Raven lands on the power pole and calls out the desert’s news. We sip our coffee and listen intently but we’re not surprised when he gets to the weather and croaks “hot, hot, hawt”. The morning breeze is about as cooling as standing in front of a hair dryer. I put my shirt on last not wanting to soak it through on my quarter mile bike ride before I get to work. I still show up disheveled, hair a mess and shirt untucked. First thing I do is go to the bathroom dry off and clean myself up. I appreciate my cool confines of the beautiful, historic Kelso Depot but make point of going outside and walking in the sunlight. I stay hours past closing and then suck it up and go home.
We make a point of checking the temp inside the RV when we first open the door. If it’s 100 or cooler we’re doing ok. That hasn’t happened in two weeks. It’s too hot to move but we change from our clothes and put on shorts that are 105 degrees, open a beer and melt into our camp chairs. Too hot to eat or talk let alone do anything productive. We watch a Verdin build a beautiful nest in the branches of the dead tree, that serves as our landscaping, but it seems as though all the ladies are smart enough to be in cooler climes. We watch night hawks teeter and dip catching prey. Next the bats swing by, sometimes too close to our heads. We reach out for each other and then recoil from our shared body heat.
Driving back from Baker one night I go slow as much to maximize time in the air conditioned car as it is to better see the creatures of the night roads. This is their time and they do their best to run you off. We see night lizards and snakes, we see kangaroo rats by the dozens, we see scorpions doing a tango. Looking in vain for a flashlight we know isn’t there and kicking ourselves for not having boots knowing that sandals are not safe at night. This is their world and their time to own the desert lands. We see a ghostly figure scampering without a tail, a bobcat caught off guard changes course and vanishes.
A visitor chats with me about his high school friend who worked the rails in the summers in the 60’s. He tells me how they wore thick gloves because touching the metal out here would scald the skin in seconds. He says they did the work they needed to do without complaint because that’s what you did “back then”. I think they were probably tougher back then but he’s kidding himself if they did it without complaint. We are stupid animals working from dawn to dusk. The desert animals know we are stupid. They look at us with dead eyes and wonder why we move around when the sun and heat are clearly telling us to wait until later or get up earlier.
I can’t wait to leave. I imagine being on Ocean Beach in SF enveloped in a windy fog. I imagine undressing and feeling the cool damp air on my whole body as I run and breathe salty air. We bring up stories of when we were freezing, how painful it was to crawl into our cold bed and try to sleep. We yearn for that pain. Yet driving to our friend’s house past Joshua trees, up into the pinyon-juniper forest past sage brush and back into the cactus-yucca scrub and I can’t imagine we’re leaving. I love this place. How could I possibly be so eager to leave a place I have fallen madly in love with? Such is the life and times of a vagabond. It’s time to go but the Mojave will still be here. We’ll come back, just not in the summer.