were playing for Mr. Sinatra nighttime on the strip at the MGM Grand. That was a close shave. One musician of separation was all that remained between me and Mr. Sinatra.

More Showgirls

I was under contract for the three-month run, one day off, six days on. Terms of the contract included a room at the Flamingo, free meals, and specifically a clause that forbid the artist from drinking off hours in the casino. The wife and kid were four hours away near Sedona, Arizona. I juggled and did my handstands two hours each morning. After the matinee I put on my running shoes and got out for a daily run. The only person I can remember getting to know was a hospitalized cocktail waitress that had been bitten by a brown recluse spider.

Backstage swapping stories with the band, show people have a way of blending happiness and heartbreak, you learn your lessons after making every mistake in the book, that’s the bumpy road and bond showman share. Long drives between dates, too much time in motel rooms, lousy food, missing the wife and kid, working up the new material, trying to take good care of yourself, you know, don’t drink too much, don’t do something you’re going to regret. Read a book.

Saloon Singer

The players with Mr. Sinatra thought I had it good, they’d have given their right arm to be able to play solo, call their own shots, not have to always be tied up in some complicated web of relationships with other band members. Working solo somewhere, somehow, that was the ticket, backstage I took a lot of razzing, they all knew which rung of the ladder I was on, it was all part of the game.

My favorite new friend, he played trombone, older gentleman, he was the real deal, lived and worked in Las Vegas he always played for Mr. Sinatra when he came to town. The trombone player promised he’d mention my act to the boss. As far as I was concerned, I’d made it, didn’t need anything more than Mr. Frank Sinatra hearing about some up and comer, lean and hungry scrappy variety act working his way up through the thick and thin, trying to make a little something for myself.

Showgirl and Marquee

The trombone player, the two of us, we had a journeyman’s affinity for one another. He didn’t have to guess how complicated my life was, how hard I’d had to work, how catching a break in the minor leagues, in Laughlin was a tough enough hill to climb. Making a friend of the players backstage, their showing respect for the work I was doing, that’s part of the pay package, part of the benefits, they sit there behind you, every show, play you on, play you off, watch you work the crowd, watch you win them over, if you can, maybe you can’t, but you never stop smiling or trying, you do the show, give it your best shot, that’s a showman. I appreciated the trombone player’s seeing right through me. Had a good run in Laughlin.

the Mcdermitt caldera caper

Cottontail

High desert cottontail irruption of 1981 stretched from horizon to horizon, east to west, north to south, everywhere you looked all you could see were rabbits. Half the early settlers crossing through Nevada figured cottontail to be a staple in their diet the other half reckoned the animal to be emergency food. I was running south out of Boise on Hwy 95 on my way to a cutoff out to White Horse Ranch when I came across my first fifty-mile-long cottontail Malthusian growth crisis.

White Horse Ranch Est. 1867

White Horse Ranch got its start in 1867 running cattle on 65,000 acres of private land. Grazing high desert is workable for a short time but not sustainable for long. Nitrogen accumulates at a rate much too slow and cattle browse off the grasses much too fast. Antelope, deer and elk, the Great Basin’s indigenous species have browsing habits that harmonize with this terrain. Times changed and White Horse Ranch changed too. The outfit is more of a hay growing operation now. Cattle are still grazed out here, but their numbers now much reduced providing modest flow of revenue to this historic working ranch.

Dustiest part of the expeditionary effort needed to make my way to the White Horse Ranch is navigating one of the roughest dirt roads twenty-five miles out to the main gate. If you go just another bit further, and since you are already out there why wouldn’t you, off to the left is another dirt road out to Willow Creek Hot Spring. This is sagebrush soaking country.

Denio, Nevada

Crawling along after a long soak I negotiated the 61 hard miles of dirt road that ended in Denio, Nevada. I rested there for a day getting my hand tools out so I could tighten up all the fasteners that had come loose on my truck. Back in 1981 there was a General Store. The proprietor operated the gas station, had a United States Post Office kiosk on its premises and a functional community hall set up in the basement. You could buy groceries at the store, basics anyway, deliveries came in from Winnemucca. Against another wall they’d set up a bar with stools and two slot machines. This is where most of the drinking, gambling and conversation took place.

Modern day Denio has now got pavement, moved the Post Office into a building all to its own, and miracle of miracles continues to operate the most important institution on the northern frontier of Humboldt County, the venerable Diamond Inn Bar. It is the same building as the General Store, time has passed, names and enterprise has been reconfigured, but the mission is same as ever, there must be some gathering spot where the fever of solitude can be broken. The population of Denio has swelled to 47, by my count none are tongue-tied.

Plenty of Dirt Road

Further south out of Denio on Highway 140 you’ll turn east on Nine Mile Road and travel by pavement to Kings River Valley. Here is located the biggest hay growing region in the state of Nevada. Cold winters, annual measurable precipitation totaling eight inches, with a valley bottom elevation sitting right at 4000 feet, here is pure Great Basin Desert in its most abundant grass growing form. If Denio is too busy for you and if you want to get away from it all, this is your place, there is plenty of opportunity to fix your position completely into what I would describe as self-imposed solitary confinement.

Caldera System Runs From Nevada to Yellowstone National Park

East of Kings River Valley in Nevada’s Montana Mountains you can travel by Highway 192 back over to Orovada at the junction of Hwy 95. Halfway between, up in the high country there is a two-lane road that tracks across a one-of-a-kind geological feature, the McDermitt Caldera. It is on this piece of road that is located the world’s largest unburied lithium deposit. Geologists surveyed the caldera and calculate on over 11,000 acres of lithium ore is just sitting there on the surface ripe and ready to be harvested. Boring test holes geologists calculate the lithium deposit measures 500 feet in depth. Mining the ore would be by open pit method. Draglines, electric rope shovels, and huge wheel loaders are used to move the ore for refining. The battery making metal would be processed on site and then hauled away by truck destined for both domestic and international battery manufacturers.

In September of this year Lithium Nevada, a subsidiary of Lithium Americas notified various agencies of its intention to begin operations. Years of work has gone into preparing an Environmental Impact Statement with the Federal governments Bureau of Land Management’s office in Winnemucca. Issuance of the permit allowing for mining to start is expected to be decided early next year.

Thacker Pass Lithium Mine

Locals in opposition can’t be ignored. There are hay growers, cattle outfits, and Paiute concerned about the environmental impact this mine will have on the land, air and water. Sage grouse range nearby and our endangered. Eagle habitat is here too. Deciding one way or another about approving the operation is not an open and shut case. Open pit mining corporations are prone to filing bankruptcy once they cease operations leaving the taxpayers to foot the cleanup bill. Too often after a mine has closed things ends up in a tangled disputatious legal mess. Citizens opposition is substantial.

Arguments in favor of bringing this lithium ore to market is first and foremost to do with the climate emergency the world now faces. Geologists estimate of all the known marketable lithium ore in the world McDermitt Caldera contains 25% of that total. Tesla’s Gigafactory is 200 miles west in Reno. The Gigafactory manufactured 10 GWh of battery power in 2019 (that’s like 12 million wild horses of power) aiming for 1300 GWh by 2030 (an astronomically huge galloping herd in size and magnitude).

Processed Lithium Ready for Market

Whether or not the civilization collapsing climate catastrophe can be averted turns out to be tangled up with the McDermitt Caldera. The whole seething lot of us is up against the clock, time is not on mankind’s side. This is a consequential decision, figure Kings River Valley hay growers probably wish this whole thing would just go the hell away, leave their beloved Montana Mountains and the McDermitt Caldera right where it is.

Northern Humboldt County, Nevada is a five-hundred-mile drive from San Francisco. Remote, isolated, this is the American West, you had best bring everything you’ll need because there are practically no suppliers or services out here. The Great Basin Desert of Nevada has to be the most improbable place to have been thrust into the biggest most consequential fight man has ever had to wage in the struggle to walk civilization back from the brink. Fateful mashups of such towering consequence possess sturdy bones, circumstances are so serious a sane person would have to laugh, it’s a comedy. I don’t have plot yet, but I can see one, there is near sure to be a story worth telling, I see all kinds of trials and tribulations.

Mojave desert Drifting

Creosote and Sandy Trail

Empty space tickles the catalogue of wonder, provokes my inner itch of curiosity. Big attraction to nowhere is that I find plenty that in other landscapes is smothered by overabundance. Until 1974 I had not had the chance to travel out into the midst of North America’s continental geophysical essence. First impressions were uninformed. I was not familiar with either the terrain or the flora and fauna of this region. I had grown up a creature of the urban world.

Crossing eastbound by highway the Mojave Desert appeared barren, defoliated, lifeless. The glaciated mountain peaks spilling from on high to lower elevations traveled with the help of gravity by avalanche chutes, the pulverized rubble spread out at lower elevations forming alluvial fans, gulches, ravines, and washes. I could see pieces of rock, dirt, sand, and creosote bush but I had not given much attention to any books that told the scientific story of how the Mojave Desert had been formed. I knew that such earth science forces such as uplift, subsidence, erosion and vulcanism were part of the story. At one time there were inland seas here, unfathomably deep now vanished oceans inundated where I stood. The tectonic plate beneath the Pacific Ocean pressing against continental North America has been thrusting the Sierra Nevada’s upward, and not by mere inches but after forty million years by more than two miles. Determined geologists working from theory finally confirmed that what they found down at the lowest elevations of the Mojave had originally been part of the highest mountain peaks. Depending on your mood and the heat geology and the miraculous are made visible in the Mojave.

Mountain and Valley

Then I spotted a desert tortoise and that was a clue. Gopherus agassizii has been around for the last 15-20 million years. The luckiest of these tortoises have a lifespan of between 50-80 years. The animal I found wasn’t likely to live so long, this one had wandered out of the desert and was too close to the highway. Picking the tortoise up I carried the animal out a dirt road, I figured if I took the animal a good mile out of harms way then releasing him back into the wild, that he’d have a stinking chance of surviving out here where he belonged. I think I did a good thing. I could not bear the thought of having this animal being run over out there on that highway. Researchers estimate the desert tortoise may move no more than 660 feet in a day. I figured the one I moved might find a mate out on the new turf, you know find a tortoise he’s attracted to, have a sex life, raise a family, find a burrow worth hibernating in, eat a fresh bloomed flower next spring. I hoped the tortoise might find all that and more. I’m still worried about that one animal.

Alluvial Fans

Jumping between Northern California and Phoenix, Arizona I often stop for the night in the Mojave about an hour east of Barstow near Ludlow. This waystation was once a thriving concern and now is more of a name than anything else. Two gas stations, two convenience stores, Dairy Queen, Ludlow Café, two itty bitty motels, some sort of to hell and gone mobile home park, big rig parking space, and an Emergency Roadside Service operator account for what is found here. Further inventory I count one house, one abandoned building, pioneer cemetery and railway tracks for freight trains operated by Burlington Northern Santa Fe.

More or Less Most of Ludlow

Stopping over I parked a mile south out in the desert after dark and of all things the Northern Lights had kicked up and put on a show. Located at latitude 34’ North and all of 1800’ elevation far from any artificial lights I was in an ideal location to take in the celestial pyrotechnics. I turn on my AM radio the skip signal picked up stations near and far, some forlorn late night broadcaster mentioned there was this rare atmospheric occurrence visible to the naked eye and best location was out in the Mojave, that a truck driver parked in Ludlow had called in confirming the rare cosmic event. For one time and one time only, I was in the best possible spot to take advantage of this rare solar event.

Tailgate Lunch

I’ve got twenty or more Ludlow sleepovers in my logbook. If it’s warm, I cook. If it’s cold I’ll eat at the café, make small talk with the coffee shop waitress, even if the hired help is never the exact same person they are all desert tough and what you might call a hardboiled egg. After I’ll go out to my rig climb atop my bunk and curl up in my sleeping bag, read for a spell, before calling it quits, then laying my head atop my pillow right there in the middle of as close as I can locate myself to near as nowhere as can be found.

eastern edge of nevada

Spring Valley Wind Farm

As batty as this may seem the Spring Valley Wind Farm had to install radar to help prevent unnecessary bat collisions with their turbine blades. Mexican freetail bats it is said can haul ass attaining speeds of 100 mph while flying horizontal to the ground. The nearby Rose Guano Cave hosts the migratory mammals as they travel north and south. During the season, each night an estimated 70,000 bats depart to devour 300 million winged insects before returning at dawn to their bat cave.

Spring Valley’s wind farm consists of 66 wind machines each standing 400’ tall generating enough electricity to power 150,000 homes. With all of 10,500 people living in White Pine County most of this electricity is fed into the electrical grid and sent to more populated western communities.

Waterway

The Southern Nevada Water Authority arrived in White Pine County in the early 1990’s with a plan to pump 58 billion gallons of water a year from ancient underground aquifers south to Las Vegas. Rural Nevadan’s don’t take too kindly to have their water basins sucked dry in broad daylight by a bunch of casino operators. Litigated over the last 3 decades the Great Basin Water Network (fancy name for a spunky group of locals) fought the Water Authority and won. The project was declared to be “dead in the water,” and with that the no-good miserable water grabbers moved on.

Irrigation Pivot on Hayfield

Hay growers farm the remote corners of the valley. Many operators use irrigation pivots. Growers produce hay, alfalfa, winter and spring wheat. Work of this kind is best done by men of few words. I’ve met a handful over the years, they tolerate my curiosity, answering my questions, but they’re more accustomed to silence, preferring to work the land, ship their crop to market, spend the winter wrenching on their trucks, tractors and field equipment.

Between Baker and Border, Nevada there are three saloons. Fanciest is Kerouac’s staffed by urban refugees that can no longer stomach a cosmopolitan life but are as yet unprepared to hire on to herd sheep. With the pandemic in full rage hard times have fallen on the saloons. Baker is the gateway to the Great Basin National Park. Wheeler Peak is the parks crowning achievement, second highest peak in Nevada at just over 13,000’.

White Pine County is where is located the Nevada State Penitentiary’s death row. Eighty-two have been convicted and remain locked up with no possibility of being executed because of the moratorium. Rumor is that most suffer near death from boredom at this remote prison.

From Baker, Nevada it is 300 miles south to Las Vegas, 382 miles west to Reno, and 230 seldom if ever driven miles northeast to Salt Lake City. Nevadan’s don’t frequent Utah much if at all. On the odd chance business requires such a visit is one thing but visiting for purely social purposes the Utah capital is much too morally rigid for Great Basin whiskey drinkers.

Bristlecone Pines from High Country

A long-haul trucker brought the love of his life out here. Driving through headed east or west he finally bought a slice heaven on earth and when not on the road parked his rig and hung his hat with his better half. Then cancer came took his life leaving her to fend alone. Twice she tried to return to the San Francisco Bay Area. Both times it was no use. Freeways were too clogged, fancy people everywhere, so noisy she couldn’t even hear herself think. Once every two weeks she drives 60 miles on Hwy 50 to Ely for groceries. Then, about maybe twice a year one of those quiet type bachelor hay growing pivot operators will make a run at her, try and convince her to hug and kiss and you know what.

This is how life along the easternmost edge of Nevada goes along day after day. If there is a snowstorm, they close two of three saloons. Bartender from Baker voluntarily drives his customers the ten miles over to Border so that unnecessary sobriety may be avoided. Locals will drink, eat and spend the idle hours of the evening discussing hay crop yields and the incessant western drought. Saloon keeper loads up his customers drives the ten miles atop the icy roads and falling snow back to Baker sending his clientele home where they will be warm to get some sleep and dream of better days. This is how it is and always will be.  

Plot Heating up

non·fic·tion

non·fic·tion

/ˌnänˈfikSH(ə)n/

noun

prose writing that is based on facts, real events, and real people, such as biography or history.

Green Hydrogen 100% Carbon Free

After wrangling four novels between the covers of a book I’ve learned a thing or two. Fiction is speculative. A novelist isn’t bound to dutifully report a precise biography or accurate historical account of an event. Because a plot benefits from being devised to enhance the story’s drama a novelist follows other instincts than truth.

Turn things around for a moment, Mario Puzo, screenwriter, novelist and journalist while writing The Godfather would have made a hellish nonfictional project, much of what might have been true could not be told because so much of what the mafia did was so difficult to prove. A journalist would need three different sources, on the record, each independently confirming the same set of facts.

Baker, Nevada Population 64

While in the initial stage of plotting a novel, before there is a plot, I flirt with elements that might help build a story. Speculative fiction can play as loose or tight with the facts as an author might wish while altering the imagined circumstances caught within the fabric of reality.

 I have been traveling between the San Francisco and Denver. Since March when the pandemic hit, I have completed four and a half trips. I’ve traveled to Baker, Nevada. Baker a town of maybe 100 people has been fighting over a water grab by Clark County in Las Vegas. Baker is home to eccentric types, Jeeps are beat up, women are available, and men are desperate and lonely but not entirely reliable.

20 Gigawatts Per Year in Size

Like a journalist I am digging into the facts, at least as I begin to plot. The Gigafactory has been built in Reno by Tesla, the lithium mine south near Tonopah sends refined lithium ore north to build batteries for their electric automobiles. East of Baker, Nevada in Delta, Utah a partnership between Magnum Corporation and Mitsubishi are building what they describe as the world’s largest renewable energy storage system, manufacturing green hydrogen to be injected into underground salt chambers to be used in retrofitted natural gas power plants so they can generate carbon free electricity.

Lithium Mining Operation west of Tonopah

Nevada is rife with geothermal resources. There are seven commercially scaled geothermal power generating stations that dot Nevada with more planned. There is a existential climate emergency civilization threatened rush to develop this resource. I want to point in particular to the odd role Nevada, a place of brothels, casinos and the atomic test site find their state playing in the quest to save a world spiraling out of control as the atmosphere overheats. As unlikely as it may seem there is an argument to be made that civilization’s solutions are being prototyped and readied to save the world from going over the falls and triggering an extinction event. As they say the stakes couldn’t be higher! Placing characters into a struggle for the entire world’s survival I tend to see as a potent comic formula. As for making a one-man-show, you know The World Emergency Full Catastrophe Climate Change Comedy Show we are well on our way to a show plan.

A true fact I’ve discovered is that fracking drillers are falling on hard times with the decline in value of oil and gas and that this drilling technology with the development of well casings that can resist the high temperatures of geothermal resources are about to unlock an immeasurable source of heat for producing a carbon free source of electricity. Frackers already know how to drill down into the earth, and with the help of geophysicists there are plans to go deeper. You get down 6 miles in depth geophysicists estimate there is virtually enough heat to power our civilization for tens of thousands of years.

McGinness Hills Geothermal Complex in Nevada

Geothermal power generating stations in Nevada are proving grounds for the surface part of this emerging technology. Won’t be long, I’m speculating here, until some whiskey drinking wildcatters come in from the Texas Oil Patch and with expert guidance of geophysicists start punching deep wells that tap civilization saving geothermal resources.

Baker Railroad Car Home Conversion

So, this is just how plotting a novel begins. Storyteller’s prefer outlining a hopeful path, and we have plenty of hope using climate change saving means of creating power. Still, this isn’t a plot yet, this is just one element, but you know some bad ass wildcatter coming out to Nevada to punch wells and give the girls in town a little hell starts to get at something that might offer a reader a ride worth reading.

We’re all Hayduke’s now

A.K. Sarvis, M.D. aka Doc

“Did you know that a consortium of power companies and government agencies are conspiring to open more strip mines and build even more coal-burning power plants in the same four-corners area where all that filth is coming from now? Together with more roads, power lines, railways and pipelines? All in what was once semi-virginal wilderness and still is the most spectacular landscape in the forty-eight contiguous bloody states? Did you know that?”

“I was once a semi-virgin,” she said.” Ms. B. Abbzug- aka Bonnie

Edward Abbey’s, The Monkey Wrench Gang was published in 1975. Hayduke, Seldom Seen Smith, Doc, and Abzug set out to go to Page, Arizona near the Colorado River and blow up the Glen Canyon Dam. The novel is an unapologetic portrayal of a gang of environmental terrorists.

Glen Canyon Dam

Abbey never tried to thread the needle, didn’t bother to put some favorable patina on his gang. Hayduke was a Green Beret, veteran of Vietnam War, beer drinking, civilization hating desert loving wilderness advocate. Hayduke had preservation of what was wild on his list of good and the sprawling mess called Tucson on his list of what he called tragedy.

The Navajo Generating Station was under construction the same time as The Monkey Wrench Gang was being drafted. The book was published in 1975, the same year that the power plant went online.

Navajo Generating Station

Last year, November 2019, the Navajo Generation Station closed unable to compete with newer technologies, both natural gas and solar power were cheaper. In forty-five years of operation the power plant released millions and millions of tons of pollution into the atmosphere, much of it falling onto the Navajo Nations land and people.

Not sure happiness is something Edward Abbey based his life upon. A conservationist’s day begins and ends the same way, losing another fight. Hayduke’s barbarism and wretched excesses I imagine were medicinal characteristics for the author to create. Abbey’s doing something about the desecration was to set Hayduke out on the page and let his savage disdain for civilization speak his vulgar truth to power.

Last week felt like I was on the back lot at 20th Century Fox. I’d just come from makeup and heading to the costume shop. I was Hayduke’s stunt double.

Decommissioned Coal Conveyor Belt

The drive east from Tuba City to Teec Nos Pos is 145 miles. Along the highway the Kayenta Mine and the Peabody Coal Company’s conveying system is found located in Shonto, Arizona. Closed now the mine delivered 8 million tons of coal each year for use in the regional coal fired power plants. The largest were the three power units located at Navajo Generating Station near Page, Arizona.

I opened the door to my van and stepped into the pages of Abbey’s novel. A conveyor belt ran of in the distance a mile or more in each direction, the same contraption Hayduke had sabotaged, the same piece of equipment the environmental terrorist had monkey wrenched.

Inconvenient Truth

Hurricane Zeta the fifth hurricane of the season (an all-time record) will hit Louisiana today. In California and Colorado all-time record-breaking wildfires have shaken communities near and far. Time has caught up with our bingeing on fossil fuels. Climate change is here.

We’re all Hayduke’s now.

“He drank another beer as he drove along. Two and a half six-packs to Lee’s Ferry. Out there in the open Southwest, he and his friends measured highway distances in per-capita six-packs of beer. L.A. to Phoenix, four six-packs; Tucson to Flagstaff, three six-packs; Phoenix to New York, thirty-five six-packs.” Edward Abbey Narrator

Travels without charley

Tourist Services in the Time of the Virus

Tuba City in the Navajo Nation is seventy-eight miles northeast of Flagstaff. Twenty years ago, I came through here after an early April snowstorm. A ramshackle convenience store had pull-through sites out behind the building. Cold, road weary, I needed to hook up my trailer to the electricity to keep my heater running all night. At the counter, an older woman took my fee. I presumed she was a member of the Navajo, sometimes you’ll meet Hopi here too. Navajo are reserved, speak without extra words, do not indicate much with extraneous facial expressions, but still the woman behind the counter with her modest eyes was helpful and generous with her attention. In the howling wind I went back out to my trailer fixed supper, did my dishes, hopped on my bunk, opened a book to read, then after slept until dawn.

Last week I pulled off the two-lane highway into a parking lot in Tuba City. The small store I had stopped in twenty years ago had vanished with time. Instead there was a supermarket, in another adjacent building a hair salon and pizza parlor. A gas station at the corner occupied the space at the intersection.

Truck and Trailer Setup circa 2000

Navajo shoppers were waiting to buy groceries. Because of the pandemic the store was only letting a few customers in at a time. Everyone had to wear a mask. Shopping carts were being sprayed down with disinfectant then wiped dry. The Covid-19 outbreak here in the Navajo Nation has been disastrous. To avoid unnecessary risks before starting this trip I’d gone shopping for everything I would need for the crossing from California to Colorado. This is no way to travel, not anything I would have ever thought to do, but with the invisible enemy floating about I’ve had to adapt and adjust. “Be safe,” is the way we say this to each other.

Diné Bizaad

A one-way road trip from Tuba City, Arizona to Gallup, New Mexico is 200 miles and most of this trip is within the sovereign boundaries of the Navajo land. One hundred and eighty thousand tribe members are scattered across 17.5 million acres. In my years of touring I have traveled up and down most of the Navajo’s paved roads and chanced adventures on many more that were not.

Students living at home take the bus to school, spending up to two hours’ traveling each way to attend class. The tribal elders decided after boarding their youth for some years that taking the children away from their mothers and fathers was harming family life. Much of what a young Navajo boy or girl experiences, much of the lessons to be taught, come from living with their family and speaking the language, known as Diné Bizaad. The Diné (means: people) believe there are two classes of beings: earth people and holy people, and it is the earth people that are sent here to preserve and protect Mother Earth. Ordinary day to day life is the most sacred form of being.

Navajo Farm

You’ll still see hogan’s scattered across the landscape, a small fraction of Navajo preferring to live in this traditional shelter. Here where modern life has encroached, conventional housing now predominates, but homes are modest, families are tight knit. Children grow and change. Life beyond lures the tribes youngest away, many returning disillusioned with the outside world and rededicate their lives to helping make the Navajo way flourish.  

The Navajo Nation has a population of 180,000. As of last week, Covid-19 has killed 600. Seventy-five-hundred have recovered out of the 11,000 that have been infected. And now this great tribe because of how their culture weaves their people together is threatened by this new scourge. To halt this crisis, to be free and safe once more, we’ll all sacrifice and work together to that end. So there is hope, as the Navajo would say,  “You cannot see the future with tears in your eyes.”

autumn backroad east

I’m a roadrunner baby

Running the southern route adds two-hundred miles to the trip to Denver. Once I’d made Bakersfield, I parked at a truck stop, slept there for the night. Sunday, I made five hundred miles east to Williams, Arizona. A local tipped me off to a free campground operated by the Bureau of Land Management.

“Get off Interstate 40, take Highway 64 north a handful of miles,” my tipster guaranteeing, “you can’t miss the campground, the dirt road is on the right.”

Wheeling into the dusty forest there was posted a sign warning camping was limited to 14 days. Squatters can become a nuisance. I was only there for one night. I parked warily under ponderosa pine. Wildfire this autumn has kept people on edge. Terrain was brittle, dry, risk of fire high. Among the long needle Rocky Mountain ponderosa pine, you would be advised to keep your ditch bag near at hand.

I set out a folding table, chair, got my electric skillet fired up slow cooking the one man- one pot dish. Tonight, it would be homemade beans, potatoes, asparagus, and spinach. The secret sauce to being cast a sage culinary vagabond was be spartan like and not make a mess.    

Pandemic dining at its best

In 1992 I lived along the Verde River eighty miles southeast of here. I remember taking my baby girl Alana shopping in Flagstaff. I could still hold her in my arms. I was miserable seeing her grow up knowing that all too soon I wasn’t going to be able to pick her up and carry that baby girl in my arms. You think about the people you love when your camped out alone.

Out here in the southwest where the Mojave, Sonoran and Great Basin Desert’s meet up there has been a great increase in population. Most of the places categorized as in the middle of nowhere and to hell and gone, five miles by dirt another mile on foot, all of that part of the American West is under threat. St. George, Utah was never supposed to grow so big.

In more remote regions of Nevada, Utah, Arizona, and New Mexico you’ll find solitude as pure as your evil heart. Then, you brush up close to Las Vegas, Flagstaff, Albuquerque, or Phoenix and you will choke on civilization sprawled out over a horizon and cooking at a boil.

Reclamation Project Underway

For my money, the American West is in possession of the crown jewels of our nation’s wilderness. Now each remote outpost is being encroached upon from a new nearby settlement. It is unclear what is to become of solitude, the wildlands have been stolen by a swelling population, hardscrabble loner’s that have struggled to celebrate emptiness are nearing the end of such places. All of us need nowhere even if we never bother to go. The privilege of camping in wild open spaces, counting the mustang off on the horizon, being serenaded by a canyon wren, these are experiences that deserved to be passed onto the misfits and renegade misanthropes.

Fool’s Paradise

I hiked up a gulch fooled by the terrain, read the clues all wrong, ended up in a boxed canyon. Ancient Anasazi people hunted in this terrain, once their prey had been cornered nets were raised, trapped, unable to escape, the ancient hunters armed with spears would press in for the kill.

As the Pleistocene ended, what is now Nevada warmed, ice age animals went extinct, pinion pine migrated north from Mexico. Into the region arrived grizzly bear, elk, deer, antelope and big horn sheep. For the next ten thousand years a tribe of hunters thrived. Early man faced drought, wildfire, and the threat of being eaten alive. Right now a mountain lion can ruin anyone’s day. Important answers to civilizations problems confound people attempting to respond to the mortal risks flourishing in the third decade of this new century. We are acting, you can feel the whole lot of us trying, growing momentum will sweep up more and more, and we will make good trouble refining our path.

I see on my calendar humankind’s next big leap will take place on November 3rd. Let’s get along now, there is a wild blue yonder to chase and a wide wonderful world to save.

Looking for a few ears

Motorcycle Racing Champion and the Circus Arts Aerialist

Women of the Oak Savannahs

I’m still thinking this scene may represent some of the best writing I have ever done. There you go. Just my opinion. I wouldn’t mind finding out what other listeners think. If you do spend time with these two characters, Buzz Jackson and Joann Triche drop me a note let me know how the scene works for you.