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Desert Truthnotes

I've been reading haikujaguar's Truthnotes, and it got me to thinking about what Truthnotes I know.

I grew up in a small town in the middle of nowhere the high desert of Southern California, so I figure I should start with that.

  • In the summer, the wind is more or less continuous on the Mojave Desert. It dies off after sunset, usually, and rises again a while after sunrise, but during the day it's omnipresent. Some days it may be really whipping, and some days it may be only a mild wind, but it's almost always there. During the two months I had a summer job in the town of Mojave itself, below the exceptionally windy Tehachapi pass, I remember exactly two days when it wasn't windy. You get so used to the hot wind after a while that you start to notice it more when it's gone, or when it's really kicking up the sand. Making sure that papers are tucked away, and loose bits aren't free just becomes a natural habit after a while.

  • In the desert, rain is precious to a kid. In spring there may be two or three minor rains, but in July or August, usually, there will be one or two intense little downpours, lasting fifteen or twenty minutes, often with lightning and thunder. The raindrops in a summer desert thunderstorm are huge warm drops that leave splashes on the ground an inch across. As a kid, I loved to go running out into them. The smell of the desert, when it gets wet, is simply amazing; the scent of wet rabbit-brush is one of my very fondest memories of the desert. Lightning was a neat thing to watch, and scary if it got too close, but very exciting. I remember one storm, rolling in from the East after dark, that had such continuous lightning that you could literally read a book by the flashes. Part and parcel of the lightning storms was the fact that nearly every year, some lightning bolt would hit one of the transformers down the street from our house, and kill the power to the entire block. The smell of rainstorms is mixed in my memory with the scent of the hurricane lamps we used for light after dark. It's kind of neat to be in a blackout on the desert after dark; it's very quiet and peaceful, except for the periodic spate of raindrops or thunder.

  • Despite what many folks think, it does get cold in the winter on the high desert. Many the morning I remember going to the bus stop for school, with ice on the ground and our breathes puffing like smokestacks. Still, we rarely got to see snow, simply because there was so little precipitation at all out there. Once every other year or so, we might get an inch of snow in december. Even that little was enough to put joy in our little kid hearts, because we knew that meant there'd be no school! Time to go out and play in the snow! Making snow men with so little snow on the ground means that when you roll the snowballs around, making them larger, you left trails of clear ground behind you. The snow on the ground usually melted within a day, but the snowmen could last for a week after. Every seven or ten years, we'd actually get *gasp* six or ten inches of snow, that would last for a week! Total bliss! A white christmas was something us desert kids actually only got to see a couple times literally. Usually it was just a silly song concept.

  • If we managed to get spring rains of any decent amount, near the right times, the desert would start to bloom a couple weeks later. The desert really does have an amazing variety of wildflower. I've forgotten most of the names with time, but it had little tiny belly-flowers everywhere (because you just about had to get down on your belly to look at them), rare tall skinny purple fiddle-necks, desert dandelions all over, and a whole rainbow of other flowers, and green grasses and plants everywhere. For a few weeks, the desert becomes subtly splotched with patches of color.

  • In a small town of 2500 people, you may not literally know everyone, but you do know most folks on sight, and you probably know their family. Gossip can get really thick.

  • Folks in small desert towns probably are only a little more eccentric than in cities; it's just that in a small town, everyone knows the eccentrics, and they may be family friends. In the city, most folks try to ignore their existence instead. Our town had a few interesting folks. Walking George was even eccentric enough to get on the old TV show "Real People." He didn't have a house, or a car, though he worked as a chemist at the mine. Apparently he slept in an old junkpile near the mine, and spent his money wining and dining his girlfriends. He got his name because he walked everywhere. I'm talking walk-sixty-miles everywhere. In a city, he'd sadly be considered a bum, most likely. In my town, he was friends with a lot of the families. He'd housesit for some folks, get invited to dinner by others, and he played the piano or organ for one of the local churches. Our town positively celebrated him. He was our eccentric friend.

  • On a desert, where there aren't many trees to interrupt the view, you can see folks coming for miles and miles. Though in the summer, the roads visually dissolve into heat mirages in the distance, which mirror the sky above, cloaking the road in sky invisibly. People walking towards you through that look like disembodied heads at first, gaining torso, then finally legs.

  • The temperature after dark falls fast on the desert, but in summer even at night it's warm. I slept many nights in summer on top of my bed, above the sheets. In early or later summer, though, the evenings after dusk are just pleasantly barely cool. It's nice to sit out on the porch then.

  • Sunsets can be the most incredibly violent orange out there. I don't know why, but I rarely see such vivid sunsets elsewhere.

  • [edit: added this later]
  • To a kid who grew up in the desert, and who only saw rivers on trips to the mountains, a river is a whitewater thing a dozen yards wide. I still can't wrap my mind around the idea of a river so wide, the far shore is hard to see. To me, the Mississippi river is mostly just a concept. A freshwater ocean that just happens to flow downhill.


( 3 comments — Leave a comment )
Sep. 30th, 2004 03:12 pm (UTC)
Oh wow... this is gorgeous! Thank you so much for putting them down. I've added them to my Truthnote memory section, even.
Sep. 30th, 2004 03:47 pm (UTC)
Great notes! The desert wind is an echoing note, and the Walking George bit is very cool.
Oct. 4th, 2004 01:13 pm (UTC)
You know, I spent my first 3 years of life in Lancaster, CA, then visited for several years after. Sometimes I miss the desert.
( 3 comments — Leave a comment )