Tag Archives: Great Basin

running west with the wind

Buffalo Head

In the 1970’s I played my show in Colorado. Autumn was preferred. Instead by hubris in winter late near midnight I drove Highway 160 over Yellowjacket Pass in thirty below. I made Durango that night for a show the next day. My teeth chattering, I climbed into my goose down bag tossed a blanket over my dog. Getting out of my bag at daybreak was agony.

Four decades later Colorado mountain towns have swelled up and are too big. Roads are full of vehicles. Hillsides are dotted with second homes. While there are still vast sweeps of undeveloped landscape there are fewer to be found and their unbound nature has been nibbled on by the crush of humanity seeking a piece of their own.

A westerner understands what I mean. Emptiness is essential. Mustangs need room to roam. So do prospectors, outdoorsmen and curmudgeons.

Michael’s Diesel Truck

In Ely, Nevada I had the pleasure to speak with a retired military man. The mother had not much cared for Ely and had run off with another man leaving Michael and the children. Everything about life in Ely is hard including finding a reliable wife. So, it was to be the father completed the task of raising his sons.

For twenty-four years he worked at the Robinson Mine four miles west of town. This is an open pit copper mine. Gold is also found in the ore as well as molybdenum. There are no easy jobs when you hire on to work at an open pit copper mine.

Strolling the Neighborhood

Luck is changing for this Ely, Nevada resident. South 216 miles is St George, Utah. Michael has become partners operating a big rig diesel service shop. Putting the finishing touches on his home in Ely our military veteran is ending all these hardscrabble days preparing to sell his property and move on to life’s next chapter.

He’ll be leaving behind 4000 of Nevada’s most remotely located citizens to take up a new life in St George where near 88,000 Mormons, near Mormons and never will be Mormons reside. Michael’s servicing long haul trucks means he’ll be wrenching on equipment one quarter the size of the behemoths he kept serviced at the mine in Ely. Cracking off a two-inch bolt is that much more work from removing a three-quarter inch piece of hardware.

Backbreaking awaits high desert immigrants wanting to make a life out here. Punching water wells, wrenching on studded snow tires for the season, or assembling a Quonset hut will humble the uncalloused hands of a Great Basin newcomer.

Cooking beneath Cottonwoods

Michael invited us to remain parked right where we had stopped to make dinner and sleepover beneath the cottonwoods. Social distancing being what it is Michael explained most of what I’ve retold here. Michael’s veteran military status had provided him with a healthy skepticism. Politics and rattlesnakes were both to be sidestepped, left alone so that a citizen could move on to better things to do with a mind and a life.

Wandering into the least parts of the American West is where I often find the most durable characters. Keeping intact this emptiness makes room for those few odd citizens that seek to build a life as near to civilization’s edge as a soul may travel.

Temple Gods silver state

Glimmer of Nevada

Luscious open empty miles on Nevada Highway 50 are planned. Busking buddy Sean Laughlin rules from the roost in Silver City. We go back to sidewalk show days. Sean’s pop was Bay Area icon radio broadcast personality Travis T Hip. Born and raised in Berkeley is its own geographical means of bending soul to place. I’ll twist a few yarns from his perch prior to more eastbound into the heart of nowhere.

Hot Spring Honeymoon, my third novel, a sexual farce takes place here. Long fiction uses uncountable hours of our imaginations bandwidth. Jerusalem crickets, pinyon pines and sagebrush become contemplative Great Basin life forms. Nonconformists are the entire Nevada population…. think imaginary prizefighters and hardrock miners. Easy if you try.

Best part of running east on Highway 50 is the caprice of starting and stopping. Yes, I will practice reciting new material. Delivery of a new line with nonchalant premeditated comic intent is a craft. You have to listen to your audience. Is there a reaction? Does the joke land or the following spontaneous line deployed hoping to save my belly laugh bacon save me from silence? Spontaneity is a gateway technique common to busking.  

Park a Dream Come True in Here

In the town of Ely I’ll juggle on a park lawn beneath cottonwoods. Unless the wind is howling the workout will be once each day as I cross to Ft. Collins.

Love, sex, booze and mustang are first order elements to living in Nevada. Perhaps you are married, maybe you twelve-step, given up on sex and have no affinity for horses there remains the great task of fitting your lack of conformity with what is regarded as sacrament here in the Silver State. If all else fails act cranky, but profess respect for lizards.

Hay growing, cattle ranching and gold mining thrive here. Natural resource extraction has not been easy on this delicate ecosystem. Adding to this is the sociologically bizarre gambling epithet called Las Vegas and this humanity that has gathered  pressurizing the demand for the groundwater here to the north. Remember that water running east from the Sierra’s or west from the Rocky Mountains comes to Nevada where it forms ponds and sinks into the ground. Millions of years of accumulation can be extracted by well pumps and piped away in the wink of an eye.

Road off into the Clouds

As far as nowhere goes I’d recommend more nowhere for its healing spiritual qualities. Cheek to jowl in California is bumper to bumper soul stifling. Preserving some sizable portion of our western states where we may travel for the sake of soul rebalancing is a prescription for our personal psychological health-care.

If humankind has been building temples for the gods it is likely the gods have built the Great Basin Desert for all of creation. Nevada she is the emptiness jewel mounted upon a crown of forlorns…