My perception of reality is visual-concrete, which means I use my senses a lot, with little to no “distance” separating “who I am” from my sensory information. That is, I don’t “supernaturalize” information. I don’t use words to create social scaffolds of “meaning” that lead farther and farther away from understanding the environment. Meaning for me is the experience of being alive. Sometimes that experience is painful, precarious and uncertain, but “certain” is exactly what existence is not. Social humans have all manner of illusions and delusions that help them to feel safe.
I wrote a few sketchy “poetic” descriptions when I first moved to Wyoming. Looking back, I can see that it was a way to become familiar with a magnificent new landscape that I already seemed to know, because the sensations it produced were similar to sensations that began when I was a child, when I found familiarity, contentment, and beauty in particular images – real or artistic. In a way, it was if I was working out a picture of my reality; I was a child who did not belong where I was supposed to belong, and found it necessary to “jump ship” and swim until I either drowned or survived.
A Cold Evening The screen door is open to the full moon, and to telling-of-snow clouds that push across its white face, and to a rip saw wind that breaks our few trees, and to the empty sound of a can that rattles along the street.
Comfort Barren town, barren land, sand in my boots, a cobble in my hand: Fifty million years is a short trip into earth’s history, but it’s a nice distance from humanity.
Dry Land Wheel tracks cut the flanks of yellow hills, as if the lowly sagebrush and bitter creosote end somewhere, and a person could drive that far.
Glass Years vanish as if I had been sliding across glass instead of living: my fingernails have left skid marks on time. It was a happier life that I knew before this year, and yet, I managed to digest my father’s death and to end a cold war with my brother, who pampers ancient grudges like a Russian who aches to launch one last missile for old time’s sake.
Limits Beyond the simple life my capacities are wanting: I know my house, the rocks and flowers in the garden, and listen for the dogs’ overblown defense of our mundane perimeter. I was made for this place, and insist on the right to set my limits low and my horizons high.
Refresh Icon The arrant light of daybreak restores our desert province to precious clarity, but as the world turns, the gray chaparral and yellow cliffs bloom white hot and the banded hills become a picture that is overexposed and uninviting. The reward for our endurance comes at twilight, when nature’s products, and man’s efforts as well, are suffused with the crimson wavelengths of the sun’s farewell. Until tomorrow then; the earth’s rotation is our refresh icon.
October Sagebrush stains the air a chemical color, with a smell that is dark red and orange and concentrated, like piss. A lone receptor in my nose approves of the bitter stink and passes it to my brain, where it connects to the smell of all Octobers.
Pretty Small tasks become precious ways to gather time: a thread, when pulled, makes emptiness into a pretty ruffle. On sunny days, when isolated clouds throw shadows across the land, it may be said to be pretty, as a plain woman may be pretty if she takes pride in her plainness.
Unjust Summer Summer to the third power – no clouds, no shade, no escape from the blue spaces, from the yard burning hot and red and pink, as if the chimes and lawn chairs and a whirl-a-gig were featured in Home & Garden: MARS.
…the tail end of an arc of evolution, from the initial expansion of energy, to heat death?
This thought came to me this morning as I awoke and saw our true winter, framed as a miniature universe by the windows; brittle orange light on bare tree branches, cut eerily sharp against the intense blue sky; the objects detailed, sharp; both warm and frigid, ice crystals sparkling on the roof, the house a tiny raft of defiant “warmth” that makes my life possible – a delusion of safety for someone acquainted with physics: I also see energy streaming from my body, the dog’s body, the house itself; lost to my beloved Wyoming landscape: a two-part dream of land and sky that negates natural and human energy production, turning our efforts into the frozen beauty that mesmerizes my greedy eyes?
Entropy: no equations for me. Physics is personal. I see it, feel it, sense it, experience the change and flow of energy, because that is what we are; temporary locations, which in defiance of entropy, increase the rate of entropy. We, and all life, help our sun to die; help the universe to die. It’s sublimely beautiful.
What we describe as “life” may be so much more simple than we make it out to be: no different really than what we name non-life.
THE YELLOW WORLD is the high desert of southwestern Wyoming
In the depths of a snaky arroyo that debouches into the Green River, there stands a cut bank I call the cobble wall, after the ovoid bodies of quartzite packed into a deep layer at its base. The appearance of the polished stones within the vast monotony of mud and sand is like that of a Roman mosaic discovered in a far flung mud brick town. The smooth substantive cobbles, which began as rough bits of rock broken from distant mountain exposures, were reduced to ovoid volumes in the welter of distal floods. Relict cross-bedding of the original sandstone, and the distorted pebbles of former conglomerates, are magical metamorphic fabrics that yield details of their geologic heritage.
Time’s beauty can be held in my hand: midwifed by ice wedging and snowmelt, the cobbles provide pleasure in my garden.
Above the cobble layer, sagebrush that have been undermined when a portion of the mud wall caved onto the arroyo floor hang upside down anchored by a taproot the thickness of a hangman’s rope. This trick can extend a life span, but not forever.
It’s a forest service road in a forest without trees: the shallow shifting channel demanded by the low flow of the Blacks Fork is flanked by a wide alkali flat salted with bunch grass, as if an old-fashioned chenille bedspread grows there. The surrounding bluffs and ridges deepen to charcoal blue under passing clouds and those traveling shadows tease one into contemplation of a desert life: a period waits at the end of each sentence. Keep writing, then.
July sidelines the winter worrier, cold anxiety soothed by Nature’s reassurance that we deserve to live in the sagebrush fields of Paradise. The earth’s rotation is our refresh icon: the Yellow World is restored by the arrant light of daybreak, but High Noon finds the gray chaparral and yellow escarpments white hot; the countryside is overexposed and uninviting. The reward for our endurance is the transition into twilight, when nature’s products, and man’s efforts as well, benefit from the long wavelengths of the sun’s farewell.
Clouds shed answers somewhere tonight, but not on the Yellow World, not on the drought-destroyed vitality of flowers in my garden, but theirs is a simple fatigue and no match for the weariness of consciousness, for the question of what to do with oneself.
Chance, that ruthless overseer, has designated Wyoming as the land of my exile. Its wide spaces are a fence made of distance where the temptations of civilized life cannot cross its wastes to find me.
We climb a pale road to meet night descending on one of the earth’s most simple places: Puccini instructs the silent hills what it means to be caught between obligation and desire. The red girl, as red tonight as cousin fox, vaults the acid snakeweed and blushing winged dock, her tail a feather that falls among those delicate beauties. She is unaware that a dark wild horse is grazing in the faint pooling light, cut from the dark sky when the full moon shatters the plateau rim. The west wind comes on strong: we just make it back to the truck, the hot sky flowing like taffy. A summer avalanche of dust pushes us down canyon, down home.
Coarse red weeds tangle like dredlocks on a piece of ground disfigured by man, over which the truck rolls toward the river, toward willow and birch that move like kelp in a tidal flow, adding grace of movement to a static landscape.
The red dog barks sharply at a distant passing vehicle and the puppy echoes her mousetrap behavior, causing me to question the size and shape of my psychic territory, which under scrutiny proves to be huge and somewhat comical. I used to dodge intimacy because I believed that it came with a blade and a burden, but the yellow world has shown me that it is my character that is double-edged.
An inexplicable happiness spreads across the land, evidence of the correspondence between the land and the land inside me. My existence has to this date shown no practical application, but loving the land is sufficient when so many don’t. The source of this benevolent function is unknown, but perhaps the Art Director of Life, upon noticing a dull spot in the universe, lured me to the Yellow World.
A touchy starter delays our departure, but once warmed by the sun, the red truck shudders without complaint along our uncomfortable bladed roads, over two-track hard pan and sharp rolling rock, asking no more than to enter the wilderness with enough gas to get us home.
What a wonderfully mathematical landscape is our desert; the precision of its forms seduces one into the search for non-living intelligence. Hints lie about the gentle hills, concealed in the harsh places, floating atop the river of flashing fish. Desert secrets are filed within the digs of a surly badger and demonstrated in the strict sanity of the anthill.
The arrant light of daybreak restores our desert province
to precious clarity, but as the world turns, the gray chaparral
and yellow cliffs bloom white hot and the banded hills
become a picture that is overexposed and uninviting.
The reward for our endurance comes at twilight,
when nature’s products, and man’s efforts as well,
are suffused with the crimson wavelengths of the sun’s farewell;
Until tomorrow then: The earth’s rotation is our refresh icon.