Into the Valley of Death: I – In the companionship of greatness
3 Ιουλίου , 2011
“There, without any warning of its nearness, like an unexpected crash of orchestral music, lay the terrible valley, the beautiful, the overwhelming valley.
We all stood silent then. We were about three thousand feet above the bottom of the valley looking down from the north over its whole length, an immense oblong, glistering with white, alkali deposits, deep between high mountain walls. We knew that men had died down there in the shimmering heat of that white floor, we knew that the valley was sterile and dead, and yet we saw it covered with a mantle of such strange beauty that we felt it was the noblest thing we had ever imagined. Only a poet could hope to express the emotion of beauty stronger than fear and death which held us silent moment after moment by the point of rock. Perhaps some day a supreme singer will come around that point and adequately interpret that thrilling repose, that patience, that terror and beauty as part of the impassive, splendid life that always compasses our turbulent littleness around. Before terror and beauty like that, something inside you, your own very self, stands still; for a while you rest in the companionship of greatness.”
(All excerpts from Edna Brush Perkins – The white heart of Mojave; an adventure with the outdoors of the desert, except if mentioned otherwise)
. . .
Lovely place-names: Funeral Mountains, Furnace Creek, Devils Golf Course, Coffin Peak, Last Chance Range…
Last Chance Range…???
What the hell…
. . .
“Death Valley: the name itself evokes all that is harsh, hot and hellish in the deserts of the imagination, a punishing, barren and lifeless place of Old Testament severity. But Death Valley is full of life.”
Lonely Planet, California
. . .
“A Government bench-mark by the roadside indicated 258 feet below sea level. The heat was oppressive, and the white ground reflected a blinding light. No living green thing appeared. The white expanse was unbroken by a bush or even by an outjutting rock. The desolation was complete. An intense silence lay over it. If we dropped far enough behind the wagon not to hear the creaking of its wheels, we felt utterly alone, the only survivors in a dead universe. That day the sky was a hot purplish-blue; no cloud shadows drifting over the valley relieved its blinding monotony. The rose and silver which we had seen from above were gone, not even the illusion of water far off remained. The sun stared steadily down. It was the far-spread, motionless silence of the last days when the whole earth will be dying.”
. . .
“Every day that we stayed in Death Valley seemed more awful than the last. From ten o’clock in the morning until four in the afternoon we existed in a blind torpor. Eyes and brain and pumping heart could not bear it. At noon we always planned to leave immediately, we panted to escape; then the enchantment would begin and we would forget all the plans.
We had come for the purpose of knowing the feel of the valley and we must travel over the burning sands.”
. . .
“The point of view is born of the desert herself. When you are there, face to face with the earth and the stars and time day after day, you cannot help feeling that your role, however gallant and precious, is a very small one. This conviction, instead of driving you to despair as it usually does when you have it inside the walls of houses, releases you very unexpectedly from all manner of anxieties. You are frightfully glad to have a role at all in so vast and splendid a drama and want to defend it as well as you can, but you do not trouble much over the outcome because the desert mixes up your ideas about what you call living and dying. You see the dreadful, dead country living in beauty, and feel that the silence pressing around it is alive.”
“While we sat and waited the enchantment of sunset began. The sky became orange and green, the terrible valley that we loved and hated began to put on its sapphire robe, the sulphurous walls that prisoned the snake turned pink, the poisonous blue eye, too blue, too bright, softened – the enchanter almost had us by the throats again, ready to choke us until tears came in our eyes.
Death Valley is always different. That afternoon there was no play of color, no magical mirage. From there, looking straight down seven thousand feet, it was ghastly, utterly unlike of anything on the earth as most of us know her. It was like the valleys on the dead, bright moon when you look at them through a powerful telescope.
Just as night was closing in a shadow rose like a curtain beyond the mountain-tops that shut Death Valley from us. It was a blue shadow and a rose-colored shadow. It was both these colors and yet they were not merged to a purple. It seemed to rise straight up, a live thing, as though the spirit of the valley were greeting the stars. The beautiful apparition remained less than a minute; always after that we looked toward deep valleys at evening hoping to see it again, but we never saw it, though night made wonderful shadows and blue pools of darkness in them. Death Valley is a thing apart. It is a white terror whose soul is a miracle of rose and blue.”
Death Valley speaks:
“Behold me! You think that I am an arid valley with a white alkali streak down the middle of my level-seeming floor. You think I am surrounded by red mountains, or perhaps you think they are blue, or purple –well, not exactly- more rose.
Come down to me! I am very deep between the mountains. I am very white. But if you do not like me so I can be a wide, level plain covered with velvet for you to lie on.
Come down to me! Rest beside this lake. See how it shines, how blue it is! I am all in white like a young girl with a turquoise breastpin. You don’t believe that? I am a witch, I can be anything. My wardrobe is full of bright dresses. I will put them on for you one by one.
See, I know more colors of blue than you ever dreamed of. When you tire of blue I change to ripe plums. Now I throw gray gauze over my purple. I look like a nun, but I am not. Here is my yellow gown. You do not like it? See, I have all degrees of red, fire red and crimson and pink, the color of bride roses. Here is my finest. It is made of every color, but the tone of it is the gray breast of a dove. You did not know that the breast of a dove could be made of all colors, but now I show you.
Do you not love me? You remember too well that I am hot as a bake-oven. You think that if any one were fool enough to come down to me I would steal behind and grip him by the throat.
What of it? Why do you question me so much? You see how old I am, how many storms have left their scars on me, and you think I am wise. But I am only fair. Is it not enough to be old and yet fair?
Beauty is sitting on my topmost peak making the enchantments that confirm your dreams. She experiments with many materials; she makes new combinations forever.
Behold all the desolate places how they are hers – the lonely hills, the lonely plains, the lonely green sea, the lonely sands – she clothes us in gorgeous raiment, she makes us content with death. Where she is your heart can pasture even to the emptiness between the stars.
Come down to me…”
And down I came…
(Next: Into the Valley of Death: II – «The boys have come!»