Friday, August 20, 2010
I drove up into these mountains as I had on each of the past three mornings, but today I did not coast down into the depths, but traversed along the range and viewed Death Valley from high above. It must have shocked the forty-niners. If they saw it in the morning, looking into the shadows, perhaps they recalled “the valley of the shadow of death” from the twenty-third psalm. But they pressed doggedly onward to cross it, and those who survived called it Death Valley.
I stood at five-thousand feet on Dante’s view and looked westerly at Telescope Peak, eleven-thousand feet on the far side of the valley, zoomed in here at ten times. On Sunday, I hope to stand on that summit after a three-thousand foot elevation climb on a seven-mile trail.
Not daring to look far below the rocky ledge I stand on, I can see Badwater and placed a circle on this picture at about the place where I stood yesterday.
The old borax haul-road still twists through these hills as it did in the early 1900’s. Here is a 20-mule-team rig as photographed by my uncle in 1938. And here is my Toyota on the same road, the crunch of my tires on the gravel as Uncle Knowlton might have heard it.
I wonder if he noticed the statue carved there above him, serene-looking, as if giving hope in this hostile place.
The shapes of these mountains are not like mirages on the desert—those shimmers of heat in the distance that appear as lakes or fountains to fool a thirsty traveler. No, these forms are solid and close-at-hand. They depict the inside of human brains, cerebral cortex which, if I stand here long enough, generates creatures from other worlds, or stately beings of this world, standing or sitting, watching or remembering or returning memory.
A spire stands over the valley of death, stoic and understanding, not caught up in the emotion of life’s end, having seen enough to cast it off with yesterday’s wind.
A trail leads north along the ridge from Dante’s View, where he never stood, but looked down upon an inferno that can’t be much different.
Those plants and animals who make it here take on a pragmatic view of life, having learned happiness in small pleasures. They have given pleasure to this lone visitor, a satisfied knowing that I am not in control.