Remember the spring egg hunt Saturday, April 19, at the Chappy Community Center. The hunt starts at 2 p.m. with light tea to follow. Kids need to bring their own collecting baskets. Older kids, please give the little kids a chance at finding some eggs. Liz Villard, sponsor of the activity for the past quarter century or so, says to be on time for the hunt because it doesn’t take very long for most of the eggs to be found. The eggs are actually made of plastic with a variety of candies inside.
Sally and I have been meandering through New Mexico, Arizona and Southern California for the past 10 days. There is something about the exaggerated vertical and horizontal scale of this land that is rejuvenating to me. The shades and textures of the bare bones of the earth are mostly exposed in these parts. We spent two days and one night peering into the Grand Canyon. We kept going back to the rim again and again to absorb more of the colors as the light changed throughout the day. We felt a combination of shock and amusement regarding the safety barriers along the rim of the canyon. They ranged from four foot high pipe railings, to two foot high stone walls, to rows of stones that looked more like tripping hazards than deterrents to me. But nobody fell in while we were there.
We spent part of one afternoon talking to the mules who carry tourists down into the canyon by way of Bright Angel Trail. For critters who supposedly have the innate calm required for sure-footedly walking along the edge of the steep trail next to a sheer drop of a hundred or more feet, they certainly spend a lot of time and energy with their ears laid back, nipping and kicking one another. Perhaps it’s their way of blowing off steam.
The next morning we got up in time to watch a group of apparently misled young women saddle up and head down into the canyon escorted by two cowboys. We marveled at the astronomical degree of trust they must have had in their mules and guides. We mistakenly got the impression that perhaps we could also walk down the trail into the canyon. We didn’t plan to go far, just down to the first hairpin turn. About sixty strides into our descent I noticed a very precipitous drop-off immediately adjacent to the barely three-foot-wide ledge. Sally had been keeping her eyes and hands glued to the uphill rock. Unfortunately she chose that point to sneak a peek over towards the canyon. Our natural instincts for survival returned instantly to both of us. Our knees became increasingly wobbly as clutching tightly to one another we managed to get ourselves back up to the rim and behind the railing without either of us fainting.
Driving through the prairie and desert of White Sands and Death Valley we would often head off onto a side road, stop and just stand basking in the immensity of our surroundings. When the air was still, as it mostly is, it seemed that our voices could travel no farther than the distance between us. Sound was just swallowed up. The whole of Martha’s Vineyard would have fit easily into most of the valleys that we drove through.
My ancestor William Coleman constructed a borax refinery at Furnace Creek in the middle of Death Valley way back in 1883. I like to think that animals and men alike welcomed an interruption of the deafening silence by the jingling of the bells worn on the harnesses of the lead mules of the 20-mule teams pulling the borax wagons out of the valley to civilization.
That I’m so drawn to the wide open dry expanses is curious to me. My usual yearning is to be out on the ocean for relief from the stresses of the land. But now it’s becoming clear to me that the desert and the ocean share many attributes. Vastness and color are probably the two which speak to me most.
For our final night on the road we found a hotel right next to the southern outlet of the Barstow, Calif., rail yard. I asked the lady at the registration desk if we could have a room overlooking the tracks. A quizzical expression appeared on her face. In an attempt to help her to understand my request, I said that we don’t have trains where I come from. The quizzical expression remained. I said the we lived on an island. She said that the trains can be quite noisy and quite numerous. I said that’s fine with me. Throughout the entire night every 10 minutes, long strings of freight cars pulled by triplets and quadruplets of throbbing diesel locomotives clicked and clacked by just one hundred yards from our open window. A great treat for me. Sally’s wonderfully tolerant sharing in my joy will look very good on her resume! I can tell you first-hand that rail transportation is alive and well in the southwest.
There has been not a single drop of rain during our travels. We have witnessed showers cascading from the undersides of purple-bellied clouds but none of it reached the ground. Nearly every day the sky is a brilliant blue. I was sorry to hear that skies were overcast on the Islands during the night of the eclipse. Of course the sky was crystal clear out west. We watched moment by moment as the earth’s fuzzy shadow crept across the face of the full moon. During the total phase of the eclipse the moon did attain the slight reddish tinge that was promised. But I wouldn’t want you to feel anguish over missing out on this phenomenon. It’s actually quite easy to simulate right in your own backyard. Next time you see a fairly full moon try this. Rub your eyes with your fists just enough so that your vision is a little blurry. Then hold one fist out at arms length and ever so slowly pass it across the moon. You are free to experience either a partial or a total eclipse. It’s a thousandfold more efficient use of your precious time than waiting out an actual lunar eclipse.