Wednesday, June 18, 2014


By A.

The California deserts are different from every other desert in the world. They are expansive, harsh, and yet something in them pulls to the inside heart of man and calls him into it. Since the beginning of time, these have been the deserts of those looking for God, for peace, for fulfillment.
The mountains rise on all sides, harsh grey rocks crowned by a blue sky that hurts the eyes with its unchanging blueness and a fierce sun that makes a man go mad if he stays in it too long. The land is not unbroken, dotted by the occasional sagebrush or cactus or green plant that draws the eye and refreshes it.
To the south the deserts are dry and hostile, hot and dusty, the deserts of western novels and Clint Eastwood movies, but to the north the deserts are wetter and greener and have a feeling as if you are no longer in California but some strange palm-laden land of the east ruled by sultans and doe eyed girls.
At night the deserts are alive under the cold eyes of the stars. It is cooler then, and the unending velvet above reaches in and captivates the heart. It was the fertile valley land that drew the first men who traveled to California, but it was her desert nights that they fell in love with. They avoided the day, avoided the heat that blistered and cooked the flesh, but the nights felt like a blessing and the breezes a kiss and the wives of the first men shivered, because the land felt greedy and stole their men, so that they no longer saw the women but looked through them at the land spread before them for the taking. California became the mistress, and the men loved her enough to plow her under and tame her.
The second wave of men had no use for fertile land. It had been all grabbed before, leaving only the unlucky plots, the salted flats and marshes that lay barren under the sun, and of course the desert was left alone because no man could bring forth life in such a place. No, the second men were there for gold, and they tore up her hills and valleys looking for it and these were the men whose bones littered the hidden rocks and whose flesh fed the animals. They were the second men, and California ran in their blood like the waters they panned.
The third men were not from America. They came in boats and in steamers, stowed away over the long ocean journey, because they were not white men. These were the laborers, the men of the dragon, who ate rice and wore woven hats and were slight and quick but strong. These men held honor in their bones and duty in their hearts and they did not fall in love with California because they were in love with another who had wetter paddies and greener hills. Yet they lived with her, wifed her, raised their families and died on her soil, because they could never go back to the land they loved. To them, California was kind, and she took their culture as part of their own.
This was the California that bred men who were men and women who were tough and hardy, who drank wolf’s milk in the mountains and ate desert hare and farmed the land. This is the land that was and shall never be again. For the time has passed and all that remains is the lure of her name, like an old whore’s, pulsing in the blood of those who remember her former glory.

This is the land that haunts me in my sleep.

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