All Along The Monashee – Scene and Setting

 

Somebody arrives home to a posh apartment. The view through floor to ceiling windows is an urban cityscape at night. The subject picks up a device and texts: I’m back. Not a single speeding ticket. Sagebrush in my nostrils. Wheat grass in my socks. Sun bleached through. I forgot how everything in the desert bites, or has prickles, or ekes out a living. Dust. Dust, wind and sun. And smoke. Lot’s of pine smoke. Time to unpack.


Somewhere else… on 36 South, a junction heads to White Lake and splits west over the moraine and into shallow valleys. Alder and paper birch cling to dried slews while the pines dot higher slopes and rock outcrops. Half way to the prairie floor sprawls the highway in a slow snake bend before dipping out of view and through the foothills of the Monashee.

The road is pitted and tarred. Years of frost and bare sun have scoured and bleached the surface. Wind out of the south blew through in spring and pressure-washed the region. Rain hasn’t come again in three and half months. From everywhere heat is projected: The sky pelts it; the rock and gravel emanate it; the hillsides concentrate it. The scrub sage and cactus lounge in heat. Grasses have been starved for water and the flowering arrowleaf, woodland star, and desert parsley have long gone to seed. Expanses of gray and golden spread out from the roadside. Along the sparse tree lines, centuries of rock have tumbled from higher slopes and settled in the grass. Rattlers come out to sun on the crisscrossing goat paths that skirt around cactus beds. It’s too dangerous to pick a trail off the road, but there’s no shade along it—none that any of the larger animals can exploit. Instead we bring our own or go without.

Walking the desert route takes some focus. The paved pathway has crumbling shoulders with the odd broken boulder that fell from a cracked cliff edge and scattered into ankle twisters. Intent has to be clear. Enjoy the view, the jagged beauty. Enjoy the solitude and all the while remember the journey is A to B. It’s easy to get distracted, or lost in thought. The road looks up and says, “Just lie across me.” It’s not a safe place to spend too much time in your head.

 

Kyle spotted the deer even though he hung back to retie his boots. He had a chance to gaze down low and got intrigued by the heat shimmer that arced over the road stretching perpendicular to the sun. A tawny bulge was sprawled just off the right hand lane.

“Dead deer.”

“Oh yeah, I see it… poor bastard.”

Kyle picked up his pace, eventually running ahead. A dead deer is theater along the road, an opportunity to decipher age, weight, and how it succumbed. Within another thirty steps Brin neared the corpse and could see flies swirling around the animal’s head.

“Car probably.”

Brin circled wide to the yellow center line and looked back on their route, “Surprise—a local didn’t snag it.”

“Last night,” Kyle added, stepping forward and leaning over the head. Dark fluid had drained out of the deer’s nasal cavity and dried to the dust and gravel. Green metallic flies covered the eyes and darted to the open mouth.

“Rancid now. Doesn’t look like anybody stopped—they were movin’. It skidded here,” Kyle pulled a back leg and the stiff, small body scraped over the shoulder into the sage. “Bambie, man. Maybe a year?”

“It’s off the road. Coyotes can have it. Let’s go.”

“See ya, lil’ buddy.”

Half a kilometer later Kyle broke their pace along the roadside. A truck-sized piece of the mountain had politely parked itself next to the shoulder an ice age earlier. The monolith languished hot and painted in pastel lichen.

“Want some water?”

“Yeah.”

“We’re about dead center on the lake bed?”

“I’d figure. Three more clicks and we should see orchards in that valley over the ridge. Then the golf course—and the hotels.” Brin tightened his cap brim and shadowed his line of sight, “Next time we do this at six a.m.”

“It’s a good loop. Get’s you out.”

“I see this enough. You play tourist.”

“Quality time, little brother,” Kyle turned the top on a fresh bottle and passed it.

“I can pick some better quality time,” nodded Brin.

Five minutes later the two hikers were padding along the center line in matching strides. The brief stop had renewed their pace. Neither spoke. Kyle scanned the horizon while Brin tossed gravel shards out towards the cracked clay of the alkaline lake bed. A white fringe clung to the edges and marked the boundary where all plant life ceased. Broken splinters clacked and shattered as Brin’s missiles struck exposed bedrock. The slow bend of 36 was now behind them and could be seen directly across the valley. A glint of sun reflected on a windshield. An automobile was turning at the junction and now followed the route next to the clay flats and sage.

“Rush hour,” huffed Brin.

“You wanna hitch a ride? Getting tired?” Kyle spun around and jogged backwards alongside Brin.

“Not me. Don’t trip.”

Kyle slowed and watched the distant metal and wheels move along the valley floor.

“This boy’s flyin’.”

“Everybody does here. Used to bring my Falcon out and have fun.” Brin turned and watched the dancing sparkle of enamel and chrome growing on the horizon. “He’s probably doing ninety by now. Let’s get over on the rocks in case screwball loses it.”

Brin clambered up the slope and found a vantage on a split ledge that protruded out of the clay. “C’mon.”

Kyle remained standing on the center line. His feet were spread, supporting his frame as he angled in the sun, peering along the road.

“When he comes over that rise I should give him a scare. Probably the clown who hit my little buddy back there.”

“Forget it,” called Brin, “it’s some golfer late for tee off. Don’t end up a bug.”

The glimmering shape moving along the asphalt was a car—silver or tan—and a newer model. The halogen headlights were easy to spot even in mid afternoon. The car was half a mile out from Kyle’s position on the road. An engine touched red line and whining percolated towards the hikers.

Kyle turned and looked at the rocks along the roadside.

“Don’t even think about it,” Brin chided.

“You know me too well. Don’t worry. Steve McQueen there isn’t worth it.” Kyle resumed watch at the highway’s center mark. “He must see me by now.”

“Off the road, Kyle. C’mon.”

“You know, that jerk isn’t even slowing down.”

“Seriously man, don’t play games out here.”

 

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What happens next? ;( I think our friend Kyle jumps out of the way causing the car to swerve, but it speeds off and around the bend. There’s another screech of tires, and the engine fades into the distance. When Kyle and Brin round the corner, they find… aah, writer’s block.


All Along The Monashee © 2011 Gaboo. Click Gaboo’s tag to read more of his stories and observations.

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