Lessons at the Full Moon

Highest ridge of the Kelso Dunes, Mojave National Preserve, San Bernardino Co., California, USA.  Night hiking without a light; full moon bright as dawn.
12 April 2006.

We all have lessons to learn.

In some cases, years pass between the time a lesson is given and the time it is taken to heart.

The spring this photo was taken, lessons in the following presented themselves to me:

- How sharing yourself can be wise, and how holding back can sometimes be wiser.
- How self-possession can bring people near to you, and how neediness can drive them away.
- How happiness comes when you embrace life, and how sadness stays when you sit on its sidelines.
- How Nature can make you whole, and how Modern Living can take you apart.

Only in the intervening years did these lessons sink in, reiterated by new teachers.
For each of the lessons, I am grateful.

To the author of that first springtime primer, I say, “Thank you.”

The older I get, the longer the list of people to which I owe such thanks.

Almost all of them: the folks who made me uncomfortable, the folks who questioned me, the folks who – wittingly or unwittingly – challenged me to take a hard look at myself, my actions, and my true motives: the way I really was rather than the way I thought I was.

The folks who took my cherished and carefully protected view of myself and tested it for verity.

Always, these people are our best teachers.  And to them, we become grateful.

In due time, of course.  In due time.

* * *
Enjoy the full moon tonight, everyone.


Vista, Interrupted

New York Peak (7,533 ft), New York Mountains, San Bernardino Co., California, USA.
23 April 2006.

New York Peak: the first summit I ever reached without a trail.

The East Mojave view that spreads out below it is breathtaking.  California to the west, Nevada to the east.  Sun and sky.  Bajadas and mountains.  Dunes and dry lakebeds.  Creosote and cactus.

Nearly unspoiled, except for the black snake of I-15 and the gaudy spectacle that is Stateline Primm.

Nearly unspoiled, that is, until later this year, when one of the largest solar installations in the world is erected near Ivanpah Dry Lake.

I am in complete support of solar development in wise places: already-degraded lands near the communities that will use the power.

But I am NOT in support of solar development on remote, vital BLM land — habitat of an endangered species, the desert tortoise — chosen for its relative lack of red tape rather than for the long-term sensibility and sustainability of its location.

Deserts are old places.  But that does not make them dead places.  Deserts are not wastelands.  In the desert, the ground is alive.  Life — plants, animals, insects — is everywhere, if you only look for it.  Deserts persist on a time scale different from the rest of the world.  They grow slowly.  They recover slowly, if given a chance.

But from this development, that land will not recover.

The next time I climb that peak, oh, how different the view will be.

It breaks my heart.

America, let’s remember: these lands are our lands.

Why are we letting corporations plunder them for profit, when viable alternatives lie elsewhere?


In Memoriam: GK on the Dunes

Kelso Dunes, Mojave National Preserve, San Bernardino Co., California, USA
12 April 2006

My family had four parental cornerstones.

This man, my stepfather, was one of them.

He was not a perfect man, but he sure came close.  He was the kind of person who made the world a good place to be.  He grew up a farm kid and possessed the work ethic, sensibility, and useful practical skills that type of upbringing often confers.  He was patient.  He was kind.  He was forgiving of mistakes.  He gave others the benefit of the doubt.  He trusted.  He was curious.  He was smart.  He was generous with his time and talent, volunteering them wherever they were needed.  He was modest.  He listened.  He was more interested in hearing about your thoughts than he was in telling you all about his own.  He made people feel good about themselves and the work that they were doing.  He loved his family, home life, woodworking, blacksmithing, the sound of old country tunes, the making of bluegrass music, Lewis and Clark, red wine, and good cigars.

He also loved motorcycles (a common devotion in my family).  He was the most careful rider I’ve ever known — no traffic law was too small to follow to the letter.

Seven months after this photo was taken, riding home on a bright autumn afternoon, he was killed on the highway on his Harley by a teenage driver who, distracted by friends in the cabin, did not look for traffic before pulling his truck out onto the road.

This photo of my stepdad on the dunes, pointing into the light — taken four years ago today, on the one trip he and my mom could make to visit me in the Mojave — appeared on the cover of the program for his memorial service.

When you are driving, please, don’t text.  It is more dangerous, even, than driving drunk.
Please, don’t talk on the phone.
Please, don’t watch movies or television.
Please, don’t goof with your passengers.

Please, pay attention.
Please, be mindful.
Please, be alert to your surroundings.
Please, watch for motorcycles.

If you feel so inclined, check out the website of It Involves You, the foundation whose motorcycle awareness campaign we extended to our hometown with my stepfather’s memorial fund.

And, if it appeals, consider becoming a fan of one of the motorcycle awareness groups on Facebook.  I am partial to this one, Share the Road with Motorcycles, founded by my stepbrother.

Springtime is prime motorcycle weather.  Keep your eyes open, and be safe out there, everybody!


Easter Egg

In 2005, Easter fell on March 27th.  That year, I shared the researcher quarters at the field station with an artist-in-residence and his wife.

Life in a remote place generates a special alchemy of spare time and scant supplies that yields improvisational gold.  The rare instances you’re in town, you stock up; the rest of the time, you take what you have on hand, and you get creative with it.  (And folks, let me tell you: that is the life!)

That Easter morning, I awoke to a plunking sound.  I opened my cabin door to a mystery: fancy European candies scattered at my feet.  Overnight, someone had secretly attached them to the door, but as the desert sun rose and warmed the adhesive, they’d loosened and fallen — plunk, plunk, plunk.

I followed the candy trail into the main living quarters, where on my counter I discovered a Mojave wildflower bouquet (yellow with this species, purple with this one and white with this one).

Also waiting was an Easter basket that beamed with remote-living ingenuity.  It was crafted out of an old strawberry container and tissues, and filled with sugared almonds and an Easter egg, dyed old-school (with coffee grounds, I think) and handpainted with an image of me and my favorite study organisms, native wild bees.

This egg was, of course, the best Easter egg ever.  (Even if it did make me look somewhat “mad scientist” — that huge eye!)

Where the artist and his wife scored the sugared almonds and fancy European candies, I will never know.

But I’m still thankful for it all.


Mojave Sky

Van Winkle Mountains in foreground, Clipper Mountains in background.
Kelbaker Road, Mojave National Preserve, San Bernardino Co., CA, USA.
27 February 2005

Five years ago today, I took this photo.  My memory and my field notes tell me it was a beautiful day.  I had just arrived in California for my second Mojave field season.  Oh, those first years of a PhD: so full of hope and promise!  They were the best years, but I didn’t know that then.

I am working hard to finish a big data-entry project, and to send my advisor the first real products of over seven years of dissertating.  Finally, finally.

It will feel so good.


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