ON HE RODE — Chapter Twenty-Eight

Nothing much going on botanically as far as I can tell, but the truth is, Northwest greenie that I am, I can’t tell much. Drifting along, tumbleweed’s love to the ground, etcetera sounds great from Pioneer’s Sons, but I’d sure like right now to hug a smelly, fat-barked old Douglas fir. Protection. Security. Aspiration. The Southwest has its lonely Navajo trails. The Northwest has its fragrant timber. I like woods.

Another of those famous English teacher questions has to do with a desire for precipitation and how to respectfully couch a request for same. As in, I wish it would rain. Or, I hope it will rain. Or, I pray it might rain. Stick an “Amen” at the end of those three sentences and you’ll have your spontaneous desert lyric, fit to be chanted or sung by all in attendance, strummers and hummers. Hamm’s the beer refreshing. As if. Amen.

So who needs weed? I’m strumming along at random like this for most of the day, staying away from highway heavyweights and speed demons, boat trailers and campermobiles, staying away from just about everybody. As usual. Could that be a problem? Define “problem”. Could you become a loner? I AM a loner. Yes, but you’re not solipsistic, whatever that means. It means loser, it means regression, it means not good, and, no, I’m not and really have no fear that will happen. But maybe it would not disadvantage me to explore my solipsistic inclinations just as much as my more socially outgoing ones? Kind of like the old college of education mantra: Educate the Whole Person. Yeah, that’s what I’m up to, educating my whole person, cultivating the perfect me out here in this wilderness of lost souls seeking solace, seeking — and finding — Lake Mead.

So, lost no more, I park away from exuberant boaters’ launchings, ice chests and day-glo-vested young sailors, Coppertoned up and raring to go. Nautical sounds and smells, raspy blue clouds of oily two-cycle exhaust anointing the lake and its shore.

Parked at an angle, I sit in the car’s shade — hood, trunk, windows and doors wide open — and watch the lake, mirage-like, flat and still. It’s not really water, it’s the visual result of interaction between sun and desert sand. The boats roaring their disappearance into the not-lake are the visual result of interaction between the not-lake and my eyeball floaters, and the roaring is probably the sound of my own snoring amplified by . . . hey! Ow! Wow!

I’ve been sleeping, of course, and the sun is headed west and the sky has filled with what looks to be oversized bumblebees flying in very fast erratic looping patterns of attack. Slamming car doors and lids, I manage to squash a fine specimen in a rolled-up window. Never seen anything like it. Nasty! Full of vile green fluid. Not something the Sons of the Pioneers would sing about. You wonder about the connection with Lake Mead. Did they even exist before man’s genius made them a desert lake? What do they prey on? Carrion? No — live flesh. Me! What preys on them? Anything?

More unanswered questions adding to those already comprising the enormous conundrum of life in all its outrageous glories. Climb, climb up sunshine mountain, heavenly breezes blow. Shades and shards of vacation Bible school returning to support me in my hour of need. The shapes and shades of Old Testament yesteryear, locust’s swarmings and sea’s partings. Climb, climb up sunshine mountain, faces all aglow.

No lakeside camping for me, unequipped to deal with unanticipated flesh-eating dervishes, unlike my fellow campers who have, you know, tents, camping gear. My Chevy seems to sense and reject my urgency, responding by not starting, then stuttering along like a cold diesel burping blue gouts of fragrant last gasps then dying . . . ., no, starting again, ka-chung, ka-chung.

By the time I finally drag ass out of that campground, I am most mindful of Satchel Paige’s advice to not look back. If somebody’s gaining on me, I don’t want to know about it. Trust me, I’m doing the best I can.

As expected, the bugs let up as I get farther away from the lake, the engine smooths out, and driving south in the reddening desert sunset could not be more colossal even did the deep bite on my already sunburned left arm not beg for the attention it will not get. Mere flesh wound. First aid is for sissies.

They’ve got the lights on at Hoover Dam by the time I get there, so I stop and gape. It’s hard to know what to think about this man-made wonder. Amazing what we can do. Wonder if we should? Instead of changing Nature’s contours to accommodate more people, wouldn’t it be better to live within the boundaries Nature provides, like native Americans and Polynesians? Aren’t there documented examples of Caucasians “going native” after being captured by Indians as children or living shipwrecked among Polynesians and not wanting to return to white civilization? Wasn’t Herman Melville one of them?

Farther on down the road I pull into a graveled nook protected by rocky shelves and having enough incline should jump-starting be required. The Lake Mead Demonic Dervish has taken an impressive chuck of arm flesh, leaving a neat, hairy gouge into which blood has seeped, clotted, and scabbed. The itching stops after I dab it with antibiotic ointment, leaving it otherwise uncovered.

Grand Canyon tomorrow, followed by the Great Meteor Crater, Carlsbad Caverns, snatches of Route 66, Phoenix, Albuquerque, West Texas, etc. roughly in that order. If this sounds like a helter-skelter at-random approach to the serious tourist business, it is apparently the one I was assigned and am condemned to follow. For now.

Last summer at this time I was riding an overloaded Dutch bicycle down a two-lane German highway when I realized the car heading toward me in the opposite lane, and the car passing it in my lane, and the car passing me from behind in my lane, and I would soon meet at the same spot at precisely the same time. Just as the car behind me hit the shoulder, the bicycle under me hit the ditch.

Mahalo for reading!

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