Time in the desert

The tyrannical obstinacy of Time drives me crazy. The way it refuses to heed the beseeching of the heart or the epiphanies of the mind, only drums forward with the dictatorial egotism of linearity as it separates us minute by minute from the things we wish we’d said, the understandings we did not yet have. It’s enough to drive you mad.

California desertscape 2


I couldn’t tell if the desert made it better, or worse. Out there in the sand and desiccated memory, Time seemed no more than support staff for the real players of Stone, Sun, and Sand. But at the same time, nothing grew to erase the passage of years, to replace it with the present tense of Life’s struggle to survive, so the whole landscape seemed made of footprints with no need to disappear.


California desert skySome of those were my grandfather’s. His solid boots. A lover of the land, he used to drive from pre-technology Los Altos (where things were changing from the apricot groves he knew after the war) out into Sierra foothills, or up through redwood forests, or down into Mojave heat. When I was a boy I didn’t need to know why, I just knew he did it. Later, when logistics began to make sense I wondered what drove him to cover those miles, just to eat a piece of pie with a cup of black coffee, then turn around and drive back.

Alabama Hills

But on our recent roadtrip, watching the slow greeting of geography, the geologic communication of topography outside my windshield, I understood. We rolled into Bishop, a name I remember him saying, and every storefront was a question mark: Did he ever go in there? Was that where he had lunch? Did any waitresses here know his name and greet him when he came in?


If they did, they were luckier for it. He was a good man. I wish I could greet him as he walked in my door right now. I’d pour him a cup of coffee, and he’d probably drop in some cream he didn’t really want just so I could watch it swirl.


Sometimes in travel there’s a desire to stay or an itch to go. On this trip, with something of my grandfather in the wind around me and asphalt ahead and behind, there was no need to be anywhere. The land was its own purpose, the act of Seeing as worship, and among the love of the present I felt the love of my grandfather, present and strong. I guess Time’s not so powerful after all.

California landscape road