THE ALVORD DESERT

We went on a trip to the deserts of southeastern Oregon. It is a surprisingly quick evolution from the grid of the city to dense and dark fir forests to sun-dappled pine forests to wide open high desert....

Leaving Burns, Oregon for the Alvord Desert felt like shedding off the dead skin of civilization. It was meaningful to forge ahead into a never ending expanse of open sagebrush bound by distant mountains. It felt like embarking on a journey based only on trust. Trust that the car wouldn’t break down. Trust that we had enough water. Trust that the desert was dry enough to drive on and we wouldn’t get stuck in mud.

And trust paid off. The absence of amenities (aside from the milkshakes at Fields Station), made the world feel bigger; like our consciousness could extend out further than normal, unhindered by obstructions or distractions.

The trip was only a few days but we packed it in: We soaked in hot springs, we watched the full moon rise over the iris and bluebell colored desert, we took photos of ourselves jumping-poised in midair- over the hard, flat earth of the playa, we trekked up a buckle of the Steens Mountains where a creek created a fragrant and lush oasis, we watched hawks and vultures circle overhead, we brewed coffee with hot water begged from gas stations. In the car, we listened to Slowdive, Derrick Harriott, and Elizabeth Cotten. We flipped off a drone, we ate overpriced ice cream from a town with a population of less than 50.

 

The drives were long but not unpleasant. Open stretches allow the mind to wander. What happens in the high desert where no one trespasses? Are there places where the ground squirrels and rattlesnakes have never had to hide from a human? But even on the most remote stretches of the road there were signs of the carelessness and irreverence of man. After driving without seeing a single car for an eternity we pulled over to stretch our legs. There, caught in the gnarled branches of a sage bush was a Lays bag. And half buried in the sandy ground, a dark beer bottle lay forgotten.

These signs of ingratitude beg some deeper questioning about selfishness. The person who tosses the bottle out of the window is acting selfishly: “I’m done with this and I don’t want it near me anymore.” And further, “I don’t care to consider what happens to this item after it passes from my hand.” An inability to see beyond one’s body and one’s moment is a sad and pervasive trend amongst humans.

 

 Stewarding the land is something we should act on more. I take inspiration from the memory of a gray-haired man off highway 30- no car, driveway, or bus stop in sight- ripping invasive ivy off a hillside to make space for native ferns and sedum. Such a simple idea, a selfless act, an ongoing movement.