Letter From The Desert: Leap

When I moved to the Ivanpah Valley I was bleeding. My marriage was a smoking crater. My dog was 15 months in the ground. Running away was the only thing that made sense.

There’s an oft-quoted line from Robert Frost’s “The Death of a Hired Man” that goes

Home is the place where, when you have to go there,
they have to take you in.

that I’ve often used to explain my feeling for the desert. But that month, the lines of that poem immediately previous were a little bit more on the nose:

Of course he’s nothing to us, any more 
Than was the hound that came a stranger to us 
Out of the woods, worn out upon the trail.

I was nothing to the desert; just one more pair of boots, just four more tires, just one more human thirst to slake with its scant water. But it took me in anyway. One summer evening early in my new life, overwhelmed by the realization that I no longer had anyone waiting for me anywhere, I left my old Jeep in the parking lot of a convenient outlet mall on the Nevada state line and walked out into the sweltering creosote evening in the middle of the Ivanpah Valley. I fully intended to keep walking the state line until I reached the Colorado River, and maybe after that Phoenix, or Hell, whichever seemed more habitable.

I made it about one half mile, into a forest of waving creosote bushes five feet tall. I stopped. I sat on the ground.

Creosote and bursage fringe the Ivanpah Dry Lake, July 2008

The decaying house I’d rented in Nipton wouldn’t be ready for me to move into for a month. That morning I woke in the Cherokee in a roadside rest area outside of Merced, curled cramp-inducingly around my boxed belongings. I had a vague notion that I would camp somewhere for a few weeks. My closest friends were five hundred miles away. I was 48 years old and newly single and newly homeless and newly alone.

Except not alone. There was the creosote, washed by a monsoon earlier in the day, giving up that rank wet creosote smell which reaches its finest acrid flower in the Ivanpah Valley. The shrubs’ striped branches waved a little. They seemed to bend over me a little.

There was a glimmer of something; a vague feeling metaphorically just out of the range of my peripheral vision. Something familiar yet wholly unexpected.


It couldn’t be. I was probably just manufacturing the feeling as a flimsy shield against my hard-won aching vulnerability. It would probably pass.

I drove through the Ivanpah Valley last week on my way to a day-long meeting in Las Vegas. I was startled by the vehemence with which the memories of that old feeling came back. And then the rains started, and that acrid creosote incense.

Ivanpah Valley Monsoon #home
August 8, 2019

That feeling of #home never went away.

I wonder how it would have been had I known, on that beautiful and terminally bleak day in 2008, that I would soon love the place above all others in the desert. I wonder what it would have been like to know, somewhere within, that in 11 short years I would be wed to the love of my life, walking our dog in familiar creosote each day. That I would be engaged in the most important work of my life, documenting and fighting for the wild desert.

Idle wonderings, and futile. Of course I could never have known. Sometimes you just have to leap.