I wait each summer for the autumnal equinox, for the Earth to tilt away just enough from the Sun so that the heat of summer eases. Of course, the daylight shortens and has been steadily decreasing the past few months, faster than I expected. Summer is not my season and this year I hid out from the heat, which wasn’t as bad as some places, but it was steady and constantly over 90 degrees all of July and most of August. Living out where I am, on ranch and range lands, the threat of wildfires is constant, mostly from lightning strikes, and there was a lot of smoke the past few months that came from all the fires farther west, too, in California. Northeastern Nevada is dry high desert, a lot of sagebrush and other kinds of vegetation that burns fast in the winds.
Since arriving here in mid-March, I’ve had a long time of adaptation. Someone told me that it takes at least a year to adjust to a new place and I don’t yet know how long I will be here. My adjustment has been sporadic at best. I love the mountains and open space here, the fact that we live on a dirt road 20 miles away from Elko, the “big” town on Interstate 80. Elko is a boom/bust town and right now the boom is gold mining done everywhere, it seems, in all directions, miles away from town where it isn’t visible. Miners are driven out in company buses, sometimes several hours away. The work shifts go 24 hours a day. The mining industry means that the people with money are the miners and so you see a lot of new, shiny pickup trucks around town, rents are high, groceries are expensive, and the town is both a small town with people who have lived here a long time, for generations, and then there is this other element that brings problems. Meth is a problem here. Lack of adequate medical and mental health resources are problems.
I’ve tried to remain open-minded as I’ve tried to “learn” this town and population, but it’s been tough and exasperating at times. What I have tried most to learn is what these rural people think matters for they pretty much voted for Trump en masse because of many frustrations and longstanding feuds with “the government” over how rangeland is managed as well as unexamined ideas about a lot of other things. Most of Nevada is technically “owned” by the U.S. government, regardless as to whether it has been traditional native people’s lands or open range “public” lands that ranchers just assumed was theirs to use. (This is the state that gave us the Bundy brothers and their dad, Cliven Bundy.) The ranchers usually have been here a long time and mostly run cattle. Nevada, though, in my mind, has always been a state of exploitation: mining, gambling, prostitution, military bombing ranges, nuclear testing that exposed many unsuspecting people in the eastern part of the state and Utah to radioactive fallout because, as I read in one book quoting from government documents, these were “low use populations” and, therefore, ok for what we now call “collateral damage.” I try to square my head with my heart when I am in Nevada.
I spent more than half my childhood here, over in Reno and up at Lake Tahoe, too. The mountains were my protectors and I thrived, in a weird way, in the outdoors there that was so dry. In elementary school there was a “trend” among girls to tuck blue belly lizards under the collars of our shirts. I, therefore, caught my own lizards, made them a “home” in a box, and actually wore them to school on the days I wore shirts with collars! In Reno then there were still places with ponds where I went frog hunting and captured all kinds of pollywogs in various stages of development. I was in love with horses, drew them obsessively, and actually “rented” them by myself at in-town riding stables just to ride in town. I collected rocks and turquoise was no big deal then. That landscape around Reno, a valley surrounded by mountains on all sides (some higher than others that maybe some would call hills) gave me a sense of place and protection that I still feel as “home” whenever I am in the Great Basin.
We had a family friend, too, a Shoshone man whose adult daughter was our babysitter. His wife taught in a one-room schoolhouse not far from where I am now and once we got to visit her at that school. I remember seeing tons of long-eared jackrabbits jumping in front of the truck headlights as we traveled out to Beowawe (an Indian word with varying meanings.) Now I seldom see a jackrabbit. Out there in that open, sandy desert spot with the schoolhouse, I contemplated whether I could bring myself to pick up a horned toad I found (didn’t) and then saw a herd of wild horses off in the distance, kicking up dust as they ran down a ravine. Our friend was called “Pa” by everyone and he worked as a ranch hand and sheepherder, too. He brought me deer venison that he’d made and coffee cans full of piñon pine nuts, which are a staple of the indigenous people here. I look back on those days and wish I’d known to ask more questions, to learn more, knowing now how lucky I was even to be exposed to some of this wisdom.
Reno has changed drastically, of course, and the population density is rapidly growing from transplanted Californians. I don’t think I can go back there; these days I don’t believe i can “go back” to anywhere, so much has changed for me in the last three years. Changing seasons and changing reasons.
Native American tribes knew how to survive in this dry landscape and I have marveled at what little I’ve learned. The Shoshone people were/are mostly here in Eastern Nevada. One of the most recent acts of resistance came from two Shoshone sisters, the Dann sisters, who stood up as long as they could to not having their land taken from them, the land that belonged to their people, their family, and their cattle, sheep, horses. I think about them often with admiration. Read about them here just for starters but maybe you’ll be interested to find more: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mary_Dann_and_Carrie_Dann
The late summer colors on the hills are all shades of sere, brown, tan, some ochre and red streaks. The grasses that have died back are golden. Sagebrush is sturdy but paler, less vibrant. I watched all kinds of wildflowers pop up in different sequences throughout the summer, at least out here along the road where creeks run down from the mountains behind us. There was a splurge of butterflies, too. I try to watch the Full Moon come up from behind the ridge and I also step out on New Moon nights to be dazzled by stars. The mountains are deep blue in the morning, just before the sun rises and then their contours and shadows change often throughout the day.
I am blessed to be here for however long I am, even though I am anxious and bothered by so much of what is happening in our country, our cities, the world beyond us, and the awful national and local politics unraveling so much that I value. I am just as sick to my stomach as many when I get up some mornings and see the news but that is not what I write about here. However, it is hard for me to write here, too, about the beauty I try to hold close even as my mind reels with horror at what is happening because of fear, xenophobia, racism, poverty, greed, hatred, ugly Americans, and a denial of the forces of nature that are, indeed, changing and not in our favor.
And today I must admit I am not happy, really, with all that threatens us, much of it already out of control or fast approaching it. What is in my heart hurts. Never mind my questions and unknowns about what is in my body, the cancer. I am trying to persevere and write more but this blog may be as dry and worn down as those brown hills I scan everyday for signs of smoke or fires. Maybe when the snow comes and covers it all, I will hibernate and emerge again next spring. I don’t know but these are changing seasons, and not just the weather.