Bernie and I left on Oct 3rd on a road trip to the West. The point was to see some land, meet some people, visit some relatives and get a sense of where we may go on our next long ramble with the horses and mules. It's been an interesting trip. Not all experiences need to be fun to be worthy. This trip seems to be proving that point. This trip is a teacher. The personal correspondence from me to several friends and the accompanying photos sum it up the best I can.
From an edited postcard written to the Pearsons:
Crater Lake was one of the high points of this long strange trip. As you know, things have gone a bit South since then. Moved from the hotel near the junked car to an RV park to be outside. The wagon was towed over by the garage that has our smashed car. So here we sit at our RV site, the smallest camper around by far and the only one with nothing to pull it. I think people think we are fascinating gypsies, fun to watch but not to be. Hope to see you all again soon after this wild ride comes to an end.
From an edited and embellished email to my friends P & S,
What a long strange trip it's been! Yesterday evening as the sun was setting and we were heading out across the first expanse of Nevada desert on our way to Reno from northeastern California, thinking of playing the slot machines, washing up in a warm shower after days camping, and eating a fine dinner in a joint with white table cloths, Bernie says to me. "I can't miss it!"
I look up in time to see the body of a big deer in the center of the windshield. There is an awful car-shaking thump and then white everywhere around us, airbags have deployed, and the hood of the car has flown up, covering the windshield. The car is still hurling along, and we are going for the ride of our lives. A terrible smoke surrounds us that smells like some chemical that might kill us on its own. We can't see anything past the whited-out windshield and the airbags. Our seatbelts hold us tight as the car rumbles on over rumble strips, then grass. For a moment, we feel airborne. Then I feel the impact of something slamming the back of the car. It's the wagon, but I don't know this and think we are being rear-ended. We are boosted forwards. Then again, the slam from behind. We are still moving. It's been a long time. I am thinking any moment, the impact will come from the front that might kill one or both of us or maim us for life. I try to be ready, but how? Then everything stops at once. There is a huge heaviness, and I know we must get out of the car quickly. I open my door in the dark, but it only opens a little way. I push hard with desperation and can open it enough to wiggle out some. That's when I get tangled in the upper strand of a barbwire fence which the car has come to rest in and on. I manage to rip myself the rest of the way out. I stumble to my feet in a cow pasture in the dark. Bernie is out the driver's door in a flash. A few people come running through the night to make sure we are ok.
The California highway patrol is called. A nice man from an auto body shop that has seen the crash from his truck stays with us until the highway patrol arrives. The man from the auto body shop thinks our car is likely totaled, and I agree with him as I can't imagine what I see is fixable.
The officer sent by the highway patrol is also a nice guy. He talks with us. Calls for a wrecker, locates the now dead seven-point mule deer we've killed with the front of our car and evaluates the 30-foot section of barbed and wire fence we've taken out as we came in for a landing with the hood up over the windshield.
The officer says it will be at least an hour before the wrecker can get there. So Bernie, forever pleased with his home-built wagon, gives the officer a quick tour of the inside of his wagon. I'm not sure if the officer is a visionary or just polite as to me, the inside of the wagon only looks like a well-shaken mess of shit, blankets, mugs, broken juice jars and firewood for the little wood stove altogether in a giant jumble.
The tow guys get there. Pull the car off the fence and up the ramp onto the tow truck. The red wagon is picked up and placed on a tow bar behind the tow truck. Bernie hops in the back seat, and I sit in the front next to the tow guy. There are flashing yellow lights, and everything looks shiny. He tells me that he loves his job; however, he sees a lot of dead people. Some swerve into oncoming traffic when they are trying to miss a deer, and others aren't as lucky as we were to walk away from a car in which the airbags have deployed. He, like us, thinks we are lucky. He tells us of stupid individuals that get stuck in the sand way out in the desert and have no idea how to tell the towing service how to locate them.
Fast forward, nice tow guys, nice Hotel 8 people; however, I think we are trapped here in the town of Susanville, California, for a likely chunk of time as we now try to deal with the remains of our very strange trip. An unharmed red wagon and ourselves to somehow get back across the country. We are only feeling lucky today as we are both alive and well.
Below is what I would have written you about, but which has become overshadowed by last night's crash.
The country we've seen is so sadly in awful shape. The West is truly burning up. We had no idea how bad it was. We've seen so many burned forests. We've been under mostly smokey skies. We have met so many afflicted and depressed people. We have seen so many transients here.
Nice views off the coast of Oregon and some big trees have been spirit risers, but mostly this has been a depressing trip, a real on-the-ground, experience yourself, eye-opener about the status of the environment in the West.
The land where my grandfather settled, where my dad grew up, in southern Oregon, used to be a big pear farm that sold pears to Henry and David and the Fruit of the Month Club, but the pears that used to grow there without water can't even grow anymore with the limited irrigation water. The pears have been replaced with grapes for wine, which also are now having a very hard time making it. Jackson County, Oregon, where my grandfather's orchards were, is in a 22-year drought. It has not been this dry in this area of Oregon in over 1200 years. We visited the land where my father grew up and where my grandfather once had his pear orchards. There were charred hills and smoke all around my grandfather's old house. It made me wonder how long it could survive before it is taken out in a forest fire.
We went to meet my second cousin, who is trying to keep a century farm alive that was started by my grandfather and my great uncle, pears to grapes but is being supported by a restaurant and brewery now. It's not really farming anymore as the land under drought can't really support it, not to mention that the whole farm is now surrounded on all sides by the sprawl of the city of Medford.
This poor earth, with its current systems and species, is really being doomed by us. We are horribly messing our own beds. How are people who can't even clean up their own yards going to start caring enough to alter the course of the earth's destruction? The earth will survive in its next iteration, but we probably will not. The one great sadness for me is all the innocent species we are taking down with us, like the one beautiful mule deer taken out by us on the highway as the sun was setting.
Hopefully some happier thoughts in my next email.
P.S. Only the homeless in Susanville walk the sidewalks. Every one else just drives from place to place, so if for no other reason, B and I look a little homeless right now in our carless, wandering state. It only made things look worse when we bought the beer and box wine at the grocery store, but it made us smile. We can still toast the desert sunsets and enjoy a drink together even if we are far from home without a next plan yet.
From an email to our friends T&K
Dear T and K,
Thank you for the hug. I wrote you that email several days before it was sent. We have now been in Susanville, California for a week too long. We still have not heard back from our insurance company so can not quite yet abandon our car at the smash shop. It has four new tires on it as a week before we hit the deer in California we hit somebody's carburetor in Idaho. It was dark, and bump, and spzzzz all the air goes out of one of the tires almost all at once. We pull in the nearest road off the dark two lane highway and find ourselves in a mini Mexico. Three Mexicans, all sitting on their porches listening to mariachi music, come over in the dark to inspect the flat. They help Bernie and I jack up the car and take the stuff out of the trunk so we can get to the mini, temp wheel. One of the items that comes out of the car is a mouse nest. I think the Mexicans feel bad for us. We do sort of look like gypsies towing the mule wagon as our camper. We limp at low speed on the mini-wheel to a paved and over lighted RV park for the night and spend the next morning at Walmart, where we find out the bad news that you can't just change out one tire on this Subaru, because it will mess up the auto-traction, all the tires must be exactly the same diameter.
So we are junking a once nice and fairly efficient little car with four new tires. But we are so happy to be alive that our losses are not getting us too down. What is getting us down a bit more is the waste. The deer's life, the junked car, the fact that in our desperation we have now rented a mega diesel truck, the only vehicle we could find to get Bernie's little hand built wagon (that has somehow survived its third serious crash) back to NC. This truck is so big you could get seriously injured just falling out the door. It is almost on its own as long as the car and wagon together once were. Sad how quickly we will sacrifice the health of the planet to get home.
The irony of this whole trip and our role in it is not lost on us.
Sending lots of love as we are more sure than ever what is important to us.
Bernie sends his love.