The following essay appears in our July 2015 Digital Issue. Download it today to read the rest of Gina’s story and the entire issue.
LIFE IS SIMPLER OUT HERE, but that doesn’t make it any less complicated. I haven’t seen another human being for several days. Not a car, a plane, or a machine of any kind, except for my own vehicle. It’s so quiet here in the middle of the Alvord Desert near the Oregon-Nevada border that I can hear the soft thud of my own heart. There are no bird calls, no insect noises. Coyotes howl and warble at dawn and then go silent, leaving only paw prints in the wake of their chatter. This morning, there is no wind. Airplanes don’t even fly over this stretch of southeastern Oregon desert unless they are landing here on the ancient lakebed where I have pitched a tent. The loudest noise right now is the sound of my bare feet on the cool, cracked earth. How many people are left on the planet who can say, “I heard nothing once?”
I return from a sunrise walk deep into the rolling sagebrush knolls and eat a breakfast of wild rice and dried fruit. I toss a pinch of cooked rice onto an ant hill and sit on my haunches for a long time, watching the insects. One renegade ant from another mound moves in, steals a fat grain of rice. It’s nearly twice his size. He grips it with his strong jaws and pulls it around, fending off guards as he zigzags across the pebbled mound. So fascinating, their constant movement, their ever purposeful existence. In the late summer months, I like to watch them haul tiny needles from the desert plants atop their mounds for winter insulation, their lives timed more perfectly that any human-made device.
As the sun rises, I tidy up camp and prepare to head out, exploring on jeep roads. I’ve seen bobcats and wild horses in the hills, chased lizards scurrying along rock ledges with my camera. My husband has witnessed mountain lions stalking herds of bighorn sheep on the flanks of Steens Mountain to the west. But today, we load up the truck with extra water and snacks. Dust devils are spinning around in the distance. The desert playa is empty, otherwise. I’m looking forward to new discoveries and slide the key into the ignition. Now, the silence isn’t as welcome as it was just moments ago. The battery is dead.
GINA WILLIAMS lives and creates in the Pacific Northwest. Her writing and visual art has been featured by or is forthcoming most recently in Moss, River Teeth, Okey-Panky, Carve, The Boiler Journal, Kudzu House, Great Weather for Media, The Sun, Fugue, Palooka, and tNY Press, among others. Learn more about Gina and her work at: http://www.ginamariewilliams.com/
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