Friday, December 05, 2003

Death Valley, CA

This project started in part because I believe that where we live and work has a tremendous effect on the way we live, the way we work, and the way we write. I was born and grew up in small towns all across Canada, but in my adulthood, I have lived in cities all across the U.S. - Phoenix, Dallas, D.C., Miami, etc. I romanticized this trip out of all proportion for several months before starting it, but I continue to be amazed at how gorgeous and varied the big country is. (And have reconfirmed a long held belief that "real" America is out here, not in NY, LA, etc.)

Because of weather and our initial schedule, we've mostly found ourselves in small towns, countryside, and extremely remote locations. The poets we've met with have lived in a variety of terrific places, many of them in absolutely stunning physical locations - on mountains, in tree-covered valleys, overlooking lakes, mountains, cow pastures, etc.

I had nobody to see in Death Valley, but with a very busy December in Southern California and Nevada looming, we decided to take a couple of days in this remote and beautiful National Park.

We arrived at Stovepipe Wells at mid day, the temperature a polite and friendly 65 degrees. Stovepipe Wells is a little outpost in the middle of the big valley. There is space for about 50 RVs in the National Park area - no electric or water. And there are 14 spots with power and water right alongside the desolate and barely traveled Highway 190. Because I'm a big stinking baby, I opted to pay the $12 to plug in - man, can my DirecTV dish pull in signals out here with nothing around us!

At night the place was dead silent. About every hour or so a car might headlight through, bypassing the tiny gas station - open 7 am - 7 pm, regular gas $2.65 a gallon - headed either to L.A. or Nevada. At night we sat out under the stars and a 2/3rd moon and just soaked in the quiet. The desert gives up its heat easily out here at night, and the lows were in the mid 30s. (And this particular spot is closed to travelers between April and October because average highs here in the summer top 120, and normal lows in July are 85-90 degrees.)

In the mornings we sat outside again in our coats and watched the sun poke up over the Funeral mountains and light the desert floor all over again.

The cares and worries of our old life, the working life, the city life, just were not a part of the equation. The question we had both asked before this - what would we do if we did not live in the city and work like dogs? - was no longer being asked. We wanted to live a different life. It wasn't just a vacation. It wasn't just a book. It was the breaking of one life and the opening of a new one.