from Fearless Puppy on American Road by Doug "Ten" Rose                                             Return to Chapter List

Truth or Consequences I

To a boy from the northeastern part of America, the Southwest looks like Mars-as-a-work-of-art. Breathtaking red clay buttes are spotted with green and brown vegetation. Most of this vegetation would be very confused if it lived in the Northeast. It seems to be neither tree nor bush, but something in between.

Technicolor canyons and solitary rock formations look as if they’d been dropped onto the flat desert face from some far away galaxy.

Abandoned ghost towns are much eerier in person than their cardboard cut out backdrop-for-a-western-movie counterparts could ever hope to be. Wooden shutters slap back and forth against rotting clapboards on windless days, as if propelled by the breath of actual ghosts in this former frontier. The spirits of those who failed to make a life in this desert a hundred years ago seem to be warning newcomers of the difficulties they can expect. They exhale their despair and inhale their attachment. They never get to move on. These spirits had hoped this place would be their Camelot. Instead it became a cemetery for their dreams, and in many cases for their families.

A normal breeze doesn’t have the otherworldly smell that air movement in a ghost town does. It’s the fragrance of history. Hope, glory, and demise have gone by so long ago that no one remembers who they belonged to. They reappear to scare the stagnant atmosphere into movement.

Despite the emotional gravity of ghost towns, they are actually no more than a short misplayed note in the majestic symphony that is the Southwest’s desert. Vast expanses of scenery too beautiful for humans to have possibly built were here long before these now abandoned settlements were a twinkle in a wagon train’s eye. They will still be here long after the mini-malls are gone.

Giant cacti are camels-as-vegetable-matter. They store a year’s supply of liquid life in their bodies while surrounded by rock, clay, and sand that have long ago died of thirst.

An occasional lone ranch house stands amidst several thousand acres of nothing testifying to the strength and sheer audacity of the human will; but for the most part, this land looks much as it did before humanity existed.

The Southwest is also one of the few areas in North America where the continent’s original human inhabitants are still readily available. These natives have suffered “slings and arrows of outrageous fortune” that even Shakespeare’s imagination could not fathom. In some places, they survive the harsh result of the human cruelty inflicted upon them with the same fortitude and grace they used to survive the harsh natural environment before their holocaust. In other places, their survival is more reminiscent of the bone chilling decay of a ghost town’s clapboards, and the breeze of lost souls that moves the shutters of its former windows.

Nights are a bit colder than days back in the northeastern states. It gets a lot colder at night in the southwestern desert. Moonlit cacti host the lizards, rodents, and snakes on their evening hunting trips. Coyotes in packs define clever and resourceful by their cooperative survival efforts.

The harsh majesty of the Southwest exacts a price, even from its survivors.

It’s a dog-eat-dog world. Danger and beauty abide together under the powerful sun, and often under the same rock.

One must master the truths of this environment—or one will surely suffer the consequences.

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