Merry Christmas From The Desert
And, oddly, a sense of peace. None of these things matters beyond its station. Somehow, I have found something close to happiness here amidst the distracting clutter of ranch life. We Walters came her to be modern day settlers, and to live upon this hard land in the manner of our ancestors: free, independent, and answerable to no one. Those tough, hard people of a century and a half ago suffered like saints and martyrs for the right to be here. They suffered and endured things none of us have had to, tough old birds that they were. Some, like Kit Carson, became legends. Many didn’t make it past their first two years, retreating back to civilization or dying anonymously in the dry, desolate mountains.
We have endured.
To be honest, I’m not sure how much of an accomplishment it is to simply hold on in the face of adversity. It does certainly feel like an accomplishment, especially in this harsh, barren, and beautiful place. Yesterday a freezing fog rolled into the desert whose impenetrability rivaled any you would find in San Francisco or London: cold, thick, and mysterious. It stayed throughout the day, reducing sunlight to a dim twilight and visibility to a few car lengths. It left white frozen tendrils clinging to every available surface: trees, homes, and even the salt brush, transforming the Black Rock from somber brown to glistening white.
Is this what it might be like to be a settler on Mars? The Moon? One of the moons of Jupiter? Endless mighty vistas, shocking weather, hard work, isolation, and the small pleasures of life shaped into razors by the threat of death hovering in the background like an unmentioned party guest? In another future time, living another life, could that have been our life? Is it possible that, whether through the gentle hand of God or some miracle of modern medicine, this could be Cassidy's future still? To be a pioneer out among the stars: free, independent, and answerable to no one?
I pray for this, but only dreams answer me.
* * *
I was driving through that frozen fog when I stumbled upon a photographer, standing by his car at the edge of the Playa, looking out into the white nothing. As is my habit, I pulled over to see if he was all right. Having been stranded in the Black Rock before myself, I've developed a sort of “leave no man behind” attitude about this sort of thing. I always pull over. I hopped out of my pickup truck and strode over to where the man stood with his camera, taking pictures of the snowy infinity.
We spoke. In retrospect, he to me as one might handle an escaped lunatic or an overly affectionate drunken stranger: delicately, carefully. I can see why. I was dressed in snow boots, a filthy surplus industrial jumpsuit, and a battered black fedora. Beard, earrings, hair uncut for years – all moving toward him in the fog in the middle of a (nearly) uninhabited wasteland.
A mutant. A Crazy. Somebody Mad Mel shot in Road Warrior.
Many of us get like that out here, given enough time and an initial disposition toward craziness. Our day to day appearance sort of... unravels, turning us into weird, dusty cartoon characters. Many don't, too. There are cowboys out here, real ones, whose clothing outside of their ranch is so crisp and sharp you can set your watch to them. Then there's the Burning Man DPW people, who often look like the road warrior has already killed them, and they've been reanimated for a sequel that involves flesh eating zombies. They make me look like a Montgomery Street bank manager.
But, then again, they're not out here in the freezing fog.
* * *
Christmas is in full swing in Gerlach. We attend a Christmas pageant in which our community's preschoolers  sang three songs. Then our elementary school students  sang a selection of Christmas and Hanuka songs. All of this was done with great enthusiasm, not to mention a little spontaneous dancing on the part of the kids, and was well attended. Cassidy wore her red “reindeer” outfit – a gift from our postmistress Jola - that came complete with a pair of antlers. She got to sit on Santa's lap afterwords and, as is her habit, was a good sport about the whole thing.
On Saturday the three of us (our dogs weren't invited) went to the annual Christmas party thrown by our friends the Carters, whose home is a shrine to all things Elvis and Star Trek. Today I shall make the rounds, giving out small presents to friends here ant there. Christmas is about the little things.
It's odd, really. I moved us here because I wanted to flee civilization, and end up finding community amongst people I never thought would ever accept me (Tina is a different matter. I was never worried about Tina.) Is that ironic, or does it mean that I'm finally at this late date becoming a fully socialized human being? Only time will tell.
* * *
In conclusion, best wishes to all of you on this Christmas 2009, as we celebrate the birth of Jesus Christ – whom even those of you who are atheists, Buddhists, neo-pagans, and what-have-you must admit was a pretty great fellow. I hope that you are all in the company of beloved family; or, at the very least, good friends. I hope you get to do all of the fun stuff we all do this time of year: open presents, wear red, drink eggnog with perhaps a bit of rum in it, and in general celebrate the ideal (if not the reality) of peace on Earth and goodwill toward men.